You probably thought I was going to list cycling essential tools like a pump or tire irons to change a flat, a helmet to keep me safe, or maybe gloves to prevent blisters. While those are definitely nice to have, and I have occasionally gone on a long trip with all of them – they are not the three things that I never leave home without.
The first item is a water bottle. Since most of my cycling is in the city in the summer, whether commuting or for pleasure, I know that it gets hot on the roads and trails and the risk of dehydration is high.
Last year I became severely dehydrated after cycling to work on a hot July day. I seemed cool enough during the ride and even for the first few hours at work. But halfway into my shift, I could barely carry my body up the stairs. It was my first time experiencing “dehydration”, so it took me awhile to figure out what was happening, and why. The why was especially difficult because it didn’t happen immediately. It took a few hours and at first I failed to see the cause-and-effect relationship between the ride to work, and my symptoms.
WebMD says that “Dehydration happens when your body doesn’t have as much water as it needs. “
The symptoms of mild or moderate dehydration are:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Not peeing very much
- Dark yellow pee
- Dry, cool skin
- Muscle cramps
Signs of severe dehydration include:
- Not peeing or having very dark yellow pee
- Very dry skin
- Feeling dizzy
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Sunken eyes
- Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion or irritability,
In this excellent scientific article about The Effects of Hydration on Athletic Performance by Sports Cardiology BC, they explain that “Dehydration may cause a reduction in blood volume, decreased skin blood flow, decreased sweat rate, decreased heat dissipation, increased core temperature and an increased rate of glycogen use.” This glycogen breakdown is what contributed to an increased level of fatigue in the muscles as I did my work that day. If I had still been on the cycle, my performance would also have been substantially decreased.
Dehydration has serious consequences for your general health and also your performance in a physical activity. That is why carrying a water bottle even on the shortest trip is critical. When I went cycling in 30+C temperatures to Toronto Island last week, I filled my insulated Polar Bottle with ice-cold water and sipped at regular intervals along the route.
The second item on my ESSENTIALS list – sunscreen or sun protection clothing – also comes as a result of personal experience.
When I was younger, I tanned easily and almost never burned while being out in the sun. So I never worried about SPF – the “sun protection factor” associated with sunscreens. In fact, I wore sunscreen as a moisturizer with ‘added benefits’ and often thought SPF15 was good enough. That was until I got “sun poisoning” during a cycling trip in Australia about 15 years ago.
Healthline refers to sun poisoning as an extreme case of sunburn.
Sun poisoning is significantly worse than mild sunburn. In addition to the usual sunburn-like symptoms, you might experience:
- blistering or peeling skin
- severe redness and pain
- fever (and sometimes chills)
- nausea or vomiting
The problem that I developed as a result of the severe sunburn is that my legs are now ultra-sensitive to the sun and a rash appears soon after exposure. So I now slather an SPF of at least 30, but usually higher like 50 to 75, before heading out to cycle. That way I know I won’t suffer during or after the ride. No exceptions! Even on a cloudy day, my body gets moisturized with 50+ “added benefits”.
Occasionally I will skip the sunscreen if I wear sun-protective clothing. Many clothing items are lightweight, easy to slip on over other items (such as cycling shirts and shorts) and have UV ratings to ensure they are doing the work that the sunscreen would be doing.
Some people think of sunglasses as a “fashion” accessory. But I think of them as a necessity for cycling.
In an article encouraging use of sunglasses at an early age Dr. Louis Pasquale, an ophthalmologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary made sunglasses a priority for his 12 year old son and gives this advice to everyone: “If you spend time near the water, the beach, or snow, the sunlight bounces off of those surfaces and right into the eyes,” This applies to cycling, as the rays bounce off the pavement and other items in your line of sight. This applies in my case in particular, as I ride a recumbent tricycle and am closer to the ground, and looking at the world from a different perspective. I wear them to protect myself from common eye conditions such as: cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
Because I ride a recumbent tricycle, the sunglasses provide an added protection from physical injury. Again, based on experience I know that I am at risk of grit and particles, even as large as a stone or stick, flying up from the ground and hitting me in the face as I ride. I have the marks/scratches on the lenses of my sunglasses to prove that this has happened on more than one occasion.
Sports glasses are best but any sunglasses will provide the necessary protection. So sometimes I even look fashionable. My favorite sunglasses are the ones with lenses that change. I can use the darker ones when riding along the lake-shore to protect from the bright reflection off the water of Lake Ontario. Then I can switch the lenses to a lighter color when coming home later at night. Then brightness is not the issue, but being able to see items on the trail is. Nonetheless, rain or shine, I always wear my sunglasses while riding.
My cycling essentials
It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and time to take the trusty trike on the trails again. However, I won’t be leaving home without my:
- Water Bottle,
- Sunscreen, and
By the way, I also always wear a helmet. And, I usually pack a few snacks to keep up my energy too.
What are your three cycling essentials?