Handling Humidity

Texas — and much of the rest of country, from what I’ve been seeing online – is going through a patch of very humid weather. I really felt its effects on last weekend’s club ride. I was drenched in sweat and had trouble keeping up my pace. Others had it even worse. Our ride leader blamed himself for not drinking enough, and was hit with cramps in both legs that nearly knocked him off the bike.

Most people I talk to about the humidity complain more about being uncomfortable than anything else. One Bike Noob reader wondered if it’s even possible to beat humidity.

The problem with high humidity is that it inhibits the body’s ability to cool itself. That’s because the saturated air doesn’t allow water to evaporate. You sweat more, but it just stays on your skin. You’re still losing water and salt, so dehydration becomes a greater risk. Therefore, a lot of the advice about dealing with humid weather is much the same as advice about dealing with hot weather. Mainly: stay hydrated.

Cycling coach Diane Stibbard reminds you to drink before the ride, even starting the night before. Take 16 ounces of liquid before you go to bed. Drink another 16-24 ounces in the morning before you head out. You might want to include some kind of electrolyte in this pre-ride drink.

During the ride, you should be drinking every 15-20 minutes.  Your water bottles probably hold 12-16 ounces, and Stibbard says you should try to drink 16-24 ounces the first hour of the ride. That would empty both bottles in the first hour.

After the first hour, add sports drink. Some folks say it might even be a good idea to add a pinch of salt to your sports drink. For one thing, it would eliminate the sometimes cloyingly sweet taste. But maybe a salty snack might be even better. Pretzels have both carbs and salt. Salting your food the day before the ride might help, too.  But you should know whether your body can tolerate sodium.

Other ideas, in no particular order and of varying value – you decide:

Wear a helmet with lots of vents. I can feel the difference in my recently-acquired Bell Sweep helmet with its big vents, but on humid days, I sweat just as much as with the old helmet.

Wear a jersey with mesh inserts.

Fill your water bottles halfway the night before, and freeze them.

Use a Camelbak or similar hydration system instead of water bottles for its greater volume.

If the humidity is greater than 50 percent, take along an extra bottle. Stick it in one of your jersey pockets.

Go early in the morning. A friend and I hit the road by 7 a.m. for our Saturday ride. Caveat: mornings can be cooler, but also more humid, so you still might not evaporate sweat and might still have to deal with problems caused by dehydration.

After the ride, remember to continue replacing the fluids you lost. Coach Stibbard recommends another 16-24 ounces in the first hour.

So, you might not be able to  “beat” humidity. But if you take the right precautions, I think it’s possible to keep it from beating you.


  1. says

    Humidity comes in many forms. We don’t get really bad days in the UK, though last night was ‘muggy’ as some of us call it. My problem is that my windproof whilst it claims to be fully breathable soon gets so clammy and hot it becomes like a wetsuit. So if I take it off I freeze, but if I leave it on it tends towards boil in the bag!

  2. says

    Florida’s super humid…I feel like I’ve jumped in a pool by the end of my ride sometimes.

    I freeze both bottles (filled about 2/3) the night before, top them off before I go, force myself to empty two Camelbak-size bottles over the course of a 45-mile ride (some days that’s not too hard to do), and drink several glasses of water or sometimes sports drink immediately after getting home. I have one bottle with water for the first half of the ride, the second filled with sports drink for the latter half.

    Bicycling Mag had a tip…you can cut off the leg of a pantyhose, fill it with ice, and slip it down the back of your jersey. I haven’t done that, but on real bad days I’ll occasionally dump some cool water over my head. I also favor a certain Pearl Izumi jersey when it’s really humid…lots more mesh, wind penetrates it far better than my other jerseys.

    A lot of it is also time…I think you acclimate to the humidity somewhat if you ride in these conditions a lot.

  3. says

    We’ve had a run of “seasonal” weather here in the Ozarks, which means that it’s just downright sticky with humidity. The worst part of that is the growing mountain of my various exercise clothes in our laundry room.

    My dear sweet wife won’t touch it…and I don’t blame her!

    Good suggestions!

  4. says

    One of my friends adds “lite” salt to his water since it contains potassium in addition to salt. Another tip I read said to add orange juice concentrate as well as the salt in order to create your own sports drink. However, most people I mention this to feel that the OJ would be too acidic and may not “settle” very well on the stomach. I tend to agree since I don’t even like to drink cold water while riding. I prefer my water to be “room temperature” as I find that makes it easier to drink in larger quantities.

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