Seasonal Cycling: Summer


Art 103

Despite recent weather conditions, so called flaming June is upon us and we’re now in the warmest and lightest few months of the year.  Marking the middle of the year, the summer solstice 2016 falls on 20th June at 23.34 BST, meaning the Sun will have reached its highest point in the northern hemisphere before starting its return journey back downwards towards the horizon at the time of the winter solstice on 21st December!

My recently acquired Purbeck Stone sundial works well in the summer – when the sun’s shining!
The sun’s journey across the sky is shown here as the angle viewed at various northern latitudes though the year, the impact of which has a material impact on cycling through the seasons.

For a number of reasons this is the optimum time for cyclists: longer, warmer days, generally less rain and hopefully reaching peak fitness.  For year-round cyclists the result will probably be longer day rides and touring, road racing reaches its climax with the Tour de France in July, whilst for the mass of fair weather cyclists, the opportunity to discover the pleasure of cycling takes hold.  Whichever category it’s a good time to be out on the bike, on or off-road if you’re into mountain biking, in which case the tracks will also be less muddy.

There is no astronomical darkness at this time of the year, only permanent twilight throughout the night, resulting in long days for cycling.

Personally I have always found hot days amongst the most difficult for cycling and will actually avoid going out if the temperature exceeds 30o C; in such conditions I cannot drink enough liquid to stay hydrated – how the TdF riders manage I do not know.  Notwithstanding, the warmer weather allows lighter cycle clothing, typically shorts and a light top, which vastly improves the cycling experience; you can then enjoy the comforting feeling of  the warm air passing over your body, in sharp contrast to the cold six months earlier! Apart from the comfort warm weather brings, it also ensures muscles work more efficiently and effectively, resulting in better and longer rides. 

Wall-to-wall sunshine on the southern banks of the River Loire is attractive but can also be hard going in the heat of midday; the solution is a refreshment stop at a sheltered cafe!

Less enjoyable are the clouds of insects that emerge in warmer conditions and, if not wary, can find their way into eyes and mouths; to avoid these unpleasant experiences, wear glasses and insofar as possible keep your mouth closed!  If hot enough, another problem that may be encountered during summer cycling is melting road tarmac.  It may stick to tyres making riding difficult or more seriously, the road and therefore grip may fail when cornering leading to a crash. Beware!

Tree-lined voie verte in Normandy provides welcome shade on a hot summer’s day.

This is also usually the time of year for cycle touring but due to my ongoing recovery from last year’s knee operation this remains off the agenda for the time being.  In a more typical year, touring in the summer is the pinnacle of my cycling year: long daily rides, building fitness and a tan if I’m lucky (sun cream is essential), meeting people, seeing places, discovering new food and cultures.  Speed is not important but with day-after-day touring it is amazing just how far you can travel under your own steam on a bike, which is altogether very satisfying and rewarding.  Cycle-camping in the summer also provides another enjoyable dimension, which as well as the pleasure of self-sufficiency enhances the overall physical and mental experience of touring.

Touring through the crops south of Dieppe – cycling doesn’t get any better.

During the next few months the scenery will reach its climax: cereal crops ripen for harvest, seasonal fruits can be seen and enjoyed and young animals born in spring mature.  Birdsong now includes voices of many summer new visitors that have arrived from overseas, which if you’re camping can be heard as a crescendo in the form of the ‘morning chorus’ just before sunrise.  Residential areas are also transformed as garden flowers come into bloom and provide a rich visual backdrop when cycling past.  Combined with the warmer temperatures, the flora may also produce intoxicating smells that fill the air and can be appreciated when cycling along.

Blooming flowers and butterflies along the roadside, with skylarks singing overhead are characteristic of the best of summer cycling.

If you’re lucky these wonderful conditions can last from May to September and it is altogether a great time of year to be out on a bike – enjoy it while you can.


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