Summer’s coming on fast, time for cyclists to think about sun protection.
Don’t grab the lotion just yet though – there are even better options for cyclists to protect themselves from the sun…
I shudder to think of the sunburns I collected over long days of summer cycling, well before the link between UV exposure and skin cancer became common knowledge. Yikes!
Now, a good sunblock is an essential for every summer ride, of course. It does a great job of protecting you from the sun’s harmful rays, and lets you choose to forego coverage for arms and legs, which can feel more comfortable and freeing. Even so, it might not always be your best first line of defense against the sun.
Here’s why sunblock might not be top of the list: the protection is not total, and decreases as the lotion wears off or is removed by sweating. It becomes less effective over time and needs to be reapplied periodically, so you have to be on top of that or risk getting burned anyway. This is a bigger problem on a longer ride, when you spend several hours in the sun. Good sunblock is not so cheap either, so if you ride a lot in a sunny place, and reapply as you should, you have an extra expense as well as some inconvenience to deal with.
Thanks to newer developments in fabric technology, there are some great new options for protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, and staying cooler and happier as you ride…
Sun Protection Clothing For Cycling
It’s counterintuitive – you might think adding a layer of fabric would make you hotter in a hot climate, but in fact the right kind of fabric actually prevents the sun’s harmful rays from reaching your skin and so your skin remains cooler. It feels cooler too, without the heating/burning sensation of strong sun.
Good moisture transport is a factor also. Naturally, activities with movement cause extra perspiration on a hot day. That’s how the body cools itself, of course, maintaining a lower core temperature. The right fabrics wick that sweat allowing it to evaporate, so you get the cooling benefit while reducing skin temperature. When you get overexposed to UV rays, your skin burns, and not only feels uncomfortably hot but your skin loses the ability to cool from sweating, so you feel even hotter and can eventually risk heat exhaustion.
Cycling clothes with built-in sun protection
There are a couple of approaches to building sun protection into a fabric. Some fabrics use an engineered fiber that reflects or absorbs UV radiation effectively, and others use a standard fiber with added coatings that do the UV reflection or absorption.
Our Actif Jersey uses a fabric with MYNX® protection added, while our Soleil fabric was engineered with sun protection properties in the fabric itself. Both give an outstanding UPF 50+ level of protection.
What does UPF mean?
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), which indicates what fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate the fabric (50 = 1/50th of the sun’s rays). The higher a garment’s UPF, the greater the amount of protection.
The right approach to sun protection for cycling is an individual thing
Everyone’s preferences are a little different, so some cyclists may find uncovered arms comfortable and freeing, and so opt for plenty of sunblock to protect their exposed skin. Others may prefer to avoid the exposure and cover up with long sleeves.
Our best recommendation: choose the combination of clothing and exposure reducing methods that you find most comfortable and convenient, and that you will stick to every ride. The best sun protection methods for cycling are the ones that you will actually use consistently.
Recommended clothing choices for sun protection, for cycling and beyond
The Soleil line is the most versatile and adaptable for sun protection
Our Soleil tops have become best-sellers for good reason. It starts with the fabric, which blocks harmful UV very effectively (UPF 50+) and has a lovely, luxurious next to skin feel. It’s great to wear in high heat, and hundreds of reviews from happy customers tell the story.
There’s also a way to Soleil for just about every activity. We offer a variety of styles, fits and feature sets, ranging from athletic and cycling specific to truly relaxed and multi-purpose.
Maximum cover up – long sleeve tops and tights for complete sun protection
Our best options for the highest level of sun protection while cycling and beyond, Soleil Long Sleeves are available in a variety of fits and configurations to suit your preferred riding or activities.
Medium cover up – short sleeve tops and knickers
Short sleeves are a great compromise, keeping shoulders covered for protection or modesty, but allowing plenty of air movement and freedom. Pair with arm sleeves for versatility. They are easy to stow in a pocket and slip on when needed, either to keep the chill off early in the day, or to cover up when the sun gets stronger. Bella Arm Sleeves are available in prints matching our Bella Short Sleeve Jerseys, or opt for the neutral Arm Sleeves pictured below to pair with any top.
Minimal cover up – sleeveless options for maximum wind on skin
If this is your preference, we have lots of choices for you. Sleeveless tops, racerbacks and tanks tops all work wonderfully for indoor cycling too – there are no sun exposure problems in a spin studio, but the lack of cooling wind brings another set of challenges. (Read about our recommendations for indoor cycling clothing here.)
Try a bolero to extend your comfort range in both chilly and sunny conditions
A bolero works with sleeveless jerseys especially well, and closer fitting short and long sleeves too. Use one to add extra warmth in lower temperatures, or for complete sun protection on arms and shoulders when needed. It’s very easy to pack in a pocket.
Don’t overlook sun protection for your head
It’s easy to forget that the top of your head can take a UV beating, even through the ventilation holes in your helmet. These caps are a great way to get a good level of sun protection under your helmet.
Whichever clothing options you choose, don’t skimp on the sunblock for any remaining exposed skin. Let us know in the comments if you have any favorite sun protection strategies for cycling.
If you ride in very hot conditions this post will give you some great tips and for staying cool and safe when temperatures really climb.