Riding in Hot Conditions – Top Eight Tips for Surviving Summer

Categories: Safety and Training Tips.

With summer upon us in earnest and the hottest months of the year just around the corner, here are our top 8 tips for riding in hot conditions and beating the heat on the bike.

Hydration and acclimatization is critical for riding in hot conditions

Take Care of Your Skin

Sunscreen is crucial to surviving riding in hot conditionsAustralia leads the world in many areas, but this one is not something to be proud of. Due in part to latitude, a love of outdoors life, and the effects of the southern polar ozone hole, we are the skin cancer capital of the world.

Cover exposed skin liberally with SPF50+ sports sunscreen (water and sweat resistant) at least 20 minutes before departing, and consider taking a small pocket tube with you to reapply at the coffee stop.

The back of your neck and your ears are particularly vulnerable in addition to your nose. Consider lightweight sun sleeves, and sweat-wicking headwear under your lid if you are follicularly challenged.

Apply even if it’s overcast – you can still get very sunburnt on a cloudy day.

Ride Early

Just before dawn is the coolest part of the day, so bust out your lights and bump the alarm clock forward even earlier than usual. Getting out to enjoy your ride before the mercury, the humidity, and the traffic rises will leave you with a smile that lasts the entire day. And who doesn’t love a spectacular sunrise?

If knobbly tyres are your preference, the super early ride is also your best chance of seeing more of our pretty amazing wildlife. (But wear a helmet light so you can see and duck under the Orb Weavers that seem to like singletrack even more than mountain bikers.)

Start Fluids Early and Drink Often

Pre-hydrate by upping your fluid intake the day before the ride. Rehydration mixes with salts (not carbs, unless carb loading for a race) will help your body retain the fluid and make it easier to drink. Your urine should be pale straw to clear in colour. If you have to get up a couple of times at night to pee, that’s OK.

On the morning of the ride, try to drink most of a bidon before heading out the door. On the ride start drinking within the first 15 minutes and sip take mouthfuls frequently. Once you get behind it is difficult to catch up.

Losing as little as 2-3% of your body mass due to dehydration can severely impact performance, 3-4% inhibits oxygen uptake and more than 4-5% sees serious power losses according to some sources.

Plan Your Route Carefully

Road

Consider points where you can fill up your bidons along the way. Shops, sports fields, parks, petrol stations and cafes all offer watering points.

Be prepared to abandon your route if it all gets too much. Allow a bailout option in your planning.

A late start road ride to West Head on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last February saw me pull the pin early. The temperature on the Garmin hit 37C and rising on the climbs on the way out. With a lack of safe, drinkable water at the turnaround point I started to worry about running out on the return. It turned out to be the right decision.

After coming back via the beachside which allowed me to stop and top up at several points along the way, it hit 45C climbing up from South Curl Curl Beach. A welcome cool change dropped the temperature a few degrees for the final climb home. Not having a feasible bailout option would have placed me in serious trouble.

Mountain Bike

For mountain bikers riding bush trails this becomes more challenging. Camelbak hydration packs allow carriage of 3 litres or more in a bladder, plus additional bottles. However, the packs are definitely hotter to wear than going bareback. Tip: don’t put carbs in the bladder – they go disgusting pretty quickly when you do and are very difficult to clean. Use separate bottles instead.

For lap racing like XCO or teams relay events I still go bareback. For longer laps I look at stashing an esky (chilly bin for our Kiwi readers) somewhere out on course with spare bottles. Ultimately I will soon upgrade to an XC bike that allows for two bottles inside the front triangle. I’m a Cannondale tragic so it will likely be the new Scalpel, but the Specialized Epic looks good.

Electrolytes are Crucial

On the ride, if you normally take one bottle for the distance take two instead. Fluid demand at race pace or tempo training pace can easily double from one bidon per hour to two in hot conditions.

Isotonic drink mixes allow you to drink more for the same carb intake when riding in hot conditionsHowever, simply doubling your usual drink consumption at your usual concentration could leave you feeling bloated and nauseous and not wanting to drink. The alternative of mixing half-strength could leave you short of electrolytes.

You may wish to consider changing your drink mix strategy. Either fill one bottle with zero-carb electrolyte mix and alternate between the two, or use an isotonic mix intended for hot-weather riding. The lower carb concentration will compensate for the additional fluid demand.

Carry extra drink mix in a zip lock bag or a tube of electrolyte tablets so you can top up at water sources en route.

Rehydrate after the ride

Drinks containing electrolytes are absorbed more quickly than plain water. If your urine is dark and colour or you have lost weight over the ride you are dehydrated.

Acclimatise

Gradually increase your workouts up to several hours of exercise in the heat over a 7 to 10 day period.

If your target event involves racing in the heat of the afternoon, prioritise riding at the same time of day in the week before your taper. Alternatively, ride with extra layers to increase heat stress, remembering to keep up fluid intake for sweat losses.

Wear white or light-coloured kit

A white or light coloured jersey reflects radiant heat. Wear material that allows air through and transports moisture. Most of the modern jersey materials excel in this regard. White/light knicks though are out of bounds. Especially in hot conditions. We will leave it to your ride buddies to tell you why.

Your thoughts

Did you find this helpful? How do you manage hot rides? Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Comments

  1. Lachlan Smith

    John,
    one of the things that I can recall reading a couple of times is that just sipping water may not be sufficient to ward off dehydration, as water is only properly absorbed in the gut and with a dry mouth / throat, a sip might not actually make it into the gut. A good mouthful was recommended to ensure that water made it to where it needed to be. Can’t cite any references for this unfortunately, and it can made the contents of a bison disappear alarmingly quickly on a hot day!
    Cheers,
    Lach.

    • John Hawkins

      Fair comment, Lach, and thanks. Sloppy language on my part.

      To be honest I don’t sip either, but take moderate to large mouthfuls instead. And yes, it does disappear rather quickly! You do what you need to do to avoid dehydration and if that means stopping for a top-up, then I stop.

      I’ll edit the copy to take account of your feedback.

  2. Nate

    Carbs are ESSENTIAL for fluid absorbtion. I was i n NZ & they were discussing removing zero carn gator/power ade from the rehydrate category (i.e. banning them from usi ng the phrase) as without carbs they dont rehydrate as quickly!

Trackbacks

  1. Essential Mountain Bike Gear for Your Next Ride - Simply Cycling Training says:

    […] Paying attention to fluid intake is essential. Dehydrated and out of energy is not a fun place to be… A secure frame frame bottle mount and specialised drink bottle (also known as a “bidon”)  allows you to drink when needed as you ride without having to stop and unscrew a cap. […]

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