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.
Take Care of Your Skin
Australia 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.
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
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.
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.
However, 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
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.
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.