Top tips for riding your mountain bike in a heat wave
Words, photo and video: Randy King
Temperatures in the eastern U.S. shot past 100° F (38° C) last week and have been cooking in the nineties for a month. Mountain bikers are forced to cope with this heat wave. Over the weekend, the Big Mountain Riding crew hit the trails in Danville, VA, for 2.5-hours of riding on one of the hottest days yet this summer. Between sweating gallons, drinking more than 120 ounces (3.5 L) of water each, and hating every climb, we hammered out a few hot weather riding tips … and survived the ride!
The bottom line: Be cool … or as cool as possible. The warmer the weather, the more challenging it becomes to adequately cool your body. Cooling is vitally important, because heat kills. “People don’t realize the severity of heat on health,” said George Luber, an expert on heat at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the Washington Post. “It’s the number one weather-related killer in the United States.”
1. Drink enough water / fluids. Obvious, right? Um, more on that later. Start upping your water intake several days ahead if you have a hot ride planned. On ride day start drinking water early so that you’re fully-hydrated when you clip in. Water alone is OK for rides of less than 45 minutes. On longer rides in hot weather, add sport drinks to your fluid intake. Jenny Hadfield, author of Marathoning for Mortals, recommends about 8 ounces (.25 L) of sport drink every 15-20 minutes during prolonged hot weather exercise.
Believe it or not, how much water you should drink during prolonged exercise is an ongoing debate. While the word used to be to drink a certain amount per hour, whether you were thirsty or not, your own body seems to be the best indicator of how much you should drink. Your body will tell you if you’re drinking enough, either through thirst or by slowing down.
“[Thirst] is the only system used by all other creatures on this earth. Why should it not also be ideal for humans?” says Timothy D. Noakes, M.D., a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, and author of The Lore of Running. Recently Dr. Noakes and his colleagues researched cycling performance during an 80 kilometer time trial, finding that drinking less than thirst called for negatively affected performance slightly and drinking more than thirst dictated had no effect.
Your body also lets you know it needs fluid by loss of power or speed. Riding hard, you will sweat 1 to 2 quarts an hour. If you lose more fluid by sweat or urine than you take in, you will experience dehydration.
“Body weight losses in the 3 to 4 percent range impair the body’s ability to efficiently utilize oxygen. When dehydration causes more than 4 to 5 percent weight loss, your power will deteriorate tremendously,” says Active.com expert Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D.
Your bathroom scale can clue you in. “If you gain any weight [exercising], you’re taking in too many fluids, but if you lose more than two percent of your body weight on a single outing, you probably need to drink more,” says Sally Wadyka in Runners World.
A random video that has nothing to do with this article, except it was very hot on that ride!
2. Get acclimated: It takes about 14 days for your body to adapt to summer heat and cool itself more efficiently. In the meantime, slow your pace and intensity and get your ride in rather than pushing it and risking injury. Listen up, weekend warriors: Riding hard one day a week is a bad idea in the summer, unless you are used to the heat. If you have a race or an important ride coming up, plan ahead and put in the training time.
3. Timing is everything … work with the heat. Good news for the early birds: 4-7 am is coolest time of day. The heat increases later and air quality diminishes. Early morning may be more humid, but you should try to be off the trail and indoors by the time the afternoon rays really heat up. Consider switching your group rides to the hours right after dawn. Additionally, stay cooler by riding in the woods and on trails that are frequently breezy. The temperature difference between shaded areas and sunny areas can swing greatly – think double digits – and wind further cools down b0dy temps. Finally, build cool down breaks into your ride, where you slow your pace for a few minutes.
4. Ride smart: Know the signs of heat-related health problems. The Red Cross shares the following
- Heat cramps: muscular pains and spasms. They are an early warning signal. Take heed.
- Heat exhaustion: a form of mild shock. Signals include cool, moist, pale flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Cool person off, get them to a cooler place.
- Heat stroke: the temperature control system, which sweats to cool the body, stops working. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Call 911. Quickly cool person off any way you can.
5. Get a little help from your friends. Ride with a buddy – watch each other for heat problems and hold each other accountable for calling time for cooling down. Let someone know how to contact you / where to find you and your expected return time. This is always a good idea, and even more so in extreme temperatures.
© 2010 Big Mountain Riding