Hot Weather Cycling Tips for a Great Ride in Summer Heat
When the temperatures skyrocket, many cyclists transition to riding in the early morning or evening when the temperatures are lower. However, rides and races typically happen in the heat of the day. Gran Fondo National Series events, for instance, typically start at 8:00am when temperatures are still reasonable, but that means Gran Route riders are often on course into the heat of the afternoon. Here are some tips you can use during training and events so you can thrive in the heat.
When you are training or competing in hot weather, think of thermoregulation strategies as a way to alleviate some of the burden placed on your primary cooling mechanism: sweating. If you can reduce sweat rate or help your body dissipate more heat than through sweating alone, your performance will improve and you will have a better chance of maintaining a good hydration status.
Keep Your Cool
Some of the following tips will be obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less true or valuable:
Warm Up To Cool Off:
Jumping right into a hard effort spikes your body temperature before you’ve started sweating enough for your system to begin cooling you. One of the benefits of greater fitness and acclimation is that your body begins sweating earlier; it’s much easier to keep a body cool than to use sweat to cool it once it’s overheated. To stay on the safe side, start workouts off slowly when it’s hot.
Wear light-color and lighter-weight clothing:
Apparel companies like DNA and others have developed lighter-weight summer tops that allow for increased airflow to the skin and improved moisture wicking. Darker colors absorb heat, whereas lighter ones reflect it.
Unzip or go sleeveless:
Especially if you’re wearing standard tops, unzipping will increase airflow to the skin and keep the jersey from trapping heat close to your body. And although bike racers need covered shoulders, athletes can train with sleeveless tops and increase airflow to the underarms, an area that is very good for heat transfer to the environment.
Evaporative cooling carries heat away from the body as fluid water turns to vapor. From a cooling perspective it doesn’t matter if that fluid came from your sweat glands, a hose, a creek, or a water bottle. On the other hand, dousing yourself with water can be very helpful for your hydration status because it takes some pressure off the need to produce sweat. This can help preserve more blood volume and give you a better chance of consuming enough fluid to stay in a good hydration status.
Fans of professional cycling may remember seeing team cars handing riders stockings or mesh bags filled with ice on hot days. These can be placed on the back of the neck, between the shoulder blades, in jersey pockets, or in the front of a jersey. The only complaint some athletes have with ice socks/packs is that more water tends to end up in your shoes than when you dump a bottle over your head or back.
Tailwinds make you hotter:
This isn’t a tip so much as a heads up. Headwinds are more painful to ride into, but the increased airflow over your body helps keep you cooler. In a tailwind, the difference between your speed and the wind speed is smaller, so airflow over your body decreases. Tailwinds mean higher speeds, but sometimes greater heat stress, especially on long climbs.
Working through a heat crisis
Despite preparing for heat and trying to apply good hydration and thermoregulation strategies while exercising in the heat, there may come a time when you make a mistake, get lost, or run dry, and end up in a heat crisis. For endurance athletes, nausea is one of the most common first effects of a heat crisis. When you overheat, gut motility slows or stops as blood flow is directed to the skin and working muscles. This means food and fluids sit in your gut, slosh around, create gas, etc. If you get nauseas during a hot weather workout or event, take it as a sign you are overheated and take action with the following steps:
Slow Down: Muscles generate a ton of heat, so slowing down can help reduce the internal heat you are producing. This can give your overtaxed cooling system a chance to catch up. Try not to stop unless you have to. Moving forward gets you closer to home, an aid station, or a store. But if you do need to stop, seek shade and a breeze if possible.
Get Wet: Save some water for consumption, but try to find a way to douse yourself with water. Jump in a creek, stand in the lawn sprinklers, get creative.
Sip plain water: You want to get your gut moving again, but you have to be careful not to overload it. Don’t guzzle fluids, but do sip plain water. If it’s cold water, that’s even better.