Summer is the peak of road racing season. With the Grand Tours providing plenty of inspiration, even recreational cyclists and fitness enthusiasts are tempted to push themselves harder and farther during the warmer months. Although no one is complaining about the rise in temperature after battling the cold all winter, riding in the heat does pose its own unique set of challenges. Proper preparation and attention to the body’s nutritional needs are crucial for riding in hot humid weather, so here are some tips to help you stay safe and comfortable while enjoying the summer on two wheels.
Acclimatization Is Key
We’re all eager to get out and ride—but cycling in the heat requires preparation. If you don’t give your body the opportunity to acclimate to hot-weather riding, you could easily overexert yourself and simply won’t get as many benefits from your workout. Failing to give your body room to adjust will also increase your potential for injury. In order to avoid this, you can use your cross-training days to help get used to the heat by spending some time in a sauna or going to a hot yoga class. Keep in mind that the hours directly following noon are usually the hottest, so it’s best to try and ride early or late in the day.
Be Sun Smart
We’re all aware of the dangerous cancer risk posed by a sunburn, but did you know that it also contributes to fatigue and increases your metabolism? Even if the metabolism boost sounds appealing, be aware that it means a boost in fluid requirements and that isn’t going to do anything to help you stay hydrated. Never head out without sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy, and choose cycling clothes with built-in sun protection. This should include a cap under your helmet to shield your head and a good pair of sunglasses.
Speaking of being smart when it comes to gear, there’s no reason not to take advantage of the huge array of technical cycling clothing now available. For hot summer riding you want to make sure you go with lightweight materials that have wicking properties. These will not only help you stay cool, but they are also designed to prevent a bothersome build-up of sweat. A lightweight base layer can also go a long way in assisting the evaporation of sweat from your skin. Also—although it can feel counterintuitive to put gloves on when you’re already worried about being too hot, it is important to have good grip at all times. Fingerless track mitts cans be a good compromise and will help keep you safe and feeling good.
Plan Your Ride Strategically
Playing the geography game can also help make your ride more comfortable. Did you know that the air temperature cools by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of altitude gained? Depending on where you live, making a short trip in a different direction could have a big impact on how hot it is. Coastal air is also usually cooler, so keep that in mind if you have the choice of riding along the coast versus in a valley or other inland terrain.
Set Realistic Goals
You can’t fight mother nature. Be reasonable and understand that you aren’t going to be able to maintain the same pace you would on a cooler day. If you’ve got more on the line and need to race in hot conditions, you’d be well advised to cut your warm-up time in half or more and to dial back your RPE (rate of perceived exertion) by at least a few notches.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Then Hydrate Some More
Proper hydration doesn’t happen overnight. Take steps in the days leading up to a big ride to increase your liquid intake and promote absorption. In addition to simply drinking more water, you should also eat more water-rich fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber. Don’t forget that sodium is also very helpful in getting your body to hold on to the fluid you’re drinking, so it’s always advisable to have an electrolyte beverage on hand during your ride.
Recovery is always important, but when dealing with extreme heat, you need to be extra careful to build it into your post-ride routine. Plan in advance to have something ready and waiting to replenish your energy stores right after your ride. A good snack will ideally have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Keep the fluids coming in during the hours following your ride, even if you don’t feel thirsty. This will speed the recovery process and leave you feeling ready to take on the heat again the following day!