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7 Ways to Survive Cycling in the Heat

If you're going on holiday or just trying to tough out the British weather then here are some tips

Words by Hannah Reynolds

It’s all too easy to get carried away dreaming of warm-weather riding days and booking cycling holidays to sunny destinations but it’s important to consider the effects that the heat can have on you and your performance. Hannah Reynolds shares her tips for surviving the heat this summer.

Clothing

Choosing your outfit carefully can make a real difference to how you feel while riding. Thin fabrics wick sweat away from your skin to the surface where it can evaporate and cool you down. The jury is out on whether you still need a base layer as well, a thin tight fitting vest designed for hot weather can help with the transport of moisture, but some new aero-fit jerseys do the job without the extra layer. Same goes for your sports bra if it traps moisture next to your skin, it is not evaporating and cooling you down.

Perception is that white clothing is better for reflecting heat away from your body but new ColdBlack technology does it as well, or even better, and you aren’t restricted to a light coloured kit. “Coldblack technology reduces the absorption of heat rays and therefore tangibly improves heat management.” says Austrian textile innovator Schoeller Technologies. You can find Coldblack in clothing from Pearl Izumi and Endura amongst others,

Pre- Hydration

Everyone knows about hydration on the bike (we hope) but how hydrated are you during your everyday life and in the hours before your bike ride?  Making sure that in the days before a big event, or even the hours before a hot ride after work, you are fully hydrated will mean you aren’t starting with a deficit. Your pee should always be straw coloured so keep an eye on it throughout the day.

How to manage your hydration levels on the bike

However, pre-hydration isn’t as simple as just drinking more and more water. Your body can’t store vast quantities of fluid and once there is enough you will just pee out the rest. Frequent weeing is both annoying and will flush away some of the electrolytes you need to keep your body in balance. The best indicators of whether you are hydrated enough are thirst and pee colour.

To keep your fluid balance in check you can also pre-load with electrolytes in the days leading up to a long, hot event. Everyone sweats out different amounts of sodium, ‘salty sweaters’ will find they struggle more with the heat and staying hydrated (check your kit for white rings and tide marks, this is salt left by your sweat.) If you suffer from cramps or headaches during events check out the advice from Precision Hydration who offer free sweat tests to athletes so you can customise your hydration approach with the right amount of sodium to maintain your fluid balance.

Acclimation

You can get accustomed to riding in the heat but everyone adapts differently and there are numerous factors affecting your body’s ability to manage heat. It takes two weeks of regular light training in hot weather for your body to adjust and begin to adapt. It is a good idea if you are planning a hot event to arrive with plenty of time to get used to the change in temperature, practice your hydration and strategy and do some light training in the temperatures you expect to race in.

If you can’t manage to extend your trip by two weeks try making your own hot environment at home. Putting on the hot shower and setting up your turbo in the bathroom can give you a cheap and simple way of experiencing hot and humid conditions. Seriously. We know riders who have done this and it does work! An hour on the turbo a day is plenty.

Pacing

Riding in hot weather creates problems for your body, your core temperature is already slightly higher due to the external temperature and exercise increases it even more. It only takes a one-degree rise in your core temperature for your body to put the brakes on exercise. Pacing is always the key to success but in hot weather it is even more important. Reduce your effort level and keep an eye on your heart rate during very hot rides.

If your core temperature continues to rise performance will plummet and if you continue to push yourself, you can soon feel uncomfortable and ill. Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and how to deal with it. It can be serious and need medical attentions.

Pre-cooling

Photo: Liz Hait (Flickr)

Slightly lowering your body’s internal temperature before you start exercising began around the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 with athletes sporting vests filled with ice. Since then it has been the subject of extensive research which concludes that pre-cooling does improve performance and also exercise safety in hot environments. It is clear that if you start your ride feeling hot you aren’t going to feel as comfortable or perform as well. The problem is practicality, sitting around in buckets of ice before your ride isn’t always possible! Ice vests aren’t cheap but they are easy to use. A cold shower, a swim or soaking your wrists and ankles in cold water before you ride will also help bring your core temperature down so you feel better when you are cycling.

Timing

Get out before breakfast…

If it’s a competition or event, you don’t have much choice on the timing but for your own personal rides picking the coolest time of the day to get out is a no-brainer. Early morning, soon after sunrise, is normally the coolest. It takes some effort to get out of bed but an early morning ride before it gets too hot will really set you up for the day. Or try an after-dark night ride to make the most of the summer evening. If you are abroad watch what the locals do and emulate it. Don’t try to religiously stick to your usual time table. Go with the flow of the local vibe, the siesta exists for a reason!

Sun-screen

Catching rays on your bike is one of the pleasures of cycling but when you are riding it is easy to burn without noticing and long rides mean hours of exposure. A study of six cyclists in 2000 found that during an eight stage race, the Tour de Suisse, their exposure to UV radiation was over 30 times the international recommended limits.

Burning your skin not only increases your risk of skin cancer it can dehydrate you and is a contributing factor in heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion. Products such as P20 are designed for sport, offering 10 hours of sun protection and resistant to sweat and water, perfect for long days in the saddle. Make sunscreen part of your pre-ride prep in the summer months as even on cloudy days you can burn.

Look for sunscreens that offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays.  UVB is the main cause of sun burn and UVA has been linked to premature skin ageing. The same rules apply to choosing your sunnies to wear on your bike.

If you burn easily and not even factor 50 is enough try arm screens, such as these from Morvelo. Superlight, thin sleeves that will protect your arms from the sun without making you feel any hotter.

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