The mercury is rising, the snow is long gone and the summertime riding season is in full swing. While the summer months offer the longest days and the most opportunity to get out on the trails, they also mean dealing with the highest temperatures of the year. Riding in the heat can be a dangerous proposition, since your body will burn through gallons of fluid faster than a Formula One car burns through fuel on the last straightaway. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the heat, and we just so happen to be experts on the subject. You don’t ride Southern California for 26 years without learning some tricks to outsmart high temperatures.
No Fun Under The Sun
There are two main types of heat related illness that can sneak up and stop your ride cold with lightheadedness, hallucinations, brain damage, and even death: heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs. With both conditions, as the body’s core temperature rises from its normal 98.6-degrees Fahrenheit, the blood vessels near the surface of the skin enlarge, and sweat glands begin pouring fluids out in an attempt to cool the body. If you push your body too far, you could find yourself in a world of hurt. When heatstroke sets in, it can result in unconsciousness, seizures, and again, death.
The Problem: Dehydration is caused when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in or can be absorbed by our cells. To combat dehydration, it’s important to hydrate not just before and after a ride, but also throughout the ride. We know this is really old advice, but hey, sometimes in the dead of summer, it’s good to have a refresher course.
The Solution: Try switching to a hydration pack size that’s appropriate for the length of your ride. If you’re feeling the need to “ration” your water during a hot ride, you’re not drinking enough. By the same token, taking a huge hydration pack on a short ride doesn’t make much sense, since you’ll be portaging much more weight and adding more strain. Choose a pack that can carry at least 1 liter of water per hour of riding. And if you’re riding on any trail you’re not 100 percent familiar with, pack extra just in case.
While on trail, if you find yourself thirsty, you’re already down the road to dehydration. Make it a habit to drink consistently throughout your ride before your thirst hits.
The Problem: Although the sun is highest in the sky at noon, most day’s temps don’t peak until much later. The afternoon temperature continues to rise as long as the Earth is absorbing more heat than it can radiate back into space, and that means the worst time to ride in the heat is sometime between 3 and 5 o’clock. Additionally, the peak of the sun’s radiation happens around June 20th, during the summer solstice, but in most places, peak temps are later in the year. Peak temps typically happen in the end of July or beginning of August. This is known as the “lagging of seasons” and could spell disaster for your “duck out of work and go for a ride” afternoons.
The Solution: Even the hottest climates cool off significantly at night, and the same “lagging temp” principle applies to the nighttime just as much as it does the heat of the day. That means the coolest time of the day is in the very early morning hours, often before the sun comes up. This also means the best riding is at the most inconvenient times of the day. If you’re willing to ride at night, the lighting systems available now are much better than they were even a few years ago. Battery life, connections, and beam patterns of today’s lighting systems are so reliable that “midnight mountain biking” is a truly viable option and will certainly allow you to beat the heat.
The Problem: The abrasion resistant shorts and long-sleeve jersey you’re rocking most of the year will be punishing in the summer months. Understand that unless you live right on the equator, where the temps don’t change much at all, the riding gear you’re using will only be good for half the year.
The Solution: Plan to invest in at least one kit that includes the summertime essentials. A very lightweight and light-colored jersey will do the lion’s share of the work to keep you cool. If you ride with baggy shorts, choose ones with zippered vents that will allow for improved airflow. Also, choose lightweight, minimalist gloves during the hottest months. We’ve refused to use half-finger gloves for quite a while, simply because full-finger gloves offer more protection and comfort; however, we’ve found a number of ultra-lightweight full-finger gloves that we love to ride with.
The Problem: Remember when your mother told you that 70 percent of your body heat is lost through your head? That little medical myth may or may not be true, but we can tell you from our riding experience that the fastest way to overheat on a ride is to use a helmet that’s warm.
The Solution: The two factors we’ve seen that impact helmet heat are ventilation and color. We’ve ridden well-ventilated helmets that were black and enduro-style full-coverage helmets that were white, and both were too hot for a summer’s day. Find a helmet that’s well ventilated and comes in white or silver. While you’re at it, if your rides typically involve long climbing sections, look at investing in a hydration pack with a helmet carrying feature that will allow you to pull the lid off for the low-speed climbing sections where you’re least likely to crash and most likely to overheat.
The Problem: Riding in the heat of summer exhausting, and while it’s not an excuse for hanging up the bike altogether, it’s the best excuse you have for not pushing the envelope.
The Solution: Take it easy, kick back, relax, and listen to that alarm clock so you can get to the trails early in the morning and beat the heat. Another way to beat the heat is to head for higher ground. The temperatures on Mount Pinos (elevation 8800 feet) outside of Frazier Park, California, can easily be 30 degrees cooler than at the [Mountain Bike Action] headquarters forty minutes away at sea level. It is well worth a road trip up the mountain to get to ride in 70 degrees instead of 100 degrees.
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