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Hot Weather Riding Tips

Words & Photos from Randall Fransen and the Mettle Cycling Team

Riding in the Oregon summer is not as consistently challenging as other hotter areas of the country but that doesn’t mean we are without hot days that can catch any rider off guard. In fact, because hot days come fewer and further between, most Oregonians enjoying the outdoors have not acclimatized to exertion at higher temperatures. It can mean surprise fatigue, dehydration, and varying degrees of heat stroke; all unfriendly riding partners, especially when further afield from home and support.

It should be noted that longer rides during this pandemic should have proper preparation and support to avoid exposure through store stops or emergency pick-ups. Group riding should include only those in your household.

My personal learning experience on how to ride in hot weather came during the 2018 OKC ProAm Crit weekend. Having grown up in Oklahoma with humid summers of extended periods of days above 100 degrees, I assumed that I was always adapted to these conditions. Just like riding at altitude, the tolerance for heat disappears more quickly than you would imagine- typically within a week. Building a tolerance for heat, in our team’s experience, takes as short as ten days though often can take longer.

My first race that weekend was Friday afternoon and the heat index registered 108 degrees. I was unable to simply just finish the race after I spent an entire lap above my max heart rate and started seeing stars. I pulled over with warm water in my bottles, bone dry kit, and nothing else to cool me down. Upon recovery later that day I began researching how to compete in weather like this and quickly discovered I had done literally everything wrong.

As the weekend of racing went on, I improved my stamina (and placings) by incorporating the following tips into my riding. While none of us are group riding or racing anytime soon, these principles still apply to any hot weather riding. As always, these tips are assembled for information but not to be considered medical advice.

  • Start with a low core temperature – Heading out at the hottest part of the day is a good way to quickly raise your core temperature and put your body through additional stress. If you are hot at the beginning of your ride, it will take more to cool you down. Cold showers, cold drinks, and appropriate clothing will all contribute to lowering your core temperature for your starting point.
  • Hydration – As a bullet point, this may seem obvious but the finer points around staying hydrated may not be as obvious. They are:
    • A drink mix with electrolytes is extremely important. When riding in hot weather your sweat rate increases and, without proper acclimation to heat, the salt content of your sweat will be greater. This results in a higher rate of sweat requiring more frequent replenishment of those important electrolytes. For riders that have acclimated to hot weather, they will see higher efficiencies in a lower sweat rate with lower salt content.
    • Evaporation of sweat is what leaves salt stains behind. Cooling your body with water will assist your body in cooling itself without sweating as much. If you are able to access water you’re not carrying, keeping your head and kit wet in high temps will help tremendously
    • You may want to double your drink mix in some extreme cases. Riding across northern Idaho during August with the Leave It On The Road squad, (a cancer fundraising ride), temperatures were routinely 105 to 115 degrees. Even iced water didn’t stay cool for more than 15 minutes but two tabs of Nuun, (an electrolyte supplement), per bottle (1 bottle every thirty minutes) kept us in good shape.
    • 1 bottle per hour – This is typically the rule for routine riding. Depending on your personal needs this will likely increase for hot, summer riding and we mean the big bottles for these days, too. Be sure to calculate this average, too, as your cycling computer ticks off each hour out riding.
    • Drink cool water – this can be done by planning ahead and freezing half of your first bottle and ¾ of your second bottle. A 64-ounce convenience store cup of ice may cost as much as one with soda in it but the plain ice is far more valuable. A bag of ice is $2.50 but the soda cup full of ice is usually $0.99 or even less. Add ice to your water bottles, refresh your ice sock, and if there’s nothing in your jersey pockets drop some in there, too.
    • Hydration doesn’t stop once you get home – you will need to replace everything you lost! Drink, drink, drink, and set yourself up for success on the next ride.
  • Ice Socks – Stop by the drug store and grab a handful of $0.99 hosiery. Cut a leg off , stuff it with ice, and tie the top in a knot. Place it under your jersey between your shoulder blades and around the collar. Use your bib short straps to secure it if you’re wearing that style of shorts. The cold ice will melt over time and help with cooling your body.
  • Ride in the morning or early evening – In Oregon, peak temperatures typically come between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm. It’s summer so take advantage of the early light and get in the saddle and out on the road before the sun heats it up. If early mornings aren’t your thing, take advantage of that longer daylight hours by heading out later in the day. Bring lights so you can enjoy those beautiful twilight colors in the sky and ride into the early cool of the evening.
  • Moderate your effort – Do not expect that your body will be able to maintain the same output as it would on more moderate days. For every degree your internal body temperature rises your heart may beat up to ten times per minute more.
  • Plan your route – There should be safe bailouts and stops in order to execute all of these tips! Route planning apps and even Google Maps have all sorts of new functionalities that allow you to identify safe places to stop and rest along the way. City and regional parks are usually filled with big trees for shade and often have covered picnic areas where you can get relief from the direct sun.

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