Cycling in the heat – how to keep your cool!
Now summer has arrived, with it come high temperatures. However, as the thermometers only get high for a few weeks and most people in the UK aren’t used to the heat it can become a struggle to exercise. If you want to continue to cycle in the warm weather, then here are some things you can do to keep cool and stay safe.
The most obvious way to survive riding in the hot is to drink and I’m not talking about coffee at a café stop! It may be a bit obvious but not being sufficiently hydrated can not only ruin a ride but can also cause sickness. It’s not just about drinking on the bike either - make sure you take on fluids before and after your ride. The best way to see how hydrated you are, is to take a peek at your urine-the lighter in colour the better. If you have bright yellow or even brown urine you could be in trouble! If you feel thirsty then you are already dehydrated, so take regular sips throughout your ride rather than downing your bottle in one big go.
In hot weather it’s important to replenish sodium, which is lost when we sweat, so have a drink which contains electrolytes. Electrolytes are salts which contain not just sodium but also magnesium, potassium and calcium. You can get some powder or tabs which you to add to water. When riding in extreme heat I keep my sodium levels topped up by taking Salt Sticks - small tablets that you take about every hour or 30 minutes depending on temperatures.
A good tip is to freeze a second bottle of drink overnight so that it will still be cold the next day when you have finished your first drink. If you do freeze your bidon then remember to only ¾ fill it, as the fluid will expand when frozen!
The dangers of the sun are well known but it is still worth a reminder to apply sunscreen before your ride and also take a small tube with you. Lots of places sell mini-size sunscreen that will fit into your jersey back pocket. Don’t forget to apply cream to your neck which is exposed during cycling and those of you that are more ‘folically challenged’ may need to put some on your head! If your jersey has meshing you may even need to apply some underneath as you might otherwise get a spotty burn. Also watch out for mits that have holes in them. I’ve seen lots of people get small spots of burnt skin on their hands!
Plan your route
Make some time to plan your route according to the day’s weather forecast. Think about what time of day you will arrive at different points on route. Also plan a route that you know has some shops or cafes on the way, so that you can replenish your drinks bottle when needed. If you know it is going to be a really hot day, then consider splitting your ride into two and go out early in the morning and then later in the evening.
There is a vast array of cycle kit designed to keep you cool when riding in the heat. Invest in a wicking jersey, ideally with a full length zip. A cooling base layer is really useful as it will keep your body dry and cool in hot conditions but also warm on the descents. Our feet help to control the body's temperature, so keeping them cool with vented shoes and wicking socks will help stop you over-heating. It’s now even possible to get UV sun protection cooling arm warmers. Finally, don’t forget your head. A headscarf, ideally with a neck cover will stop your head getting burnt through the vents in your helmet.
Think about the pressure in your tyres. The heat will make the inner-tube expand and so reduce tyre pressure on hot days. The last thing you want is a blow-out!
Watch the road
Just as you would take care on ice in the winter, look out for heat damage on the road in the extreme heat. Summer ground temperature is higher than air temperature and tarmac absorbs the heat very easily. As you may have seen on the Tour de France TV coverage the roads can even melt! Some of you may remember the 2003 Tour when Joseph Beloki came off after his tyres stuck to the tarmac in the descent of Col de La Rochette, forcing Lane Armstong to ride through a field! Sticky asphalt can adhere to your tyres, which can then pick up pieces of dirt or debris and increase the risk of puncture. Look out for shiny spots on the road to avoid and if you realise that you have ridden over melted tarmac, check your tyres and very carefully scrape off as much of the asphalt as possible and then press some fine sand or dirt on the spots which should prevent more damaging debris sticking to the tyre.
About the author
Helen is the most recent British Quadrathlon Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner. She is also the former Middle and Sprint Distance World Quadrathlon champion in her age group and the 2018 age group World Cup Series winner. Before turning to quadrathlon, Helen was age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 she was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth