As cyclists, we all look forward to the long summer evenings, the feeling of the sun on your back as you ride and reaping the rewards of those tough winter miles. However, the summer months present their own challenges to riders, so how can you ensure that you don’t suffer in the heat.
Over the last few years there have been reports in the media of athletes and recreational exercisers over-hydrating. It is possible to over-drink but, for the majority of riders tackling Sportives or long training rides in the summer, under hydration is far more likely to be an issue and will have a negative effect on performance.
Follow our advice for maintaining optimal hydration, experiment in training to tweak these guidelines to find the volume and concentration of fluids that work best for you and apply your findings to your key events. You don’t need to overcomplicate things, just ensure you take a good gulp from your bottle every 10-15 minutes.
A top tip for keeping cool is to freeze your second bottle so that, by the time you come to drink it, it has thawed but will still be cool. Don’t fill the bottle fully before freezing though as the contents will expand, so only fill it three-quarters.
Adjust your pacing
If you are not well acclimatised to the heat, you will need to adapt your pacing strategy to compensate. Ride to the lower ends of your normal training zones, whether using heart rate or power, and, on long rides, pace ultra-conservatively early on until you have an idea of how your body is reacting to the heat. This especially applies to long climbs where your lower speeds mean you won’t benefit from the cooling effect of a headwind.
If you’ve got an event abroad and it’s likely to be hot, the ideal is to head out 7-14 days before the event but, unless you are a professional athlete or have a very understanding boss and family, this is likely to be unrealistic. There are protocols for home acclimatisation, such as using a turbo in the bathroom, but such extreme measures might not go down too well with other family members. The reality is that you’ll probably just have to adapt your pacing and hydration to the conditions and accept a drop in performance.
Avoid the hottest part of the day
Unless an event forces you to ride through the middle of the day in the summer, try to ride in the mornings or the evenings when the sun is less intense. This particularly applies if you have got some higher end efforts to tackle and you should also seek out routes that have some shade.
Dress for the heat
Choose a quality wicking short sleeved cycling jersey with a full length zip. A string or mesh vest will enhance the wicking process and, as it will keep you drier, will help prevent chilling on long descents. Even if it is a scorching day, especially if you are heading into the hills or mountains, always pack a lightweight windproof gilet for those descents or in case the weather unexpectedly changes.
Unvented helmets may give you a small aerodynamic edge but, in the heat, that time saved will rapidly disappear if you start to overheat. Choose well vented shoes and pair them with quality wicking socks.
What to eat?
The snacks that fuelled your rides during the winter and spring just might not appeal in hotter conditions. Look for gels that are more liquid and reduce the concentration of your energy drinks. Experiment in training and try some salty savoury options.
Slap on the sun cream
The dangers of over exposure to the sun are now well known and should be avoided. Use a quality sweat and water resistant sunblock with an SPF of at least 30 and pay particular attention to the back of your neck which is especially exposed on the bike. Don’t neglect your head as it is very easy to get burnt through the vents on your helmet. Look for sunblock with lasting protection and be sure to follow the instructions of when to apply them. With heavy sweating though, even the best sunblock won’t protect you over the course of a long day in the saddle. Carry a small spray bottle in your jersey pockets or saddlebag and re-apply every hour or so.
Look after your eyes
Sunglasses not only protect your eyes from damaging UV rays but also prevent dust, grit and flying insects from getting into your eyes.
Insects can be a real problem as the vents on modern helmets suck them towards your head and face. Carrying some non-drowsy anti-histamine tablets or some topical cream can significantly reduce the impact of an insect sting or bite. If you know you are allergic to insect stings, make sure that you are carrying the appropriate medicine, you have the necessary personal medical information on you and that you have informed your riding partners.
Check the pollen forecast
In rural areas, high pollen counts can be an issue for riders who suffer from hay fever and again, weather forecasts should be consulted and, if necessary, riding plans altered. In urban areas hot weather can lead to a significant reduction in air quality. Most weather forecasts now also carry air quality and pollution level warnings. Riders with asthma and other respiratory conditions need to be especially vigilant and should always carry their inhalers or other medicines.
Cool down post ride
Always aim to spin easily for the last ten minutes of any ride and then, along with your regular post ride recovery routine, make cooling your body a priority. Get out of the sun, blend some ice into your recovery drink and take a cool bath or shower. Keep sipping fluids, ideally containing electrolytes, for a couple of hours after your ride and don’t forget the aftersun.