Riding days in fine summer conditions can be a rare treat in the UK, so it pays to make the most of them when planning and executing the MTB rides that you lead.
You may have the chance to use your MTB leader qualification abroad in hot conditions and while these can be amazing experiences, conducting a safe and fun ride requires some specific actions from you as a leader. Rachael Crewesmith, a multi-discipline outdoor instructor and a British Cycling MTB Leadership tutor explains the challenge:
“Leading abroad in hot conditions can be an awesome adventure, but a problem that would be minor and easily solved in the UK can be a real issue when you are abroad. The mitigation for this is really simple; be really well-prepared and to know what you are going to do when problems happen.”
Preparation for rides in the heat
Many of the necessary considerations apply to preparation for the ride, before you or your riders put tyres to trail. Firstly, have a thorough think about where the ride will take place.
If there is a chance to do so, rides near large bodies of water or the coast can provide breeze to keep you cool. While this is not always possible, shorter looped rides mean that you are never too far away from a water top-up or shade.
However, the most effective mitigation for heat is to avoid the hottest part of the day, so early morning or evening rides can be both energising and a smart way to avoid the heat. If these adjustments aren’t possible, carrying a lightweight tarp can help to generate shade during rest stops and are an important item of kit if dealing with a heat casualty.
Preparation starts the night before the ride, when adequate hydration and good nutrition should be your priority. Sunblock is a must and should be applied well before the activity; doing this will give it time to soak in and if you apply it prior to donning your riding kit you’ll be less likely to miss spots that could then burn.
You should try to use water-resistant products as it is likely you’ll sweat them off. You should aim to reapply sunblock during the ride as even water-resistant types will not be effective after 40-80 minutes of sweating; sachets of sunblock can be a good way to carry extra without the bulk and weight of a whole bottle.
Once it is time to put on your gear, try to select breathable, light-coloured fabrics, these will reflect some of the heat from the sun and aid the cooling of the body by moving sweat away from the skin.
Don’t forget to prepare the kit and bikes for the ride ahead. Riding in the heat is hard, so do everything you can to safely reduce the weight you are carrying. One element that is hard to reduce is water, which you’ll need to drink a lot of during a ride in the heat. Filling a hydration pack a third full and freezing the night before the ride can deliver cool water to drink and keeps your back cool for longer; just remember to top it up when you are packing your backpack and ensure the drinking tube is not blocked.
The final step when preparing is to consider the group’s bikes. Just like clothing, black touch points can absorb heat, so if riding regularly in hot conditions, lighter coloured saddles and grips can be a wise choice.
The heat-absorbing black colour of bike tyres is hard to avoid and a tyre that gets very hot could blow out if tyre pressures are high; the best way to avoid this happening is to keep the bike out of direct sunlight, particularly hot cars on route to the ride.
The trails will be dusty with lots of loose debris, so judicious choice of lubricants and frame protection will avoid excessive wear or damage to the bikes. One of our tutors, Dan French of Exmoor adventures says:
“The rock on Exmoor can be really loose and it makes sense to protect vulnerable areas of your bike frame; I use a section of old tyres zip-tied to the bottom of my downtube to keep the worst of the rockstrikes at bay.’
During the ride
Climatic injuries are really hard to spot until it is too late, so it is a nice idea to put systems in place to monitor the condition of your riders. One technique is to ‘buddy-up’ riders so everyone has someone to monitor their fluid and food intake, watch for signs of dehydration or fatigue and remind them to reapply sunscreen!
If you pair riders during your pre-ride brief and remind riders to check on each other during rest breaks, they will be much more likely to make the system work. It is also a great way to get to know someone better.
Despite the hot weather, many riders will not eat or drink enough during the ride. Light, tasty snacks like nuts and seeds are nutritious, will help to replenish salts lost through sweating and are often the most palatable options in the heat.
Drinking small gulps of fluid regularly throughout the ride is the best way to stay hydrated. Whilst water will help to hydrate the body, adding a hydration tab or powder to fluids can speed the process up.
The best way to cool off during a ride is to prevent getting too hot in the first place. Given that you will have applied and reapplied sunblock, you could consider rolling up any long sleeves and/or removing knee pads if safe to do so; this will allow dissipation of heat through the ankles and knees.
If riding dry, dusty trails then heavy dust can prevent you cooling off and cause unwelcome hotspots, take the time to shake the dust off at stops and consider wearing a buff around your nose and mouth to prevent a sore throat.
You will also need to stop very regularly during the ride and you should try to find shady, breezy spots in which to do so; simple measures like removing helmets at rest stops can be forgotten when riders are hot and bothered, so try to build this into your rest-stop routine too. It is worth considering packing a headnet impregnated with insect repellent for use during rest stops; biting insects can be common in the heat, particularly in humid conditions or rest-stops near water and can ruin your well-earned rest-stop.
Most importantly, do watch out for signs of dehydration and excessive fatigue, constantly working to prevent these with effective group management. Do be prepared for a heat casualty, consult your first aid training provider for the latest practice on how to do so.
While you are out, be mindful to prevent any likelihood of causing fire. During extended dry conditions it is very easy for undergrowth to catch then quickly spread, potentially causing immediate danger to you, your group and other nearby countryside users as well as generating the sort of destruction seen in Afan Forest and on Saddleworth Moor albeit that these may have been deliberately caused.
After the ride
Riders will commonly be tired, hungry and thirsty after a ride in the heat, so try to plan in an option to rejuvenate riders and help them get comfortable, perhaps by changing out of their sweaty clothing. Professional riders pay a lot of attention to their recovery, there are resources to help you find out more on our insight zone.
It is as important to clean and check bikes after a ride in hot conditions as it is in cold and wet conditions. Check that dust is cleaned off the drivetrain and carefully check for any frame or component damage that might have been caused by rockstrikes.
Finally, do take the opportunity to record your ride in hot weather by taking lots of pictures and gather feedback from riders. These pictures and stories can be a fantastic way to promote your future rides, or at the very least motivate you to leave the house on the day on your next foul-weather riding day!