Summer Heat: Riding Safely As Temps Rise


Summer kicked things up a notch, and as we hit roll deep into July, we’re all preparing from some hot riding. But when does a hot ride become too hot?

The northern hemisphere is officially into summer, and while it’s a fleeting season for us, other part of the US endure a few brutal months of oppressive heat. While it might sound easy to just get up and ride early, not only does that not fit most people’s schedules, it may not even offer than much relief.

Most of us can exercise into the 70s and 80s without thinking too much of it, but heat is a relative thing to different people and in different areas. It’s no different than a Michigander happily rolling out in 48 degrees with bare knees and arm warmers, just as a Floridian would balk and stay inside. Flip the calendar, and you’ll probably find those roles reversed.

But when it comes to health and safety, there’s a science to what your body can safely endure. One part of this comes simply out of benefit. Especially if you’re training or riding hard, what is the payoff for possible heat exhaustion for the sake of a hard training ride, or even a local event? Is there a point where riding inside, drastically shortening or easing your workout, or even skipping a race is better in the long run?

Any exercise expert will tell you that exercising in the heat, in any sport, is extremely taxing. You can expect dehydration, dizziness, decreased performance, and the risk of heat stroke in temperatures in the low 80s, so any riding done above 80 should warrant extra care. Start hydrating early and often before you ride, and consider tossing in an electrolyte tablet to your first bottle of water of the day, even if you’re not riding until the evening.

It’s also a good idea to give your body time to acclimate to the heat by doing shorter, easier rides in the heat before hard efforts. As the temperatures increase, plan your easier days to be your first forays into high afternoon or evening temperatures, and do your hard stuff when it’s cool. Slowly, you’ll be able to switch plans as your body gets used to the heat.

When it’s really hot, opt for the woods. Temperatures on paved roads can easily hit 100 degrees or more on the tarmac, with the intense sun turning the road into an oven. There is often far less shade on road rides, and even if your speed helps to produce more of a breeze, it’s not enough to offset the intense sun. Mountain biking is a good option to stay in the share and still get in a great ride.

It’s not all about the elements, though. Riders can do a lot to keep their core temperatures as close to normal as possible by staying hydrated. Plan on at least one bottle per hour, and remember that even at that rate, you’ll likely be dehydrated by the end of the ride. Freeze bottles overnight so they stay cool longer, and bring more water than you think you need. You can also help keep cool by pouring water over your head and down your back, as well as by opting for thin, meshy materials for your kit.

Finally, know your limits. By noting and being honest about how your body deals with the heat, you can keep yourself out of trouble by knowing when to call it. 100 degrees days are rare, but they’re simply not the time to go ride a century, do your race workout, or do much more than throw on flip-flops to ride down to the beach. Think of extreme heat the same as you would extreme cold; there’s no shame in hopping on the trainer when it’s 15 degrees, and there’s no reason to do the same when it’s equally dangerous to train at 100.