Mountain biking in the heat: How to keep a cool head
The sun is beating down and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Summer has finally arrived! And with it, more time for riding bikes! Longer days and holidays are designed for one thing: bike rides with all the family. Blissful, right? But be careful when the temperatures start to soar…
... because cycling in hot weather brings a whole new set of challenges – especially for kids. Compared to adults, kids are more vulnerable to heat and humidity. Hot conditions are likely to impact their performance and endurance on the bike. This means you will need to adapt your outdoor agenda – stay flexible and evaluate the day’s temperatures when planning where to ride, how far to go, and what to wear. We have compiled a set of practical tips to keep your kids’ temperature down and their performance up:
Water, Water, Water
Sweat glands work overtime on a bike ride in summer. Each droplet of sweat contains vital minerals that help our bodies function. By keeping hydrated with regular fluid intake, you can maintain the balance between water and electrolytes. Avoid carbonated drinks; water is the ultimate thirst-quencher. Take a break every 20 minutes for a drink; don’t wait until someone says that they feel thirsty. What’s more, make sure you drink in the hours leading up to the ride – plus one final glass before putting on your helmet.
Don’t forget refills – A single bike bottle is not enough for a summer cycling adventure. Carry as much liquid as possible during the ride, because who knows when you will pass the next water fountain. Hydration bladders are a practical solution, or simply carry additional bottles in your backpack. On really warm days, use some of this extra fluid to cool off – splash it on forearms and faces to stay refreshed.
Tip: The sun will try to magically turn your water into tea – avoid this by adding ice cubes before setting off, or by mixing half a fresh bottle of water with a half-full bottle that you have pre-frozen the night before.
Cooling-off points on your route
Rule #1: Plan your route carefully; don't be too ambitious.
Rule #2: Take regular breaks to catch your breath and cool off.
Rule #3: Find ways to refresh on route.
Heading straight for the top of the mountain is not the best idea on a hot day. Especially not at the start of the season, when our bodies need time to acclimatize to the soaring temperatures. The most sensible route for your summer bike ride includes as much shade as possible. We suggest winding through the woods under the cover of the trees or cruising alongside a stream or river. It can be up to 6 degrees Celsius cooler in a forest where you can enjoy nature's own air conditioning! Pick a shady spot on the water banks for a mid-ride dip; the fresh water will feel good on your tired legs from all the pedaling and they will thank you! Make sure your route includes small goals along the way – including the obligatory ice cream stop!
Pick your moment
The early bird catches the worm! This old saying is true for riding in the summer. The air is fresher in the early hours and the ozone level won’t reach its peak until mid to late afternoon. Ozone (O3) is a gas created in the atmosphere that can irritate your eyes and lungs, causing shortness of breath. The stronger the sun, the higher the concentration of ozone. When possible, avoid riding in the mid-afternoon on the hottest days so that you limit exposure to ozone and the heat. Mornings don't work? Head out for a ride in the early evening as the sun dips down over the treetops. It's a special time of day.
Find out more about the risks of ground-level ozone here: https://www.gesundheit.de/fitness/sport-im-sommer/schutz-beim-sommersport/ozon
Let the air flow
Riding in the heat is much more enjoyable when you are dressed for the weather. And just like bikes have advanced in recent years, so has cycling apparel. Whatever your biking style, there’s a cycling clothing on the market that will suit every taste and keep you comfortable on your bike. But what to wear on the hottest summer days? The answer is a lightweight top made with a breathable, high performance fabric that you can rely on to wick sweat away from your skin and transport it to the outside. Breathable fabrics mean that your self-made heat won’t get trapped between your body and your apparel. What’s more, the same top will be quick-drying too, so you won’t cool off too rapidly on downhills. Well-ventilated or breathable panels make sure that air keeps circulating as you cut through the air.
Top tip #1: pack a spare jersey! You do not want to reach your destination drenched in sweat because your wet top will feel very unpleasant and you run the risk of cooling off too quickly in the shade.
Top tip #2: Bright colours are your friend! They are better at reflecting sunlight and will trap less heat.
Protect yourself from the sunlight
You can’t escape the blazing sun forever. Especially not in the mountains, where you are likely to break the tree line. Up here, the sun's rays are stronger. As the altitude increases, so does the intensity of the UV rays, so protection is even more vital when climbing.
Clothing with built-in UV protection is the most effective way to protect your child’s vulnerable skin. Apply sun screen liberally at regular intervals throughout the day to protect any areas of exposed skin from sun burn. Use for SPF50 for the most effective protection. Don’t forget uncovered areas like necks, ears, tip of the nose, and backs of the hands.
Helmets have an extra function in the summer beyond just keeping us safe; they also prevent direct exposure to the sun and help keep our heads cool. Before buying any helmet, check it has ample ventilation to keep air flowing. Children’s eyes are also susceptible to UV damage so make sure you invest in cycling sunglasses to keep them safe.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke – what can you do?
While adults tend to be well attuned to their body’s signals, children may not realise that they are too hot until it is too late. As such, it's even more important to watch out for these warning signs that the heat is taking its toll on your child:
- Does your child feel hot to touch?
- Do they have a dry mouth?
- Any visible paleness around their upper lip and nose?
- Are they flushed and red in the face?
- Are they acting up? Restless? Complaining of dizziness?
What to do: stop cycling, find a shady spot, loosen off any tight clothing, try to cool them down gradually, and ensure they keep sipping on fluids. For more details on the risks of heat exhaustion while cycling, read this.
Have a great time but remember to use your head: if the temperature has shot up into the 30s, it might be worth rescheduling your ride for a cooler day.
Do you have any cool top tips for keeping cool on hot days? We would love to know!