Top Tips for Riding in Hot Weather: Surviving Summer Rides
Summer has arrived, the sun is out, and temperatures are soaring. After a winter of cold weather and a wet spring, it’s time to take advantage of the dry roads and clear skies.
It’s not that simple, though. So before taking on your first warm-weather ride of the year, be sure to prepare yourself for the challenges of exercising in the heat.
There are real risks associated with cycling in the heat, both short-term and long-term, making it critical to know how to manage hot weather rides and avoid any unfavorable outcomes; we’ve made the mistakes so that you don’t have to.
If you plan on biking in 90-degree weather or above, check out our 14 summer ride survival tips to help maximize your enjoyment, stay safe, and make training gains.
When is it too hot to ride?
In theory, there is no specific temperature when it becomes too hot to ride as it’s a highly personal question. However, it’s probably best to avoid anything above 100-110 degrees for most people. If that’s the case, it’s better to stay inside and cycle indoors.
If you are well acclimated to the heat, have a good understanding of hydration, prepare adequately, and ride within your limits, you could cycle during peak temperatures in your area. However, melting road surfaces might get in your way.
Preparation for Cycling in the Heat
1. Ice, Ice, Ice
The night before biking in heat, prepare some ice cubes to put into your bottles right before heading out. Alternatively, fill two bottles halfway, freeze them overnight, and top them up before heading out the next day. This method is more effective than ice cubes alone.
2. Hydrating in Advance
Competitive cyclists can get ahead of their hydration needs by ingesting a non-carbohydrate electrolyte solution or adding salt to their water the day of an event in hot temperatures. However, for all riders, competitive or not, you should be taking in plenty of water before cycling.
For example, if you ride first thing in the morning, leave a tall glass of water beside your bed the night before and drink it within the first few minutes of waking up. If you ride later in the afternoon or evening, ensure you drink water regularly all day.
One extra benefit of hydrating in advance is you will reduce your total fluid needs during the ride, making it easier to achieve your target intake, which cyclists can struggle with (especially in competition).
3. Route Planning
Plan a route with regular opportunities to fill up your bottles. Most riders will require at least one bottle per hour. Additionally, for rides lasting over 2 hours, you may want to stop, eat and cool down in the shade, so consider this when you plan your route.
Although cycling tan lines can be hilarious, skin damage is no joke. Along with skin damage, sunburn can speed up the process of dehydration.
Be sure to use sunscreen before any ride outside of the winter months. Additionally, it’s worth reapplying to exposed areas on rides longer than 2-2.5 hours in the summer, especially if you plan to ride a century or longer.
A helpful trick for the forgetful ones among us is to place a travel-size bottle of suncream in your saddle bag as a backup or beside your helmet as a last chance reminder.
5. Clothing and Accessories
Clothing can also protect you from the sun, and many modern bike clothes have inbuilt SPF protection. So if you’re specifically sensitive to burning, this is a sensible choice.
Additionally, choose clothes that will allow you to cool down more effectively. These include a jersey with a full front zipper that you can open during intense efforts, extra-light materials, and clothing with moisture-wicking properties to keep you cool.
Accessories can also help make hot-weather riding easier. For example, a light cycling cap can help keep the sweat out of your eyes, an inevitability while biking in the heat.
But, most important are some good-quality cycling sunglasses. They will help protect your eyes from UV damage (especially relevant for individuals with light-colored eyes) and keep your vision clear from glare.
There are a couple of helpful ways to acclimate to the heat and improve your performance during summer rides. These include sauna bathing (which has other health and performance benefits) and Bikram hot yoga, performed in a humid, climate-controlled room between 90 and 110 degrees.
Exposure to high temperatures, as in the sauna, or exercise in a warm, humid environment will condition your body for similar activities, such as hot-weather cycling.
Alternatively, you can develop an ability to perform in hot weather by doing short rides during peak temperatures, building up to longer durations, distances, and more strenuous efforts over a few weeks.
This type of heat acclimation is essential for preparing for a race or event that will take place during peak temperatures in the summer but should be guided by a professional coach.
7. Choose a Cooler Time of Day or Train at Altitude
If you’re not explicitly doing heat-acclimation rides, early morning and late evening are the best times to begin your rides. The sun is low in the sky, temperatures are lower, and traffic is lighter (on the weekends, at least).
Another tactic to employ (if you live in a mountainous area) is riding into the mountains. Although this requires more effort, there is typically more shade on mountain roads and trails, and the temperatures can be a little cooler than on flat plains.
8. Go Easy
Finally, the least complicated training modification for cycling in warm weather is to take it easy. If you’re not accustomed to riding in the heat or training when temperatures are above 100 degrees, ride slower than your usual average pace.
Knocking 10-20 percent off your typical effort will balance out the additional difficulty from the heat.
What to do During and After Biking in Heat
9. Ride hydration
The number one priority for riding in hot weather is taking in fluids while on the bike. Mid-ride is when you are most vulnerable, especially for ride durations over 90 minutes. Slight dehydration of just 1% of your body weight can cause slowing of reactions, fatigue, elevated core body temperature, and muscle cramps.
To determine how much water (in ounces) you require every 15 minutes during exercise, you can use this formula: body weight (in lb) divided by 30. For example: 180lbs/30=6oz. Therefore, try to consume at least 6oz of fluids per 15 minutes of exercise (24oz per hour), increasing the amount for hot weather rides and even more in humid climates.
Additionally, consider using an electrolyte solution to rehydrate on rides lasting 90 minutes or more, as plain water will not replace the lost salts. Most people underestimate their fluid needs and ultimately under-hydrate during hot weather training. Try to avoid this by drinking regularly instead of following your thirst levels.
Finally, a note for salty sweaters; if your sweat regularly leaves heavy white salt stains on your clothes, you may need to increase your electrolyte intake further.
Although not as obvious, hot weather exercise also increases the energy demands, meaning you will need to eat more than you would in cold conditions. Unfortunately, though, your appetite may be lower due to the heat. If this is the case, try to overcome that feeling and take in calories regularly to avoid bonking, especially in the form of carbohydrates.
11. Don’t Experiment
It would be best if you kept experimentation with new hydration and nutrition strategies or personal records for distance and Strava KOMs for less demanding weather conditions where the margin for error is wider.
Exhausting yourself or getting your nutrition/hydration wrong when biking in hot weather is more dangerous.
12. Mid-Ride Stops
Mid-ride coffee or lunch breaks are a must for the weekend warrior, and they provide an excellent opportunity to cool down, rehydrate and refuel. To maximize the benefit of your mid-ride stops in hot conditions, stay in the shade, drink plenty of water, have a snack, and skip the beer.
13. Splash Yourself With Cold Water
Using one of your icy-cold water bottles, you can pour some water down the back of your head and neck and also down your arms and legs. Doing this is especially helpful during or after strenuous efforts to provide some quick relief from the heat.
14. Post-Ride Hydration and Nutrition
Finally, surviving summer rides doesn’t stop once you get off the bike. It’s essential to continue hydrating and refueling afterward to ensure you recover well. Electrolyte solutions, extra water, carbohydrates, and high-protein foods will facilitate recovery after hot weather cycling.