9 tips for cycling in the heat

Rebecca Bland
6 minutes

While the summer months are what most of us look forward to all year round, dreaming of hot weather riding as we sweat it out on the turbo trainer in the depths of winter, sometimes there is too much of a good thing. And with the UK subjected to a heatwave recently, and more likely in the future, we thought it was a good time to give you some quick tips to try and help you (pardon the pun), ride out the heatwave safely.

What happens to your body when you cycle in hot weather?

The goal is to keep your body temperature around 37 degrees. As your temperature rises, it forces your body to work harder to stay cool. Add a bike ride in the heat, and your body is now dealing with a number of stresses to keep you cool.

Your heart is busy pumping oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and moving blood to your skin to decrease your body temperature, which forces you to sweat. This cooling system can only last for so long before your core temperature increases. As your body reaches 40 degrees or so you'll start to experience dizziness, sickness and feeling lightheaded. If you continue to push it, it could lead to things like heatstroke.

1. Avoid the hottest parts of the day

Now, this probably goes without saying but heading out for a set of Vo2 max intervals at high sun time is not the wisest idea. Being able to choose your training time obviously depends on your personal schedule - not everyone has the luxury of being able to allocate the time they want to training!

That being said, there are ways to work around it. If you can, the best times to avoid the extreme temperatures will be early morning and later in the afternoon or evening when the temperature has dipped to avoid the worst of the high temperatures and issues that come with riding in the heat.

If you can't train at either of those times and your schedule means riding is only possible during the hottest parts of the day, then you have a few options. Firstly, try and plan a route with plenty of tree cover to get as much shade as you can. Trying to stay cool will pay dividends here and avoiding the worst of the sun's rays is key to not overheating.

Secondly, adjusting your route is always an option. By this we mean think about staying a bit more local to home, maybe even doing laps so that you can pull out of your ride easily if your body temperature rises beyond comfort. This also goes for if you have a mechanical and you can't fix it by the roadside - at least your rescue will be shorter and you won't be laid up on the side of the road in the heat this way!

Finally, you can always choose to train another day, or get your session done indoors. While it might feel criminal to ride the turbo trainer while the sun is shining, if it's the best and safest way for you to get your planned session done. If you do choose to do it indoors, just make sure that you're in a well-ventilated space and invest in a good fan.

2. Stay hydrated and fuelled on the bike

Staying properly hydrated in hot weather is imperative not only for your performance on the bike but also for your wellbeing. Putting ice in your water bottle before you ride will help to keep your drink cooler for longer, and there are even water bottles designed to keep drinks cool or warm (depending on what you fill them with) which may be worth the investment for a nice refreshing sip of your drink in the summer.

But it's not just water you need to take on board - sodium is lost through sweat and needs to be replaced as you ride. Electrolyte tablets are a great way of getting the right amount, but how do you know how much to drink?

Measuring your sweat rate is a great way to know exactly how much you should be refuelling with liquid to stay hydrated. This is how you measure it:

  • During a 1hr ride, you consumed 1 litre of fluid (Which is equal to roughly 1kg)
  • Your pre-session weight was 80kg
  • Your post-session weight was 78kg, which equals 2 litres lost
  • 1 L fluid consumed + 1 litre put back = total of 3 litres lost

If we put it into a calculation it would look like: 80kg-78kg= 2L     

2kg + 1L = 3L sweat rate

On top of being hydrated - make sure you don't overdo it! Being overhydrated is equally as dangerous and can cause hyponatremia, which can be deadly. We won't go into details here as we're not medical professionals, but if you find yourself needing to pee A LOT on the bike, and it's a very light colour, then you can probably relax a little on the drinking.

Eating enough food on the bike will also help you in warmer temperatures, as you need the energy to ride through the heat. Depending on your training, aim for at least 60-90 grams of carbs per hour to see you through.

3. Wear sunscreen

This isn't for keeping you cool, but suncream is an essential for bright sunshine and hot days. We all know the risks of not wearing it by now - sunburn, skin cancer, early ageing and dodgy burn lines, so don't be a fool and put yourself at risk because you want to tan.

The type and SPF of suncream you use will be personal, but look for one that doesn't run as soon as you start to sweat. Whether that's a spray, roll-on or cream, what works for you might not work for others. There are a few cycling specific brands out there, if that appeals.

We'd also recommend taking a small top-up with you if you're planning on being out in the hot weather for more than a few hours.

4. Stop for an ice cream

Hot weather and high temperatures are a great excuse to get an ice cream at the café stop! If you're lucky enough to have a long climb near a park or a nature reserve, you might find that the ice cream van will be there to greet you.

Ice cream or something similar like a cold milkshake etc. is a great way of reducing your core temperature on a hot day, and can act as a great incentive to get you out on your bike - particularly if you have a long ride in your plan.

Alternatively, instead (or maybe as well as) a cold shower when you get home, why not keep an ice cream or lolly in the freezer for your arrival!

5. Leave the skinsuit at home

Dressing suitably for the temperature is key to keeping your core temperature low enough to function properly in warm weather. Unless you're riding a time trial, you don't necessarily need a skinsuit or really race fit clothes - although this depends what the construction is.

Look for clothing that has mesh (but remember to apply suncream beneath it), or excellent sweat-wicking properties to help with evaporative cooling on the bike. A lot of companies now sell UV resistant cycling clothing, which is great for reducing sun exposure. They might have UV resistant properties in their short sleeve jerseys and shorts, or, they may sell UV arm and leg sleeves, which can act as another barrier to the sun.

6. Be wary of the road surface

This might sound odd, particularly if you're used to worrying more about ice than melting roads, but being aware of the road surface is quite important in excessive heat. Over prolonged periods of high temperatures, the roads can begin to essentially melt which is not ideal for road cycling.

Melting tar can stick to your tyres, and it can also cause issues when you're descending, as it can cause your tyres to stick, and if enough tar is accumulated it could block the gap between the top of your tyre and your fork or rear frame clearance.

7. If you're heading abroad, acclimatise

This might not be as easy as it sounds if you're riding through normal UK summer months, but if you're heading to somewhere where the weather conditions will be significantly warmer, it's a good tip to try and acclimatise before you go.

You don't need your Garmin to tell you when you're 100% acclimatised, but by riding in the heat in the UK and building your intensity or distance up slowly, you'll help to get your body used to riding in hot weather and will be less likely to suffer quite as much when you arrive at your destination.

Think of it like when the pro cyclists ride the Tour de France. They don't just turn up and hope that their lungs can cope with the altitude or the heat. Instead, they spend months and months preparing prior to the Grand Tour so that their body is ready and prepped for the challenging riding conditions ahead.

8. Lower your intensity

As tempting as it may be to start trying to smash out the PBs or setting a new FTP because the sun is out, it's actually a better time to lower your intensity and keep your rides a little bit easier. Yes, sweating can negate a little bit of excess heat when it comes to staying cool, but it shouldn't be relied on as your only source of cooling.

A heightened core temperature can lead to decreased performance on the bike for many cycling in hot weather, so whether it's by decreasing the time you're out on the bike or the intensity, it's important you don't push yourself in the heat.

9. Pre-cool yourself before riding

Naturally, being proactive is a great way to keep yourself cooler on a ride. Some ideas include using an ice vest while you warm up (you've probably seen the professionals using these), or filling an old pair of tights or socks with ice cubes, thus creating 'ice socks' and putting them down your jersey or in your jersey pocket.

For a cooling effect while you ride, why not use a bandana or a buff soaked in cool water to wrap around your wrists or your neck? There are plenty of ways to get inventive with stuffing things into your jersey pockets to keep cool as well as the old fashioned cold fluid intake methods.

Final thoughts

While many cyclists yearn from riding in the hot weather when they're in the depths of winter, the reality can be a little bit more unsettling. The sun is a strong beast and unfortunately, keeping cool on your bike in the sun requires a little bit more than a cool drink. Hopefully these tips will help to offer you some respite from the sun and the heat, but if you're ever in doubt about your safety, then consider postponing or delaying your ride to another day. No training session is worth more than your health.

And if you want a training plan that's as flexible as you, then why not try Spoked? It's free for the first 14 days, and you can download it for both Apple and Android from the App Store or the Google Play Store.