Keeping Your Cool On The Trails
In the summer, whether your'e mountain biking along dirt trails or cycling back roads, heat can place considerable demands on your body's natural cooling mechanisms. To help avoid heat-related illness and survive the heat, here are a few tips for keeping your cool this summer while cycling your favorite mountain bike trail or bike path.
On those searing hot summer days, heat stress can occur when high humidity, radiant heat from the sun and elevated air temperature combine to impede your body's ability to dissipate heat. We have learned to recognize when we need to take a break from our bike ride and seek out shade. For us it is the first sign of a headache or nausea. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive thirst, profuse sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, vomiting, fatigue and fainting. The skin usually feels cold and clammy to the touch.
Here are a few more cool tips. Enjoy your summer bike ride. Also check out bike basics for more biking tips.
Drink before, during and after your bike ride
Begin drinking even before you get on the bike or start your ride.
Recognize the signs of dehydration
Bikers and hikers need to recognize the signs of dehydration. When you feel thirsty, your body is telling you something. You may not be in immediate danger of shrivelling up like a prune, but there is risk in ignoring the message. Try to drink at least 8 to 12 ounces by sipping fluids every 20 minutes. It is better to sip the fluids in order to avoid stomache discomfort.
Carry more fluid than you think you'll need
If you cannot carry enough fluids in your water bottles, wear a back or hip-mounted insulated hydration system. They come in different sizes and usually hold 70 or 100 ounces of fluid. Smaller hydration packs are available for children. Some have added compartments for storing snacks, light jackets or other trail neccessitie s. Such systems also keep fluids colder, so you are likely to want to drink more.
Cool Tip: Yech! In the hot summer sun the water in your hydration pack or water bottle heats up rather quickly. Try filling just 1/4 (dont over do it!) of the water bladder of your hydration pack and keep it in the freezer the night before your ride. when you are ready to set out on your ride, fill up the remaining 3/4 with water. You can do this with a water bottle too.
Replace lost electrolytes
In addition to our hydration packs, we usually clip a a bottle containing a Sports Drink like Gatorade or Powerade to the bottle holder on our bike frames. Sipping carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages during the ride helps to replace lost electrolytes and boosts energy levels. Low sodium levels can lead to a condition called Hyponatremia. Symptoms are similar to those of dehydration (headaches, nausea, confusion, cramps and fatigue). Some people don't have any symptoms. If severe, it can lead to coma or even death. There is also evidence that carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages replace lost fluid in the blood at a slightly faster rate than pure water.
Cool tip: After your ride it is also important to restore your sodium/potassium levels. You lose a lot when you sweat alot. One of our favorite post ride drinks is a cold glass of low sodium V-8 juice or Trader Joe's Low Sodium All Natural Garden Path Blend. Both are packed with potassium.
Cool tip: Electrolyte tablets are now available that are designed just for hydration packs. You just drop a tablet into the water (no stirring or mixing). There is no sugar, so no messy sticky, reservoir cleanups.
Keep the sun off your head
Not only is a bicycle helmet fundamental to safety, but when that bright summer sun shines brightly down from above, it also protects your scalp from sunburn and provides shade.
Replace your old clunky helmet
As most of our body heat is lost through our heads, a heavy padded foam helmet with little ventilation can trap heat. The re-designed ventilation system and lightness of today's helmet materials make them cool in the heat of summer. (It is advised that you replace your helmet every three years).
Don't melt your helmet. Do not keep your helmet in the trunk of your car on hot summer days. The heat may weaken the helmet and possibly loosen the glues or other materials used in helmet construction.
The right bike clothing
For a comfortable summer ride, wear the appropriate cycling apparel. New materials made of a wicking material will transport pespiration and enhance cooling by evaporation. Mesh panels can increase comfort by allowing more air to reach the skin. In hot weather, wear light colored clothing designed for summer riding. For example, a white or light colored Jersey will deflect a large portion of the sun's rays.
Summer Cycling Gloves
Look for a cycling glove with a vented mesh back and exposed finger tips to allow air circulation and help keep your grip on the handle bars while biking this summer.
Protect your skin.
Remember to use plenty of sunblock on your face, arms and legs. Do not use oil-based sunscreens. The oil on your skin impedes sweating and acts as a magnifying glass to the sun's rays.
Take regular breaks
Stop cycling if you feel weak, dizzy or fatigued. An early warning signal for me is usually a headache. I always make sure to find a shady spot and pull over to the side of the trail safely, away from possible oncoming riders or other traffic and cool down before resuming my ride.
Made in the shade
On a hot summer day, a shaded bike path going through the forest may provide a welcome, cool relief. Consider starting your ride early in the morning and finishing up your ride early before the hottest part of the day. Usually between noon and 4 pm.
Note: Nothing takes the place of good sound judgement. Know your physical limits. Plan your distances accordingly. If you get stumped, © prepare properly for the heat and plan your ride where there are known water stops. Then nothing should stand between you and an excellent bike ride.
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