Very little feels better than this on a hot day. Stop and douse the helmet and face if necessary. Pixabay photo.
It’s freaking HOT outside and we’re at about 90% humidity. Goddammit. I love mountain biking, but sometimes this means longer, epic rides line up with the worst global warming has on offer.
A week or so ago I was building strategies on how not to die during a 45-mile XC race for which the forecast was 95 degrees. My body would surely be dumping out water like crazy. And it wasn't going to evaporate or cool me properly (given the humidity), so my body would probably dump even more in a hopeless feedback loop-attempt to regulate my temperature. Over the course of four-ish hours, this could absolutely lead to dehydration or worse.
I wound up a respectable 5th. So below is the well-researched list of what I came up with to avoid a biological sufferfest on a long, intense or hot ride.
#1: Hydrate properly before your ride/race/exertion
It's not critical to flex as you grab the bottle, however. Wikipedia Commons photo.
This is a no-brainer, I guess. Drink more water than you normally do for a day or so before a hot ride. It might not feel 100% normal, and you’ll be peeing more. But your body will be topped off and ready to roll. You’ll know you’ve reached hydration when you pee clear.
However, do NOT chug an ass-ton of water right before your ride or race. That’s just uncomfortable. Don’t do that.
#2: Sip early during the ride
Properly hydrate and you can keep shredding through any hot day. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Even though, when properly hydrated, you’ll probably be fine for close to an hour of riding, definitely take sips of water when you get a chance. Every few minutes or so. Sips. And steady.
#3: Load ice into your water bottle or hydration pack.
Yeah, she's got her helmet off, but it's a kind of 'break' climb. Pixabay photo.
It’ll cool you down. Sure, it won’t last forever, but it’ll keep core temperature down just that much longer. Dehydration and overheating go hand in hand on hot days. Sometimes you’ll need to try to cool down a bit as well as get some fluids or electrolytes back into you. A bit of ice water in the helmet vents or down the jersey can be a revelation. I'll fill my bottles with ice cubes the night before and store them overnight in the freezer and then top off the water in the am just before the ride.
#4: If you are thirsty, drink something.
Sometimes you'll get caught up in the scenery, or talking to your friends, but remember to keep drinking. Wikipedia Commons photo.
This seems obvious, of course, but sometimes you're feeling good and want to keep cranking and not bust your vibe, especially in an XC race. But be aware: dehydration will sneak up quick, so continued sips and a small break will ensure you're still feeling good after the next 20 minutes or an hour.
#5: Know the signs of dehydration
Even if you're blissed out on sweet singletrack, pay attention.Crested Butte photo.
I get kinda cranky when I start to get dehydrated. If you feel your mood darken, that’s a sign you may need water, not therapy.
After cranky comes dizzy and/or uncoordinated. If you feel your heart rate quicken, and you can’t seem to get it to come down, or it’s beating irregularly, definitely stop. Also, if you start to get bucked around by stupid little features you usually roll over without noticing, your coordination is starting to suffer.
After that comes cramping. This is your body pulling the e-brake. At this point it’s also about electrolytes (potassium, sodium), which your body loses along with sweat.
#6: If you feel wrong, then you are wrong
Carry enough water for a few hours if you're going to be out a long time. And don't drop into something sketchy if you're not feeling 100%. Pixabay photo.
If you’re racing or riding along and you have inexplicable fantasies of murdering your riding buddies, that’s your body telling you something, not a reason for any violence. Except for that one guy who won't shut up. He’s a wanker; leave his body in the bushes.
Mostly, if you catch it early, water and maybe some electrolytes are all you need. Don’t get too nuts adding blue body-building chemicals to all your water bottles. Engage in a little self-talk to get yourself back to smiling after you drink something and cool down a bit.
#7: Add reasonable salts or electrolytes to your routine for the day
If your bike doesn't have a bottle cage, this awesome strap is a great addition. GW photo.
As mentioned above, cramping or dizzyness can also be from a loss of salts or electrolytes. Again, don't go too nuts with a thousand supplements here, just put something back into your drink to compensate for what's been leaving your body. I recently got some samples of Skratch Lab's rescue hydration mix and it seems to work wonders for me without twisting my stomach. It's focused more on just giving you back your salts. Though there are others of course. I've liked Hammer Heed, for example. Do some experimenting but know that a light touch is better than mixing a syrup-y concoction.
Have fun out there and stay safe. Below is a video from the always-excellent guys at GMBN. Though, if you're going to take tips for riding in the heat and staving off dehydration, perhaps the English aren't the perfect bunch. But I'm sure they did their homework.