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Bespoken Word – too hot to handle? Our advice on riding in the heat

A female asian mountain biker rides a berm and leans almost horizontally. She's wearing the new Asym jersey from YT.
(Image credit: YT Industries)

For most of my long mountain biking life, writing a 'what to do in prolonged hot/dry weather' list for the UK would have been penned in bitter irony. At the same time as unwanted heat PRs are being smashed in the UK, seriously lethal levels of hotness are in full swing all over the globe. Whether you accept that these unprecedented temperature highs are a planetary allergic reaction to the most toxic of its resident species, or the product of a space prism created by covert lizard leaders to get us to rub more 5G nano--mind-control-sunscreen into us, there’s no doubt that things are getting seriously hot here on Earth. 

So how does that impact us as riders, what can you do about it and how can we use mountain biking to reduce risks and issues for others?

Canyon Neuron action

Dusty riding and British trails are not a normal combination! (Image credit: Canyon)

Wheels on fire

Mountain baking

Obviously as mountain bikers the first thing we think about is the welfare of our bike. The good news is that unlike Victorian wrought iron bridges in London there’s nothing to worry about structurally. Carbon fibre resins are now UV resistant enough to make sun exposure a non issue so your composite frame won’t wilt in the warm. Your metal frame won’t stretch so much it turns your Yeti SB-115 into a Geometron either.

Suspension

You will find that if your suspension doesn’t use much oil it might heat up enough to flow faster than normal. That might mean you’ll need to add more clicks of rebound or compression damping for a similar effect. Elastomer bumpers in cheaper forks can get softer too, so be ready to add preload to stiffen things up.

 Lube

If you’ve not already switched to a dry lube, do it. Not just for the novelty of not using a mix similar to that used on North Sea oil rigs, but because a dry lube will reduce the build of gunk and mess. That means your chain will stay cleaner and run smoother for longer until the dust turns to swamp again. Probably tomorrow.

Tires

Tire manufacturers spend a lot of time making sure their products survive fine in the most inferno-like conditions. In fact they often spend considerably more time doing that than bothering to make a decent mud tire for the tiny percentage of the global riding population that regularly need them. However, the trails you’re riding right now will be very different to normal. Dust isn’t just a one day a year oddity and trail center kitty litter isn’t stabilized in sludge, it’s free to slide around like ball bearings. That means that lowering your tire pressure to add grip might seem a smart idea. However, you’ll be going a lot faster on harder trails and what used to be muddy ruts can get baked into concrete hard, tire splitting, rim bending blades. That means increasing pressure and just learning to cope with the resulting drift is probably the smart move. 

Bottles and 'Baks

Riding in the heat means you need to drink a lot more too, so fit as many bottles as you can. Even getting just a small bottle can be a real fight on some frames though so get ingenious. Side loading cages can be a big help, and companies like YT produce specific short/fat bottles and cages to squeeze into spaces normal bottles can’t. You can even get strap-on bottle mounts from Fidlock, bottle boss converters from brands like 76 Projects or even soft fabric handlebar  bike packing pockets to camel up your chassis. 

Dropping 'camel' into the conversation is a reminder that you can wear a lot of water in Camelbak style bags or hip packs. Squishy bladders/bags can also be squeezed into internal frame storage spaces and Specialized even include one as standard on the Stumpjumper Evo

Nino Schurter and Lars Forster cornering on dust

UK Epic riders are coping with Cape Epic conditions this week  (Image credit: Scott-SRAM)

It's getting hot in here

Drink

Obviously taking a ton of water with you is no use if you don’t drink it. Sensible hydration isn’t a yard of ale downing contest though, so drink small amounts regularly rather than swilling a gallon down in one every hour. Don’t ‘ration’ water though. If your body is telling you to drink, then drink. And if that means you’re worried you’ll run out before the end of the ride then either work out a diversion to get more, or cut the ride short. Don’t think pedaling parched is in any way heroic either, even being dehydrated by a tiny amount can cut physical performance and mental awareness. Once you get towards double figure percentage dryness you’re potentially heading into really dangerous long term issues like killing intestinal tissue, heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

E-Caliber

Use any means possible to cool down, and keep an eye out for fires (Image credit: Dylan Stucki)

Heat

Even if you’re well hydrated, pure heat can be really damaging. Heat tolerance differs dramatically between individuals, but disorientation, seizures and multi-organ failure can happen really fast with heat stroke. Obviously exercising can also increase core temperature to the 40-degree danger point much faster too. Thankfully, deaths due to exercise related heat stroke are far lower because stopping the exercise can bring you out of the danger zone quickly. Cooling down as fast as possible is the best treatment possible. So keep an eye out for other riders who seem to be struggling or making even less sense than normal and if you’re worried get them into shade/stream/water trough or whatever else might chill them ASAP. If you’re riding alone (which we wouldn’t advise in any climate/environment extreme), make sure you keep self checking – I’ve had solo heat stroke while digging holes and was luckily to be found after I’d collapsed.

It goes without saying that anything you can do to keep core temperature down is vital too. Take off your badly vented helmets on climbs, ride/stop in the shade wherever you can. While you should never drink from wild water sources (and be careful of any open cuts), sticking your feet/hands/arms into streams is a great idea. Keep your shoes/socks and gloves on too, as wet kit will stay cooler longer.

BTW, the old cue for heat stroke that someone will go (formerly known as) Prince Andrew and stop sweating isn’t a reliable one, especially during exercise. Keep checking that people you’re riding with are lucid and responsive and if they start going Prince Charles [aka unintelligible – Ed], get them cooled off before they go Prince Phillip [aka, toddled off this mortal coil].

Freeride, don’t fry ride

While dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion are killers, it doesn’t take long to get seriously burnt on a bike. The cooling effect of airflow can hide the sizzling and sweat can rinse suncream off your skin really quickly too. Clothing can also shift about while riding , exposing unprotected bits to the solar grill. It goes without saying that you should use high factor, sweat resistant sunscreen and reapply it regularly even on hot, overcast days. Again getting yourself into the shade at any opportunity is a smart move too, check yourself and others for any signs of burning and if in any doubt cover up.  

A firefighter damping down a fire

In tinder dry conditions, serious fires can easily start from BBQ use, cigarette butts and camp fires (Image credit: Rich Owen)

Twisted firestarters

As well as looking after ourselves and other riders, we’re also in a great position (i.e. on top of high hills in wilderness areas which we move through quickly) to help reduce fire risk and other heat related issues.

Fires of Moordor

For example right now moors and forests are so dry that even the slightest spark, glass refracted heat spot, or concentrated heat source could start a burn that could wipe out huge areas of delicate ecosystems and potentially even kill. Unfortunately it probably won’t kill the idiots who leave bottles, drop cigarettes, start camp fires or use disposable BBQs in the first place. If you keep your eyes peeled for smoke, check out the source and if necessary intervene and stop any potential fire starters then you could be saving a disaster. And if they won’t play ball or the situation is out of hand don’t hesitate to call emergency services. They rightly take fire risk extremely seriously and they’d rather crack down on a risky picnic than be evacuating people from an out of control wildfire a few hours later.

Hot dogs

While I’ll presume you’re smart enough to keep trail dogs at home away from the risk of burnt paws and heat exhaustion, it sickens me to see how stupid other owners can be. Dogs in distress on walks, locked in cars with shut windows or otherwise exposed to dangerous heat is a serious cruelty issue. Contact the RSPCA and Police if you have concerns and if you can’t find who’s left a dog in a mobile oven at a trail center car park, then consider ‘opening’ a window with whatever means available.

Marine Cabirou performs at UCI DH World Championships in Leogang, Austria on October 11, 2020

Don't worry too much though, it's sure to turn back to a typical 'summer' as soon as the kids break up from school!  (Image credit: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool)

Say hello, (heat) wave goodbye

To be honest, putting these warnings out there will probably act as the usual climatic curse that turns late July and August into the freezing, sodden ‘anti summer’ we’re all used to as soon as the schools break up. So you can look forward to “how to ride/protect your bike in mud” features and “what tires for trench foot” guides very shortly. But until then stay cool, stay safe and reserve burning smells for your brake rotors not the back of your neck.

Guy Kesteven
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg