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Long ride in the sun? Tips for beating the heat

Heat and sunshine might make for a fun ride, but can also make a long day in the saddle a challenge

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

For many triathletes, one of the joys of summer is the long bike ride. What’s better than taking the bike off the trainer and putting some real miles on the tires on a beautiful summer day? Although cycling in the summer is much more forgiving than running– due to the extra wind cooling – the heat and sunshine of summer can still be a problem when on a bike. Too much of either of these might ruin your ride – and maybe even lay you up on the couch for the next couple of days.

As a coach who spends a lot of time on the pool deck, I have seen many lower-back or back-of-the-shoulder burns on triathletes who didn’t apply enough sunscreen and then went out for a long ride in their tri-top. Sometimes I am still seeing the after-effects on athletes’ skins in February. Not only is a burn like that bad for your long-term health, but it can make it hard to train for days afterwards. Get a good, sweat-proof sunscreen, use it liberally and reapply half-way through if you’re doing a really long ride. Also, don’t forget that some spots that are covered by your clothing when standing upright will be exposed when in your cycling position.

Related: Why training in the heat is good

Another issue that arises in the summer is heat exposure. Although there are benefits to training in the heat, overheating can be a serious risk – to your workout and your health. When planning your ride to minimize the heat don’t discount what the temperature will be like at the end of your workout. It might be pretty cool when you start your ride at 9 or 10 am, but if you’re going for a four- to six-hour ride, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the road during the peak heat of the day. With the long summer days that we have in much of Canada, you could move that start time back to 6 or 7 am and you’ll barely be getting into the heat by the time you’re done.

Another thing to keep in mind during the summer is the type of landscape through which you are riding.  Will you be riding on rolling hills taking you through farmland, in and around a city on bike paths and trails, or rural roads that weave through the woods? The amount of shade on these different trails can vary dramatically – and not always in the way you might expect. A country road that runs through open fields with little shade can be hotter than an urban ride that takes you on shaded bike paths.

Climbing hills exposes you to a double whammy of heat. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

You should also consider the terrain. Climbing hills exposes you to a double whammy of heat.  Remember how I mentioned that one of the benefits of cycling in the summer is that you are cooled by the wind? Well, when climbing, that advantage all but goes away as speeds slow way down and you’re working much harder. Put these together and the amount of excess heat that you are producing goes way up. This might be manageable for a few hills, but will add up over time. I’m not suggesting that you avoid hills entirely for the summer, but if you’re looking to do hill repeats on your bike, or want to ride some long steady hills, then I would highly recommend that you plan a shady route and start early, even if the temperature wouldn’t normally raise your eyebrows.

Overall, paying attention to these simple elements – wear sunscreen, start early, seek shade and consider the terrain – can increase your enjoyment of your summer riding and help you get more out your miles.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Certified Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian at www.teamatomica.com or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.