When summer is in full swing in the USA, riders coming out to play all over the country.
During this time, it’s important that riders keep themselves cool to avoid dehydration when riding in the heat.
Dehydration can creep up really fast which can lead to heat stroke. This nasty issue can lead to serious medical problems and even death.
According to healthresearchfinding.org, heat stroke is one of the 3 leading causes of sudden death in sports activities!
Here is a great video that explains heatstroke from TEDTalks.
Don’t become a statistic! The best way to avoid any heat problems is to prepare for your ride and plan forward.
In this article I will be showing you my tips for staying cool when riding in the heat. I will also show you how the pros prepare for hot weather racing events.
#1 Hydrating is super important and sipping regularly instead of gulping is the key to staying hydrated.
#2 Hydration packs allow you stay hydrated while you are on the go.
#3 Electrolytes assist with retaining sodium and potassium in your body and so you can hydrate faster.
#4 Choosing the right riding conditions on hot days such as shaded, faster trails will help to keep you cool.
#5 Wearing well vented summer riding gear will help air flow through your body, expelling heat faster.
#6 Keep the radiators clear of mud or debris and also keep a full tank of coolant before riding in the heat.
#7 Bringing a shade tent with you is great for leaving at base camp and cooling off in the shade between rides.
#8 If you are not used to the climate you will be riding in, acclimatizing your body to the climate temperatures will better help your body to manage extreme conditions and help you to avoid heatstroke.
#9 Understanding the symptoms of heatstroke will help you recognize the symptoms so you can prevent dangerous situations.
When you ride in the heat of summer, you lose liters of fluid through sweat.
If you don’t replace that fluid in your body then you are heading for dehydration!
The best way to combat dehydration is to hydrate regularly.
An easy rule to remember is to –
Drink 1 liter per hour and to take regular sips while you are riding.
Don’t gulp large amounts before, during or after your ride as your body will expel the water too quickly and you will end up being dehydrated quicker. Regular sips will keep your body properly hydrated for extended periods of riding.
If you wait to feel thirsty then you have left it too late! You will have to drink extra to play catch up which is no good.
The key is to sip regularly and consistently.
Start drinking plenty of water the day before your big ride.
Avoid alcohol the night before and on the day as alcohol is awful for dehydration. Also, avoid the morning coffee as coffee is a diuretic, meaning that it will dehydrate you fast.
Also, after you have finished your ride, make sure you keep drinking a few hours after as you can still dehydrate on the drive home.
So how do you actually know when you are properly hydrated? Check your pee! The color of your pee will determine whether you are hydrated or not.
Check out this cool chart that will tell you where you are at.
#2 Hydration Packs.
When you are in the middle of a ride, it’s completely impractical to carry a water bottle with you.
Also, stopping every 5 minutes for a drink is just silly. This is why hydration packs are just so awesome.
A hydration pack is like a small backpack that has a water bladder fitted inside.
The bladder is fitted to a tube that reaches over your shoulder and into your mouth.
To take a drink you just bite down on the special valve that is on the end of the tube. This will release the water and you can drink. Very cool.
If you are interested in buying a hydration pack, have a read of my hydration pack guide article here.
My advice is to choose a hydration pack size for the length of riding you will be going on.
There is no point in using a 3 liter pack if you are only going on a 30 minute ride. A larger pack will add to your body heat.
A 2 liter hydration pack is good if you can get back to camp and refill every 2 hours. If you are planning to ride for longer, get yourself a 3 liter hydration pack. This will sustain your hydration on longer rides.
Get yourself a hydration pack that has an insulated hose and bladder pocket for riding on hot days. The problem with clear hoses is that they warm the water too quickly. Insulated hoses will solve this problem.
The good hydration packs are shaped to sit on your hips and let air circulate around your back areas to keep you cooler but if you want to stay extra cool, fill your hydration bladder and throw it in the freezer the night before your ride. You will be sipping ice cold drink for the first few hours of your ride! It will also keep your back nice and cool for a while.
I personally use the ZAC Speed hydration packs. They are built super tough by an Australian company that know their stuff. They have different sized bladders, are fully insulated and are very comfortable.
The ventilated material and design keeps my back cool.
The Zac Speed packs also act as a backpack so i can carry food and other stuff with me on longer trail rides.
When I use hydration packs I buy an extra bladder and add it into the pack. I do this so I have one for electrolytes and the other for water. Water is better to wash my face or wet my head on a break.
You can even rig the hydration pack to have 2 tubes over each shoulder if you like.
There are plenty of electrolytes available to help you fight off dehydration that are awesome.
Electrolyte drinks helps to maintain the electrolyte balance in your body by maintaining the level of sodium and potassium in your body. Sodium and potassium in your body means that you will stay hydrated, avoid cramps and fatigue and you will be able to ride at your peak performance.
If you are going to use electrolytes, the best bet is to get a good electrolyte powder and mix it with water.
Get an electrolyte that has little or no sugar in it.
I use Hydra Surge because it contains no sugar and no artificial coloring. It also tastes pretty good.
The problem with sugary drinks is that they don’t re-hydrate you and will slow you down. It will also give you a big explosive peak of energy for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes though it will leave you fatigued for the rest of the day.
If you are going to use electrolytes in your hydration pack. Make sure you rinse out the bladder, tube and mouthpiece after every ride. This is because electrolyte powder leaves a residue on the inside of drinking containers. This residue can go bad real fast which gets smelly and will grow bacteria.
While you are riding, avoid expensive ‘energy drinks’ such as the ones that are represented by a bull or a monster. They contain an extremely high level of sugar and they are also full of artificial color.
This stuff will give you a crazy explosion in energy for an hour and you will be left fatigued at end of the day. They are also stupidly expensive. Save them for the after party as mixers.
#4 Riding Conditions.
When you are riding in the heat, try to avoid riding after about 11am to avoid the afternoon heat. This means that it’s always good to start your ride really early and finish early. If you can’t do that, consider riding in the late afternoon so the really bad heat has already past.
If you have the choice of terrain, choose faster, more flowing terrain to ride on to maximize the breeze to stay cool.
Also, stop regularly for breaks to cool yourself down. This will also give your dirt bike a well needed cool down as well. In extreme heat, I like to stop for a break every 40 minutes under some trees. Also the top of hills are good to take advantage of the breeze.
When I loop back to camp after a few hours of riding, I like to pour water on my head.
The water will pour down into my gear and the evaporation will keep me cool for the next 20 minutes or so.
Also, look for rivers or creek crossings to jump in and cool yourself off whenever you can. Just make sure that the water is clean and you take your helmet and boots off first so you don’t soak them. You will also be able to fill up your hydration packs in creek crossings just as long as the water is clean and flowing quickly.
Also, sunburn is a bitch and can ruin your day of riding. It also leads to fast sunstroke which you want to avoid like the plague.
To avoid sunburn, wear a light colored long sleeved riding jersey to to avoid sunburn on your arms. Also, always wear sunblock on your exposed skin.
#5 Riding Gear.
If you’re planning on riding in the heat then it is a good idea to invest in some summer riding gear.
This type of dirt bike riding gear is highly vented and the materials are lighter, meaning that you will receive a much better airflow which keeps you cool when you are riding.
We remove a lot of body heat through our head so make sure you are wearing a helmet that has air vents all over the place and vents in the liner to extract the heat.
I really like the LS2 MX470 Subverter helmet. It is literally covered in vents. The perfect summer helmet. It also looks shit hot!
The problem with body armor as that no matter how good it is built, they are like an oven when riding in the heat of the day.
If you aren’t doing anything too extreme with your riding, body armor isn’t necessary.
On top of that, the extra heat from body armor will decrease your riding performance which can lead to you crashing anyway.
Unless you are riding in an enduro event competitively, it’s best to avoid body armor in the extreme heat in my opinion.
Also, I like to wear light colors. There is a bit of debate on colors but what I know is that black absorbs heat while light colors reflect it. The last thing you want to do is absorb heat when you are trying to ride so make sure you have light colored riding gear so you can deflect the heat instead of absorbing it.
After reading about it, I thought a cooling vest would be a good idea and so I tried one for a desert ride that I went on a few years ago. The idea with a cooling vest is that you soak it in water and wear it when you are riding and as the air passes through the wet vest it is meant to keep you cool.
What I discovered was that it only took about 30 minutes for the vest to dry and after that I was baking in it. I had to stop riding and take the vest off so I could get my body temperature down. It didn’t work for me but it may work for other riders so I would advise using caution when trying a cooling vest.
Tinted lenses are also a great idea for eliminating glare and they protect your eyes from the thermo rays. With tinted lenses though, make sure that you choose the right level of tint for the type of terrain you are riding in.
Desert terrain requires mirrored or full tinting while shaded terrain needs only light tinting or colored tint. I like to carry a few lenses in my kit bag to suit the occasion.
For more information about lenses, read my guide for dirt bike goggles and lenses here.
#6 Keeping Your Dirt Bike Cool When Riding in the Heat.
Don’t forget that riding in the heat can cause some fatal problems. Always make sure that the radiators are clear and free from any blockages.
It only takes some mud landing onto the radiator from the rider in front of you or even some leaves getting stuck in the radiator guards for the engine to overheat.
Any blockage on the radiators will cut a big percentage of the bikes cooling ability which is bad news when you hit slower areas of your ride and the bike starts to boil over.
So make sure you keep the radiators clear at all times, especially when you hit mud!
The second part of the radiator is making sure you have the right coolant in your radiator and make sure it’s full.
A half-filled radiator will cook the engine in the heat if you aren’t careful and will leave you with having to push your bike back to camp.
#7 Bring the Shade
When riding back to camp to take a break or have lunch you need a place to cool off in the shade.
I always bring a shade tent with me and a fold up chair so I can relax out of the sun in heavy shade. These shade tents are also awesome for the motocross track as well.
When I am resting at camp I also like to drench my face and head in water and put a wet towel around my neck. This cools me down fast so I’m ready to go for the afternoon riding sesh.
#8 Acclimatizing’ to Hot Weather Riding.
So let’s say that Sven (fictional character) is a pro enduro racer who lives in Norway (where its freezing) and he needs to race in a desert enduro event like Finke in Australia where it’s really fucking hot.
Obviously if Sven just flew over and started racing immediately, Sven would be at a huge disadvantage to the local riders that are used to the extreme heat.
He would also be putting himself in serious danger as he would slide into heatstroke very quickly.
To combat this, our Icelandic friend needs to ‘acclimatize’ himself.
To do that, Sven would need to spend at least 14 consecutive days riding in the heat of the desert for at least 90 minutes a day to get his body used to the extreme conditions.
Only after 14 days would his body be ready to handle the stress of extreme heat.
His heart rate would be lower, he will be able to maintain core body temp a lot better, he will reduce his sweating threshold and his kidneys will be able to retain more water and electrolytes.
If you want to read up on the science of sports acclimatization, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute breaks it all down for us.
Basically what happens is that after about 14 days of training, you will be properly able to manage the different type of environmental stress (heat) that is being placed your body.
You will have the ability to avoid the early onset of dehydration and heatstroke (as long as you are hydrating properly).
It’s how the pro riders are able to skip into different climates around the globe and be competitive so quickly.
#9 What Happens When you Get Heatstroke?
It’s important to understand the signs of dehydration & heatstroke and what happens to your body so you can diagnose it early and reverse the situation before it gets worse.
When you become dehydrated and get heatstroke from riding on a dirt bike, you will get some or all of these symptoms –
- An extreme thirst
- Become extremely hot and can’t get rid of heat.
- Your heart pumps harder
- Blurry vision
- Cramping up
- Pains in your lower back (kidneys)
If any of these things happen to you then you are suffering from a form of heatstroke.
If that is the case you need to get off your bike and find some shade immediately.
Find shade, sit down and drink water or electrolytes until you recover.
If you are riding in the heat, staying cool, planning ahead and being aware of dehydration and heatstroke is vital to staying safe on your rides.
What is the hottest climate you have ever ridden in? Tell us about it in the comments below. Also if you liked this article, please give it a share on social media.
Happy riding !
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