It's summer time, and of course many of us will be heading out over the Christmas holidays to hit the dirt. Here are some handy tips for staying cool.
The first key staying hydrated is a good hydration pack. As a rough rule of thumb, you want to drink at least one litre per hour although this can vary depending on the temperature and your body weight. Most riders should find a two litre job will be fine if you can loop back to your base and fill it up each hour, otherwise you'll want to go for a three litre job and if needed have space for carrying extra fluids.
Hydration is extremely important. When dehydrated, your body can't get rid of heat as fast, your heart works harder, fatigue kicks in and your technique goes out the window. It can set up a vicious circle leading to heat stroke, which is a potential killer. I was taken to hospital with heat stroke after an extreme Enduro event and believe me, it's not fun.
Start drinking plenty of water regularly the day before you start riding.
Avoid alcohol the night before riding, and skip coffee the morning of the ride if it's going to be a really hot ride.
Take small regular amounts of water when riding, this if far better than chugging back a few litres every thirty minutes or so.
How much should you drink? It varies for everyone but the usual idea your urine should be clear or only a faint yellow colour.
If you wait till you feel thirsty, you are leaving it too late - take those regular sips before you feel thirsty.
Fluid intake is best when below 15C or 60F, so chilled water or ice cubes in your hydration pack are a great idea.
There's an urban myth going around about cold water not being absorbed as well, but research has disproved this.
There's nothing wrong with water, but a good electrolyte powder helps a lot by maintaining electrolytes in your body - chemicals like sodium and potassium that keep you hydrated and functioning at top performance. Let's take a quick look at them.
Sodium, or salt, prevents cramps and also keeps stimulating you to drink. You lose a lot of sodium when you sweat. Potassium also prevents cramps and is lost through sweating. Calcium is important for helping your body to use your energy stores, as is magnesium which also plays a key role in muscle function.
Rehydrating with with juices, soft drinks, and excessively sweet sports drinks don't rehydrate you as well - once the sugar content gets over 10% it actually slows your intestinal system down.
When you've finished riding, keep drinking regularly for a few hours afterwards, and if you've sweated a lot stay on the electrolyte powder too. Remember to rinse out your hydration pack thoroughly, electrolyte powders will leave a residue that will go mouldy otherwise.
Bulk Nutrients put out their Electrolyte Plus blend which is a good one for dirt bike riding, it has all the electrolytes needed plus the right glucose level to maintain energy levels but not too high to slow down absorption. If you would prefer a powder with lower glucose/fructose levels then Endura is readily available at a similar price.
A lot of the heavily advertised so-called sports drinks in the early days were quite dodgy and now the government specifies they have to fall within certain guidelines. They should do the trick but will work out to be a lot more expensive than electrolyte powders if you are riding a lot this summer.
Taking a closer look at hydration packs and see if you can get one with an insulated hose. See-through plastic lets the sun in and mould grows much faster, the insulation also stops the water heating up when riding in the sun. Some riders get around this by blowing air back into the pipe after taking a sip.
The better hydration packs often have an insulated pouch for the bladder too, so if you have chilled water it will stay cooler for longer.
The better quality hydration packs are shaped to sit on your hips and allow air to circulate around your back area and keep you cooler. The Australian-made Zacspeed this sort of setup which also attaches to curved front and rear amour plates which allow air to circulate more.
COOL RIDING TIPS
Change your riding habits to suit the hot weather. Start as early as possible in the morning and finish early.
Choose more flowing faster terrain to ride in.
Don't stop too frequently, and when you do make sure it's in the shade or on top of hills if there is a breeze.
Where possible, loop back to the start to top up your hydration packs, put more ice in and take a break.
It can be a good idea to douse yourself in water before heading off again, the evaporation should keep you cool for the first 15 minutes or so.
You can also soak your jersey and pants at creek crossings on very hot days.
Slap on the sunscreen on the back of your neck and all exposed skin - don't forget the back of your neck. It can be tempting to ride in just a t-shirt but sunburn will contribute to getting dehydrated, you are better off wearing a light-coloured long sleeve top.
VENTILATED RIDING GEAR
Ventilated gear makes a massive difference to staying cool. Plenty of riders think lots of black looks cool, but it just means you'll cook more in the sun. Opt for the lightest coloured gear where possible.
Let's start from the top and work our way down.
We normally get rid of a lot of body heat through our head, so a ventilated helmet is very important. Most manufacturers are starting to cotton on to this. Helmets like the Suomy Mr Jump and Airoh are designed around maximum ventilation and also have the dual density liner which acts as a series of big air vents inside the helmet. Remember though if you have a very cool winter or regular wet weather you may want helmets that offer the option of blocking those vents too.
Back packs and body armour? As already mentioned, a good back pack will ideally have a curved shape so it allows air circulate around your back, and the main contact points will be your hips and the straps over your shoulders. Body armour is a tricky one - no matter how well it's ventilated, it's still going to make you a bit hotter. Some guys wear less armour as it gets hotter and this can be a sensible choice. The hotter you get, the more it will affect your stamina and riding ability but this has to be weighed against the added risk of injury. Many of the body armour manufacturers are now putting out more ventilated versions for summer, check them out.
Jerseys and tops can cool you off or heat you up! I'm surprised by the number of guys who wear layers in summer - an undershirt, then armour, then a jersey over the top. Lots of small light layers works great in winter for extra insulation, but in summer it becomes a sauna. There are plenty of ventilated jerseys around such as the Klim Mojave jersey when it's not too hot as it's very ventilated but also a reasonably heavy fabric to resist tears and abrasions. Troy Lee and others put out very light weight ventilated jerseys that will be even cooler but will rip easier. If you wear armour, consider wearing a white long sleeve compression shirt underneath as this wicks sweat away and reflects the heat in direct sunlight.
Pants and jocks? Most manufacturers put out at least one line of ventilated pants, those mesh panels make a massive difference once you are moving the air flows through. As with the jerseys, Klim have the Mojave pants with great ventilation and very durable fabric, or you can opt for even lighter fabrics such as the Moose Sahara or Troy Lee ventilated pants.
If you wear knee braces, one of the best solutions I've found is to wear long compression pants underneath. These are designed to not store your body heat, but prevent chafing from your knee braces or guards, and you can just wear a short pair of socks with them.
These get very mixed reviews, I haven't personally tried one but the overall conclusion seems to be they can work well in dry hot conditions but aren't worthwhile if it's humid because the evaporative cooling doesn't work.
Hopefully these tips will keep you as cool as possible, enjoy your summer riding!