Riding in the heat

Posted by SuperClydesdale on September 20, 2010 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

One of the rules I try to live by is: no riding in the summer in the heat of the day.    I’ve been very successful this year, and I’ve really enjoyed my rides.   That’s why I ride: to keep in shape and to enjoy myself.  Riding in the hottest part of the day – particularly in situations where I’m totally exposed while climbing – is no fun for a big guy.  I started this conversation last year.

I have often asserted that stockier athletes have a much harder time cooling down than skinny little wimps.  I think that’s yet another reason why world-class riders are all small and skinny – big guys would melt.  Plus, what else are those little guys going to do?

Note to the reader: correct answers also include marathon runner, jockey, competitive cyclist, or coxswain.

Earlier in the year, I was riding with a doctor, and explained my half-assed expert opinion* that heavier riders have a harder time cooling down.  He said that it was the first he had heard of anyone every making such a claim.  I explained that I arrived at this position after (a) growing up on the surface of the Sun (a.k.a. Las Vegas, Nevada), (b) recalling years of anecdotal evidence to support my theory, and (c) leveraging the assumption that I am always correct.  He thought about it for a bit, then responded, “I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the answer.”  Which, I heard as, “you are correct.”

* Half-assed expert opinion is a phrase that my wife and I use to describe some of the positions we hold that we have come to without any training, and with limited real knowledge on the subject in question.  Despite these limitations, we continue to assert our half-assed expert opinions on a broad range of topics and will defend them to the death.

For being stumped by what I saw as a pretty basic question, I immediately lost any and all respect that I had for the doctor – which I have to say was pretty limited anyway, because the guy weighed about 160 pounds, and I was crushing him on the climbs.  He was much older than I, but I don’t care.  Unless you’re in a wheelchair, a 160-pounder had better be able to crush a 225-pound guy up a long, steep climb.   Even in the wheelchair, he should give me a run for my money.  Loser.

I thought to revisit this topic after nearly collapsed this weekend from heat exhaustion.  Near the top of a half-mile climb, I felt like I was baking, and I notice that I had stopped sweating.  I figured that It was hot and dry enough that the sweat was simply evaporating as quickly as it was produced, but at the top of another climb, I noticed that I had goose bumps – the sure sign of a serious problem (you’re hot as hell and yet you have goose bumps).  At that point, I knew I was in trouble, and decided to limp home at the slowest possible pace.  As soon as I got home, I took of my heart rate monitor and shoes and jumped into the pool.  That felt incredible!

The sad part of this whole adventure is that it was only 90 degrees.  In Las Vegas, that classifies as a “cool day” – seriously.  I think my problem resulted from a combination of the body size, temperature, pushing myself way too hard on some climbs, and improper hydration.   I’ve done plenty of rides, even some very long ones like the 200-mile Davis Double last year in 104-degree heat, and have done fine (not a ton of fun, but no near-death experiences).  I drank what I thought was plenty of fluids, and put nuun tablets in every bottle of water.  Nuun are electrolyte tablets that you drop into the water bottle.  It dissolves like an Alka-Seltzer tablet, and is supposed to provide everything you need for proper hydration:  180mg sodium, 50mg potassium, 6.5mg calcium, 12.5mg magnesium, and a few other things…   whatever, it didn’t seem to be enough of something.

My intention with this article was to research the topic, and come back with some evidence in support of my half-assed hypothesis.  I was astounded to find out that the quack doctor I rode with was correct in that there is limited information available on this topic, and perhaps not a lot of people even thinking about it.

I live near UC Davis, one of the top medical schools in the country.  I may reach out the them to help conduct an experiment on how people’s body temperature is impacted by BMI.

In the mean time, I am going to keep conducting my own half-assed research on this topic.  I am thinking of organizing group rides with a range of riders across the BMI spectrum.   I’ll bring a temporal lobe thermometer, and measure the riders at different times of the ride to see what the core temperature of the different riders are.

Actually, sometimes those temporal lobe thermometers seem to be a bit flakey, and I may not be able to depend upon the data.  I should probably use a rectal thermometer instead.  Tried and true.

I can see it now, at the top of a big climb.  “Okay, guys, drop your shorts – time to do some research!”

  • mongoose said,

    enjoying this new found site. I am 6 3 about 215 or so and heat dissipation is an issue in the summer. And can be for other riders with high calorie burn rates. I found hydration 2 days leading up to it is a big factor, as well as any alcohol the day before. Sorry beer drinkers. Nuun works well and I double up on them as well as a V-8 during the first half of a ride. Also, pace and jumps will kill you on a hot day. High cadence and jumping to keep up on the rollers will make me drag in at the end. A steady pace will work the whole day long. We did a 128 mile ride with my 5-10 160 and 6 foot 175 rider up a pass in 98 with extreme humidity (yet another factor) and we all suffer. They made it a minute earlier on the climb and I toasted them on the final 20 of rollers – because we had a steady pace it was enjoyable

  • mongoose said,

    enjoying this new found site. I am 6 3 about 215 or so and heat dissipation is an issue in the summer. And can be for other riders with high calorie burn rates. I found hydration 2 days leading up to it is a big factor, as well as any alcohol the day before. Sorry beer drinkers. Nuun works well and I double up on them as well as a V-8 during the first half of a ride. Also, pace and jumps will kill you on a hot day. High cadence and jumping to keep up on the rollers will make me drag in at the end. A steady pace will work the whole day long. We did a 128 mile ride with my 5-10 160 and 6 foot 175 rider up a pass in 98 with extreme humidity (yet another factor) and we all suffer. They made it a minute earlier on the climb and I toasted them on the final 20 of rollers – because we had a steady pace it was enjoyable

  • Sheldon_haynie said,

    ITs a simple area/volume relationship. (square cube law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law)

    Or put another way, those of us who are thick and heavy have more metabolic heat generated, and not proportionately as much surface area as a thinner person.

    Simply better insulated and also have a bigger furnace.

    Animals and people adapted to cold environments are thicker, those in hot environments are thinner.

  • Sheldon_haynie said,

    ITs a simple area/volume relationship. (square cube law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law)

    Or put another way, those of us who are thick and heavy have more metabolic heat generated, and not proportionately as much surface area as a thinner person.

    Simply better insulated and also have a bigger furnace.

    Animals and people adapted to cold environments are thicker, those in hot environments are thinner.

  • Munthe said,

    As someone who’s used to hammering in -4 farenheit I can testify to what you’re claiming is absolutely correct. All my skinny little wimp friends throw in their towels when I’m suggesting some true winter endurance. My body temperature is never an issue. I stay warm. These guys fear for their lives (add wind chill to that temperature)…

    I think the explanation is fairly simple. Big guys have a physiology dominated by type 2 muscles (fast twitch). Type 2 is the equivalent to a jet engine while Type 1 (slow twitch) is the equivalent to a slow burning candle. The small and skinny guys are all type 1. Jet engines get hotter than candles. Downside is jet engines draw a bit more fuel.

    I’m from the only country that produced a Clydesdale that won a stage in Le Tour and Paris-Roubaix; Magnus Backstedt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_B%C3%A4ckstedt

    You should do an interview with him for this site – which by the way is an awesome site.

  • Munthe said,

    As someone who’s used to hammering in -4 farenheit I can testify to what you’re claiming is absolutely correct. All my skinny little wimp friends throw in their towels when I’m suggesting some true winter endurance. My body temperature is never an issue. I stay warm. These guys fear for their lives (add wind chill to that temperature)…

    I think the explanation is fairly simple. Big guys have a physiology dominated by type 2 muscles (fast twitch). Type 2 is the equivalent to a jet engine while Type 1 (slow twitch) is the equivalent to a slow burning candle. The small and skinny guys are all type 1. Jet engines get hotter than candles. Downside is jet engines draw a bit more fuel.

    I’m from the only country that produced a Clydesdale that won a stage in Le Tour and Paris-Roubaix; Magnus Backstedt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_B%C3%A4ckstedt

    You should do an interview with him for this site – which by the way is an awesome site.

  • Swedge said,

    What Sheldon said… Conversely its why us big guys can ride in shorts/ short sleeves in the winter when the skinny guys are afraid to come out because its too cold!!! (IN South Carolina) This particularly effects the road bike crowd i guess when your a skinny waif and shave your stick legs you remove what little insulation you have and you freeze!!!

  • Swedge said,

    What Sheldon said… Conversely its why us big guys can ride in shorts/ short sleeves in the winter when the skinny guys are afraid to come out because its too cold!!! (IN South Carolina) This particularly effects the road bike crowd i guess when your a skinny waif and shave your stick legs you remove what little insulation you have and you freeze!!!

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