5 Proven Strategies to Avoid Cycling Sunburn on your MTB Ride

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Ben Jones

Health, Other


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Avid mountain bikers know that there’s nothing quite like the thrill of conquering a challenging trail, surrounded by nature’s beauty. But as exhilarating as it can be, spending hours under the sun can also expose you to the risk of sunburn. While you’re focused on navigating the terrain, it’s easy to forget about protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. In this blog post, we’ll dive into five proven strategies to avoid sunburn on your MTB ride. So, let’s gear up and get ready to ride sunburn-free!

Apply Sunscreen

You wouldn’t hit the trails without your helmet, so why leave your skin unprotected? Applying sunscreen is a no-brainer, but many riders still forget this crucial step. I remember the time I skipped this step, thinking I’d be fine on a cloudy day, only to come home with a nasty sunburn. Learn from my mistake and make sunscreen application a part of your pre-ride routine.

“Wearing sunscreen is like wearing a seatbelt: It’s a simple step you can take to stay safe.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hale, dermatologist

Choosing the right sunscreen for mountain biking involves considering factors such as water resistance, SPF level, and the formula’s consistency. Look for a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which will provide adequate protection during your ride. Sports-formula sunscreens are specifically designed to withstand sweat and resist rubbing off, making them ideal for mountain bikers.

Apply it generously on all exposed skin, including your face, neck, arms, and legs. Be mindful of commonly missed spots like the back of your ears (which I always forget), knees, and neck. Reapply every two hours or more frequently if you’re sweating a lot. To ensure you’re adequately protected, use about a shot glass-sized amount of sunscreen for your entire body and a nickel-sized dollop for your face.

Pro Tip: Opt for a water-resistant, sports-formula sunscreen to ensure it stays put during your sweaty ride.

Key points:

  • Choose broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
  • Apply on all exposed skin, including commonly missed spots
  • Reapply every two hours or more frequently if needed
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Wear Protective Clothing

Choosing the right protective clothing for mountain biking involves considering factors such as fabric type, coverage, UPF rating, breathability, and comfort. The right clothing can make a huge difference – I once swapped my usual black short-sleeve jersey for a long-sleeve white UPF-rated one and was amazed at how much cooler and more comfortable I felt on the trail. So, let’s delve deeper into these aspects.

“Clothing is the first line of defense against the sun’s harmful rays, so dress wisely.”

Dr. David J. Leffell, dermatologist

Fabric Type: Opt for lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable fabrics that can keep you cool and dry during your ride. Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and spandex are ideal for mountain biking, as they help wick sweat away from your skin and dry quickly. Some fabrics even have antimicrobial properties to prevent odor buildup.

Coverage: Select long-sleeved jerseys and cycling tights to provide better sun protection for your arms and legs. While it might seem counterintuitive to wear long sleeves in hot weather, the additional coverage can shield your skin from the sun and actually help keep you cooler. Look for garments with strategically placed mesh panels for added ventilation.

UPF Rating: Clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating has been specifically designed to block a significant amount of UV radiation. Higher UPF ratings offer more protection. Aim for garments with a UPF rating of at least 30, which blocks 97% of UV rays. Garments with UPF 50+ ratings provide even better protection, blocking 98% or more of UV radiation.

Breathability and Comfort: To stay comfortable on the trails, choose clothing that allows for adequate airflow and doesn’t restrict your movement. Loose-fitting garments can provide better ventilation, but make sure they’re not too loose, as this could interfere with your riding. Opt for clothing with flatlock seams to reduce chafing and irritation during sweaty rides.

Additional Features: Zippered vents can provide additional airflow when needed, while a drop-tail hem on jerseys can offer extra coverage – handy when you’ve activated the dropper post and are hitting the downhill sections in a bent-over riding position.

By selecting the right protective clothing for mountain biking, you can not only shield your skin from the sun but also enhance your overall riding experience by staying cool and comfortable on the trails.

Pro Tip: Choose lighter colors that reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it, to help you stay cooler on the trail.

Key points:

  • Opt for UPF-rated, moisture-wicking clothing
  • Wear long-sleeved jerseys and cycling tights for added coverage
  • Choose lighter colors to reflect sunlight
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Accessorize with Sun Protection Gear

Don’t forget the little details that can make a big impact on your sun protection.

The right gear can make a significant difference when it comes to keeping you safe from sunburn. When choosing MTB sunglasses, look for a pair with 100% UVA and UVB protection. Polarized lenses can reduce glare and improve visual clarity, while wraparound frames provide better peripheral protection.

“Your eyes are just as susceptible to sun damage as your skin, so protect them with a good pair of sunglasses.”

Dr. Tanya Kormeili, dermatologist

For head protection, opt for a helmet with a detachable visor to shield your face from the sun. Lightweight, full-fingered UPF-rated gloves can protect your hands from sunburn while offering a better grip on your handlebars when things get sweaty.

Pro Tip: Look for sunglasses with wraparound lenses to block sunlight from all angles and avoid glare.

Key points:

  • Wear UV-protective sunglasses
  • Use a wide-brimmed cycling cap or helmet visor
  • Choose gloves with UPF protection
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Seek Shade during Peak Hours

Timing is everything.

To minimize sun exposure, try to schedule your rides during the early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are less intense. If you can’t avoid riding during peak hours, plan your route to take advantage of shady spots along the trail. Use tree cover or structures like bridges and tunnels to find respite from the sun. You can also take advantage of these shady areas for breaks – take off your mtb shoes, have a snack and a drink of water, and reapply sunscreen.

“The best way to avoid sunburn is to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day when the UV radiation is the strongest.”

Dr. Mary Lupo, dermatologist

Remember to check the UV index for your ride location and plan accordingly. Higher UV index values indicate stronger sun exposure, so take extra precautions when the index is high.

Pro Tip: Use a smartphone app or weather website to check the UV index for your ride location, and plan your ride accordingly.

Key points:

  • Ride during early morning or late afternoon
  • Take breaks in shaded areas during peak hours
  • Check the UV index and plan your ride accordingly
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Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water not only keeps you hydrated but also helps maintain your skin’s natural defenses against the sun.

Selecting the right hydration system for mountain biking is essential for staying hydrated and minimizing sunburn risk. Insulated water bottles can help keep your water cool during your ride, but they may not provide enough hydration for longer rides. In such cases, a hydration pack can be a better option, as it typically has a larger water capacity and allows for hands-free drinking through a hose.

“Staying hydrated is essential for healthy skin and overall well-being. When you’re dehydrated, your skin becomes more vulnerable to sun damage.”

Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist

When choosing a hydration pack, consider factors such as water capacity, fit, and additional storage for essentials like keys, snacks, and bike tools. Look for a pack with adjustable straps for a secure, comfortable fit, and one that is made from lightweight, durable materials to withstand the rigors of mountain biking.

Pro Tip: Use an insulated water bottle or hydration pack to keep your water cool and refreshing during your ride.

Key points:

  • Drink water before, during, and after your ride
  • Stay hydrated to maintain your skin’s natural defenses
  • Use an insulated water bottle or hydration pack
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By incorporating these five proven strategies into your mountain biking routine, you can significantly reduce your risk of sunburn and ensure a more enjoyable and safe ride on the trails. Remember to apply sunscreen, wear protective clothing, accessorize with sun protection gear, seek shade during peak hours, and stay hydrated. Now you’re ready to hit the trails, fully prepared to protect your skin while conquering the terrain. Remember: there’s no such thing as too much sun protection!

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