Mountain Biking at High Altitude: 3 tips to ease the pain!

March 21st, 2018

This post was originally published at


So, you’ve finally booked that mountain bike trip to Colorado - congratulations! You know the mountain biking will be amazing, but you’re a little nervous about the altitude.





Most people from sea level feel the effects of altitude as the air pressure drops and there is less oxygen available to fuel your body. Between 5000 - 8000ft / 1500 – 2400m, most healthy people feel perfectly fine at rest, but get out of breath more quickly while exercising. By 8200ft / 2500m, oxygen levels are 75% of those at sea level and almost everyone feels the struggle!


Symptoms include everything from reduced mountain biking performance (burning legs, loss of leg power, breathlessness/higher respiration and heart rates as your body tries to pull more air through the lungs to get the oxygen it needs) to more general signs (headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, sleep disturbances). Different people are affected in different ways, regardless of physical condition or age.


Read on to learn the top 3 tips to overcome the symptoms of mountain biking at high altitude, and enjoy your adventure!




1 – Ascend at a gradual pace:

To give your body a chance to acclimatize to the reduced oxygen levels, travel up to altitude a few days at a time. This gradual ascent is more important when riding in Nepal at 13,000ft / 4000m than when coming to Boulder, CO at 5430ft / 1655m! Spending time at higher elevations enables the body to adapt and increase the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, improving your ability to deliver oxygen to muscles. True acclimation can take 3 weeks or more, but some improvements can be seen quickly as well: aerobic performance decreases by 11.3% within 1-3 hours of arrival at altitude. After about 48 hours of acclimatization, half of that performance is recovered. Within 24-48 hours, the level of natural EPO – the hormone that regulates the volume and number of red blood cells – starts to increase, leading to more red blood cells and acclimatization. So don’t worry if you can’t fit 3 weeks of acclimatization into your schedule - the next few tips will help tremendously!




2 – Drink, drink, drink:

The air in Colorado is dry, so sweat evaporates quicker and you don’t have moist air to breath in, so you dehydrate quickly. Your blood then becomes thicker, leading to higher heart rate as your heart pumps to move blood through your body. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid headaches, and drink water while riding to improve performance. Drink a minimum of 1-1.5gallons / 4-6liters of water per day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Unfortunately, alcohol is a depressant and slows your breathing and heart rate, decreasing the amount of oxygen your body gets. But you can have some beer after you hydrate with water!




3 – Chill out:

At altitude, you’ll reach your maximum sustainable pace much more quickly than at sea level. You’ll be riding slower uphill, and you’ll need to push yourself harder than normal to achieve the same speed you can hold at sea level. This means if you produce 250 watts of power at lactate threshold at sea level, at 8,000 ft you may reach lactate threshold at about 225 watts (a 10% decline). Use a lower (easier) gear, and ride at a slower pace than usual. We at Sacred Rides Boulder always start our rides at an easy pace to warm up, ease into the altitude, and enjoy the awesome Rocky Mountain scenery!


If you have any questions, speak with your doctor prior to your trip – they may prescribe medications for altitude such as acetazolamide (Diamox).




There is no getting around the fact that the density of oxygen in the air decreases in direct proportion to an increase in altitude. But if you follow the above tips, and prepare yourself to ride at a relaxed pace, you’ll enjoy all that Colorado and other high-altitude mountain bike locations provide!

Join Sacred Rides Boulder for an extraordinary mountain bike adventure in beautiful Boulder, Colorado! Check out all our rides at

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