As motorcycle riders, we all look forward to the long, warm, summer rides. Nothing beats the feeling of the sun on your face or the pleasure felt after a long day riding on clean, dry roads. Nonetheless, riding in hot weather amidst scorching temperatures of summer present their own challenges – especially since we need to wear our protective motorcycle gear while doing our best to stay cool.
Heat stress needs to be avoided to ensure our full attention to the road and to the full operation of our motorcycle. But it’s not that easy riding in hot weather for as we motor along, the radiant heat from the sun, elevated air temperatures, and high humidity beats away at us. And these combinations can become quite dangerous for us – hindering our body’s ability to dissipate heat. And this results in placing demands on our bodily control mechanisms as well as our mental abilities to react.
The following six tips for riding in hot weather will help you avoid some common pitfalls to riding in high temperatures and keep your cool!
1: Avoid The Hottest Time of The Day
One obvious way to avoid the severity of the sun’s rays is to avoid the hottest periods of the day for your motorcycle ride or trip which is usually between 12:00 noon to 15:00 (3:00 p.m.) There’s plenty of daylight in the summer months, so heading out early or later in the day can still mean you are riding in great conditions. Of course remembering that with dusk, depending where you are, the potential hazards of deer and moose become more relevant.
Riding in the morning or late afternoon/early evening can have its own benefits – quieter roads, and less traffic. Unless circumstances force you to ride through the middle of the day in the summer, try to ride in the mornings or the late afternoons / early evenings when the sun is less intense.
If you ride in the evening, make sure you are equipped with good visibility tactics (read our article here “Boost Visibility”). Night riding can also be fun in any urban or suburban environment.
2: Keep Your Gear On And Your Skin Covered
Of course, on a motorcycle you need to wear abrasion and impact resistant gear, which can be hot. So, it’s often not surprising, how many riders remove gear and opt for shorts and t-shirts when the temperatures rise. But exposed areas of skin are much harder to cool. Your sweat evaporates from the air/wind rushing over it at speed. This in fact causes you to dehydrate faster. It may seem counterintuitive to cover yourself with clothes in the heat, but you need to.
Use Performance Undergarments for Base Layers
With a huge array of technical clothing now available, there are many lightweight materials with moisture-wicking properties that’ll help you cool off and prevent the uncomfortable build-up of sweat underneath your gear.
The Basics of Keeping Cool
When motorcycling the wind moving across even the smallest open part of your body can remove the heat produced. This is convective heat lost, and is related directly to wind speed.
Sweating is important to help regulate body temperature. As sweat evaporates, heat is removed from your body. Wearing your protective clothing will help the sweating and heat dissipation process work better. And then consider when humidity is present this cooling mechanism becomes even more challenging, since air is already saturated with water and sweat doesn’t evaporate as easily.
While sweating is necessary to help cool the body, the production of sweat comes at the expense of your body fluids. The loss of as little as 2 to 3 percent of your body weight due to dehydration can impair performance.
To help maintain adequate hydration and prevent heat illness during riding in the heat, it is vital that you acclimatize and that you replace fluids lost through sweating.
TIP⇒ Get Wet! While it may be tempting to toss ice cubes down your jacket, don’t. Ice against the skin causes blood vessels to constrict, which shoots hot blood back to your core. If your core temperature climbs too high, performance and health can suffer. Instead, pour your cool bottle of water over the back of your neck, down your jacket and even pants and then ride!
Dress for the heat:
- Helmet in bright, light colour with vents wide open.
- Wear a light coloured textile jacket designed for warm weather riding; has mesh but importantly, armour.
- Textile pants with vents.
- Warm weather riding gloves designed for more ventilation.
- Lighter weight non-waterproof boots vented shoes (boots with laces ventilate!).
- Moisture wicking socks.
- Wear a Cooling vest which is easy to wear and designed to go underneath your other gear. Check out the Macna Dry Cooling Vest or the Coolit Evaporative Cooling Vest.
One of the biggest obstacles in hot weather is maintaining adequate hydration. You will sweat more as your body naturally tries to cool itself down, but as mentioned above, that sweat will evaporate quickly, making it hard for you to gauge exactly how much fluid you are losing.
Drink little and often when riding, and make sure that you have plenty of drink with you. Use drinks with electrolytes which work to replace those lost by sweating.
If possible, during the days leading up to your motorcycle ride, increase your consumption of watery fruits and vegetables (such as watermelon and grapes). This building of sodium helps your body hold on to the fluid you’re drinking. Equally good is sipping on an electrolyte beverage during your ride and at roadside stops. Aim to drink at a rate of 10 to 12 millilitres per kilogram of body weight. This is about a 20-ounce bottle every hour for a 150-pound / 68 kg rider.
Wear a camelback! You can also consider wearing a camelback which are easily found in most motorcycle retail shops. This will allow for constant hydration while you’re riding!
TIP⇒ Only Water is Really Water. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics causing you to urinate and lose more water. Steer clear of sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol.
4: Make Frequent Stops; Include Cooling Off Stops In Your Route Planning
One of the best ways to revitalise yourself is to get out of the heat into a cooler setting. A quick stop can get you through another tank of fuel even in the worst heat. If you can plan your ride along roads that have fuel stations, towns, or scenic rivers and shady parks which are not too far from each other. This can also be pre-planned into your TOMTOM Rider 400 GPS or smartphone maps app.
5: Slather On The Sunscreen
A sunburn does more than fry your skin, it contributes to your fatigue and even escalates your metabolism. When your metabolism speeds up this will mean increased fluid needs which can be a problem when you’re already struggling to stay hydrated.
Wear sunscreen on the exposed parts of your body and in particular your face and back of your neck which is unknowingly exposed on the bike. Use a quality sweat and water-resistant sunblock with an SPF of at least 30. Look for sunblock with lasting protection and be sure to follow the instructions on when to apply them. With heavy sweating you’ll need to reapply often.
Do everything you can to prevent sunburn and don’t forget a hat for those road-side stops when you remove your helmet.
6: Look After Your Eyes
If you’ve not got a visor on your helmet wear eye protection – sunglasses or goggles. Eyewear protection not only protects your eyes from damaging UV rays but also prevents dust, grit and flying insects from getting into your eyes. With a strain on seeing the road ahead this will be another factor adding to fatigue. Together, these will all distract you from the road and hinder your ability to manage risks.
Long hours in the sun expose unprotected eyes to dangerous UVA and UVB rays and can actually cause sunburned eyes. If your eyes are watering, itchy, sensitive to light, or dry and gritty, it’s likely you have sunburned eyes. And not just irritating, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and near-UV light can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. It’s easy to prevent sunburned eyes by wearing eye protection all the time. Be sure your eye wear protects you with 100% UVA and UVB protection and HEV, near-UV or blue-light filtering. Think about frame size too—larger wider frames help prevent harmful rays from sneaking in at the sides or top of your glasses.
- Ease Up on Your Ride Plan. Don’t try to maintain the same distance or ride-pace you’d enjoy on cooler days. If you are not well acclimatised to the heat, you’ll fatigue easily where your ability to think and react will become compromised. You’ll need to adapt your ride day plan to compensate for the heat.
- Keep an eye on the road surface. Summer brings a different set of road conditions to be wary of. On very hot days, tarmac can melt, causing patches of slippery or sticky tar as the road surface lifts off in the heat. And watch for those slippery tar-snakes. Don’t’ make any riding changes while going over them to ensure maximum grip.
- Frost Your Helmet. When stopping at a fuel station or convenience store, there are usually large ice freezers near the entrance. These are great for putting your helmet in for a fast cool down as you go inside to grab a refreshment.
- Freeze Your Water. Freeze a bottle or two of water the night before your ride. As you ride along it will stay incredibly cold while it slowly unthaws. Be sure to freeze at the three-quarter mark allowing for the bottle to expand as it freezes.
- Heat Resist Your Motorcycle. Ensure the coolant (if applicable) oil, and all other liquids are well maintained. These will help your motorcycle run at optimum abilities in the outside hot temperatures. Don’t forget to ensure your tire pressure is checked.
Spotting Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
By following the tips above, you should have an awesome riding summer. However, due to the risks of operating a motorcycle, it’s equally important to be aware of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Knowing the warning signs is vital knowledge for all motorcyclists.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion results from a decrease in blood pressure and blood volume. This is due to the loss of fluids and electrolytes when exposed to the heat for a prolonged period. As well as general fatigue, symptoms include, feeling sick, faint and experiencing heavy sweating. The skin will be flushed and hot to the touch, heart rate is elevated and you may also be feeling dizzy and even confused.
Any rider displaying these symptoms should stop riding immediately and find somewhere cool out of the sun. You need to take fluids (sip), ideally water or a sports drink, and cool yourself with a wet cloth or light water spray with cool but not cold water. If available a cool dip in a roadside lake, pond, or river will help. Your motorcycle gear will dry.You should feel better and recover within 30 minutes but, if not and are still experiencing symptoms after this time, contact the emergency services.
If symptoms of heat exhaustion are ignored and you continue to ride, heat stroke, where the body temperature rises to dangerous levels, can occur. Heavy sweating will stop,your skin will feel cold and clammy and you may feel cold despite the heat. Heart rate and breathing will be significantly increased and you may suffer from muscle cramps. Nausea and vomiting may occur, headache and even confusion – disorientation which is deadly on a motorcycle. In severe cases, a loss of consciousness may occur.
Your priorities are to get out of the sun and to contact the emergency services. While waiting for them to arrive, if conscious, keep sipping fluids and cooling yourself with a damp cloth or spray.
When you arrive home…
Pay particular attention to fluid intake when you get home – take in something healthy and non-alcoholic. A recovery drink will refresh you. A cold bath or shower will help you cool off and wash off the accumulated grime –and how about a dish of “rocky-road” ice-cream to finish off an amazing ride day- hmm?