As we find our way into Summer and with heat waves hitting the Northern States, I thought this would be a good time to mention something about riding in and coping with the heat. Central Texas gets pretty warm in the Summer, with average temps around 95 degrees and highs in the low 100’s. Last year we had 100 straight days with temperatures over 100 degrees. This discourages many riders or confines ride times to early morning and returning to base before reaching the hottest part of the day. I love to ride so weather usually doesn’t deter me, except when there is no visibility, ice, or lightning.
From doing month long rides, riding in Long Distance rallies and my general love for riding, I’ve have learned to cope with the heat. If you ride a motorcycle, you are going to be hot, cold and wet depending on the weather. This is part of the rugged appeal of riding and sets a Rider apart from the Monkeys who ride in a cage. You can never beat Mother Nature but you can take steps to reduce your chance of heat injury, fatigue and other factors which will usually lessen the pleasure of your ride.
Typically, when temperatures reach 95 degrees, Wind Chill ceases to exist. So instead of the wind cooling you, it is evaporating your body’s own natural freon, sweat. Here in Texas, there are many riders who forsake safety gear. Standard gear here tends to be black leather boots, light dark colored jeans, a wife beater t-shirt, no gloves or black gloves, black leather vest, sunglasses, no helmet and usually a “Do Rag” or what I call a “Aunt Jemima Helmet”. This type of gear in the long run makes you even hotter and more vulnerable to heat injury such as Heat Stroke or Heat Exhaustion. This type of dress is not okay but if your just doing a half hour ride not much of a factor but after an hour, you risk heat injury.
First, lets talk about what happens to you on a hot day. Your body gets hot through direct exposure to the Sun (radiant heat) or convection, hot air. You can also get warm through contact with your hot seat if left in the Sun, the hot air emanating from your engine and your clothing. To combat over heating, your body has an amazing mechanism for keeping the body cool, protecting your internal organs and most important, the brain from overheating. When your sensors tell your body its getting warm, your respiration increases and the body produces sweat, a saline like fluid which adheres to the skin more so than plan water. Air passes over the sweat and cools the skin like a burlap desert water bag, or a swamp cooler. This process of evaporate cooling is very effective in dry air but less effective in areas of high humidity. I haven’t figure out how to cope with high humidity, so when that occurs, I head to a different area of the planet. If anyone who reads this and has a way to deal with high humidity, let us know.
When your body becomes over heated, you become fatigued, you’ll get a headache, experience cramps, have lapses in judgement and can loose consciousness. Your speech can become slurred, your body will even stop producing sweat and the skin becomes hot. On a normal working body, the sweaty skin should feel cool to the touch. If you touch the skin of someone else who is suffering from Heat Stroke, it will feel hot and dry. You can feel nauseated and actually have no thirst at all, compounding an already dangerous situation. Even worse, your brain will over heat like having a fever and cause serious injury, brain damage, shock and death can occur. Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke have different symptoms. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms so you can detect the onset and treat the injury effectively. The U.S. Army has done extensive research and this is a great resource to educate yourself. http://www.armystudyguide.com/content/powerpoint/First_Aid_Presentations/heat-injuries-2.shtml
Some riders don’t like to sweat. They think if they aren’t sweating, they’re staying are cool. That is not the case! People who ride with skin directly exposed to the Sun (tank tops, wife beaters, shorts, etc.) in my mind are crazy, not only from a crash standpoint but in keeping their body cool. They think they are cooler but they are actually making their body work even harder and are increasing the evaporation rates through breathing and off the skin through evaporation. They will experience a slight sensation of cooling due to the air moving over the skin but they are depleting moisture, faster than their body can produce it. The Sun shines directly onto the skin, heating it up, making the rider even hotter. Hot air moving over a Rider drys the sweat rapidly and thus it is not allowed to do its job. Your body has to increase sweat production to keep up, rapidly depleting your stores of moisture. In as little as an hour, you can be in a state of dehydration and you will be playing catch up. Your body is 90% water so you are depleting the most essential element your body needs to function.
Your body loses moisture through respiration. This is compounded when you are moving at 60 mph which accelerates the evaporation process. As a kid, I use to fly my hand out of the window of the car and put my face into the airstream like the family dog. I learned that if you opened your mouth, you not only got some protein but the mouth would dry out almost instantaneously.In desert survival situations, its advisable to cover the mouth and nose with a light cloth, to help control the loss of water through respiration.
It is important to hydrate, drink lots of water when its hot. This is the best insurance and provides your body with the tools it needs to do its work. When temperatures reach over 100 degrees, you require up to a liter or over a quart an hour to meet your natural air conditioners needs. If you don’t replace the body’s freon, electrolytes and other elements you lose during the cooling process, you will eventually over heat. When your body senses it is getting low on fluids, it triggers a thirst response. By the time you get this thirst response, you are responding to a situation of depletion and its already too late, you didn’t hydrate enough. The key is not to get thirsty and constantly sip on water in small amount throughout the day. Drinking excessively cold or iced drinks can actually interfere with the stomach’s ability to absorb fluids and some cases cause cramps. Cool liquid or tepid liquids are best. Force yourself to drink. You will notice an amazing difference in how you feel. Yes you will sweat but if you maintain a positive balance of fluid, you will be able to ride all day without any harmful effects.
I always tend to under hydrate. I have to force myself to drink water, sipping constantly. Most riders tend to hydrate only when they stop for a break or fuel, which could be more than and hour. This is not sufficient in hot weather. I have a tank bank which came with a Camelback Bladder. There is a clip for the hose which is right in front of me. If you don’t have this arrangement, you can wear a Hydration system on your back, passenger seat or if you have Pannier Bags, keep a bottle of water handy. Some Iron Butt riders have gone as far as building a hydration system by sticking Camelback hoses into an Igloo cooler, using retractable tethers to secure their hoses. They fill them with ice and have hours of available liquids. More inventive riders will by a cheap 12 volt windshield wiper pump and install a switch to have pressurized water on demand. Most Rallies will have a tech inspection and riders are required to carry a minimum of a liter of water on board. I always carry a liter of water anyway, in case I breakdown and have even used it in first aid situations when I don’t have enough Saline Solution. Some riders complain the first sip from a Camelback is hot or warm. Simply blow the heated water from the tube back into the bladder and then suck. Your first sip will be more refreshing that way. When you stop, toss in more water and ice. For electrolyte replacement drinks, I use a separate vessel like an old water bottle. Putting crap in your hydration systems other than water requires constant cleaning and is susceptible to mold, etc. Most convenience stores or gas stations will let you have a cup of ice for free or charge .25 cents. If it comes down to it, a Quarter is a small price to pay for the luxury of ice.
Stop more often in Hot weather. Not only to get more water but to get out of the Sun every now and then. Find some shade to park your machine under if available. Cover your seat and if your going into an air conditioned building, take your helmet and gloves, or put your gloves so they are not sitting in the Sun. If you have an large windscreen, take an old t-shirt a pull it over the plastic. This will protect your dash from UV damage and keep components of your dash cooler. The old t-shirt also comes in handy if you need a rag. I use a “Bead Rider” seat cover. This elevates you slightly off the seat, so you’re not in direct contact with the black leather and it provides a layer of air underneath you.
Gear selection. Helmets: The HURT and MAIDS studies have shown that White Colored Helmets are the safest and most visible color in daylight to the human eye. White is also a little cooler than darker colors when exposed to the sun, which I hope that is common sense to most of you. Motorcycle clothing tends to be darker in color, especially black. Black leather gloves, black leather vests, chaps, boots, the whole gammit. Clothing is very important to keeping your body cool but it goes against the need for someone who needs to look mysterious, bad or cool. I usually wear a flip up style helmet in the summer. This allows me to flip up the visor at low speed to get some air flow in and offers better crash protection that 1/2 or 3/4 helmets. I wear either a Silky Helmet liner or LD Comfort liner with extended neck flap. You can soak these items too and it prevents your sweat and oils from permeating your helmet liner, which damage the liner. Using a helmet liner keeps your helmet cleaner and you can rinse it or clean it every night in the motel room.
Above are the Cool Sleeves and Helmet Liner from LD Comfort.
Clothing protects your skin from the direct rays of the sun. People who wear tight jeans or clothing as stated above, are helping transmit the heat from the Sun directly to the skin. There is no air to circulate over the skin and it also increases the rate of evaporation. Clothing keeps you either or warmer or cooler by creating a dead air space, so air can move over the skin to cool, or heat up and insulate you from the outside cold air. One only needs to look at what a Desert Nomad wears when its a 138 degrees out. They actually layer in light colored, lightly constructed fabrics which control evaporation. They are experts in staying alive in the desert, where Americans are ignorant to what is necessary to regulate their body’s temperature. We just go adjust the thermostat and marvel at our survival skills. Tight clothing like jeans, transfer heat directly to the skin. there is no room for air to circulate and it increases the rate of evaporation.
When I ride in temperatures over 100 degrees, I will have no skin exposed. When I hop of my Motorcycle somewhere in my “Stich” (Aerostich Roadcrafter Suit), people look at me like I came from Mars. I keep hydrated and allow my body to sweat. I open the front vents and sleeve cuffs to allow air to flow into my jacket. At speed it billows up and controls the evaporation and actually feels cool. Note: It doesn’t work to well in stop and go traffic, when there is no air flow. Opening the rear vents keeps the jacket from billowing open. The immediate rush of air feels refreshing but over an extended period of time, acts like a perforated jacket.
The Aerostich “Stich” RoadCrafter Suit.
To facilitate the evaporate cooling process, I wear cotton or clothing made of wicking type fibers such as LD Comforts Riding shorts and shirts. These materials wick and retain moisture from your skin and help facilitate cooling process. They also make a cool sleeve which goes on your lower arms. If it is really hot, I soak these items with water and with your jacket on, it will last up to an hour on a good day. Enough to get you to the next stop. Note: Perforated Jackets defeat the above process, allowing too fast a rate of evaporation. I usually use my First Gear Rainer Jacket with reactive armor on shorter rides, under 300 miles. It is light colored, in tan and light brown, not black! When I ride in a Rally, I typically wear my “Stich”, as temperatures can vary 100 degrees during my 24 hour adventure, especially in Mountainous states like Utah. Thus, I never need to change gear due to rain, cold or heat.
In short local rides, for Pants I use a Tactical Pant called “511 Pants available at Galls. I wear tan colored pants and use old knee armor from old gear, which I cut with trim to fit with scissors and put in the pockets built into the knees to give me impact protection. Make sure you get a size at least two inches longer in the inseam, because when you sit on a Motorcycle, the length rides up when seated. Motorcycle clothing always looks baggy when you’re standing as they are designed to be comfortable when you’re sitting. Underneath my pants I use LD Comfort shorts. They have no seams, don’t get tacky and wick moisture. Under Armor also makes wicking type undergarments. These fabrics are also easy to wash in your motel room sink and will be dry by the next morning.
The 511 Tactical Pant from Galls. You can take the knee armor from your other gear and put them into the sewn in knee pockets. Available in Women’s sizes too.
Feet: I wear normal over the ankle riding boots (SIDI) and knee high motorcycle ankle socks, rated for summer use. These are available online and also facilitate wicking. I happen to wear BMW brand, who also makes a summer undershirt to wear under your jacket.
Hands: For Summer Gloves, I use the Elk Skin Ropers available at Aerostich. They are light, natural colored supple leather and when you sweat, they also help to keep your hands cooler. They even have a touch screen model and both models have a built in wiper on the thumb in case it rains.
Avoid electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade, etc. They are sweetened with Glucose. High quality electrolyte replacement drinks are available at REI such as E.R.G. which I’ve used for years when backpacking. Another trick I use is Pedialyte. I buy the either Bubble Gum or Pineapple flavored and dilute it with water by 50%. If you have medical conditions, consult with your physician before using them. Avoid Caffeine or drinks with Caffeine or diuretics. Also avoid alcohol. Alcohol is one of the worst things you can drink when its hot. I’ll be the first to say the first sip from an ice cold beer is refreshing but if I drink one on a hot day, its instant headache. I may have ONE beer if I am riding from a Pizza Parlor to the motel but I just avoid drinking any kind of alcohol while riding. Driving a car is a different story as cages are more forgiving but you need to be 101% when riding.
Here are some signs to tell if you are getting dehydrated and on the road to a Heat Injury. The color of your Urine or lack of frequency of Urination is a sign. The darker the urine, indicates that you are losing more elements and your fluid volume is being compromised. Normal urine should be clear. If you are hydrating and sweating properly, your urine production, appearance or frequency should he normal.
There are a host of products to help in coping with heat. Here is a link to Motorcycle riding cooling products and a cool vest which I use and works great in the dry desert heat, lasting up to three 3 before needing re-hydrating.
Confusion, fatigue, slurred speech, flush or red colored skin, hot dry skin, headache, cramps, nausea are all signs of something is wrong. I experienced a bout or onset of Heat Stroke while riding through Alabama during my 2005 50 CC ride to Florida from San Diego. It was 105 degrees and I hadn’t hydrated properly. It was humid as Hell! I had 3 hrs of sleep after 36 hours of continuous riding. I had a cool vest (one you soak) which doesn’t work in high humidity. It made me feel I was wearing a wet sleeping bag. I couldn’t get cool and felt nauseous. I immediately recognized the signs and stopped. I bought three bags of Ice. I found some shade, used one as a pillow, one for a foot rest basic first aid for shock. I made and iced up some E.R.G. and took the ice and started pouring down my pants, shirt, etc. I rested and after about 20 minutes my body began to cool and I started sweating again and felt better. After 40 minutes, I felt normal and was able to finish my ride with no further problems.
If you are riding with friends and see that your friend is not as talkative, looks beet red, start thinking about heat injury. Get them into an Air Conditioned environment, slowly administer cool liquid, not cold. Get some ice and cool the head and neck area at the base of the brain. Remove shoes and ice the feet. The feet contain a lot of blood near the surface and act like radiator fins. Treat for shock. Keep skin covered with light wet or cool cloth. You can rub ice on their clothes. Hands and feet are great ways for your body to get rid of heat. Conversely, they are the first to get cold during cold weather, so ice those areas too. Placing ice at the base of the skull is the most direct way you can cool the brain. If you have tried all of the above and If they don’t start feeling better, get them to a Doctor.
In a nutshell, protect yourself from the Sun with proper clothing and gear and keep hydrated. Drink!, Drink!, Drink!. As you gain more experience and put them to practice, you will see how much easier it is for your body to cope and the light bulb will come on in your head. You will be able to tolerate the heat better than your friends and you’ll be more apt to enjoy riding in the heat a little more. As for Humidity, it sucks and I hate it. The same holds true about drinking and protecting your skin from the Sun. There’s is just nothing you can do except endure it.
With proper gear and knowledge, you can endure the unendurable and broaden your Riding Horizons. You’ll be prepared for what Mother Nature dishes out and it can help you turn an ordeal into an enjoyable ride.
Ride Hard and Ride Safe