Sunday, June 24, 2012


Here comes the heat

This is the time of year when those of us in the southwestern United States pay the piper for the otherwise enjoyable climatic privilege of being able to ride year-around. As of mid-June, we Texas motorcyclists have been regularly dealing with riding temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. The triple digits came a bit early this year, and show no sign of waning. Until September arrives, riding smart in the heat will be a top priority.

Below is a quick list of tips for mitigating the health risks (heat stroke, sunburn, exposure, dehydration, etc.) presented by hot-weather motorcycling. Some of these may seem like common-sense practices which need no explanation, but not a summer goes by that I don't see riders doing exactly the wrong things.

First things first: Is it too hot to ride today?
Some days it simply becomes too hot to be on a motorcycle. Granted, this factor is highly individual. The important thing to know is where your limit becomes manifest and at what point your clarity of thought and ability to practice good street skills may be hampered. Know that limit and don't ignore it. Heatstroke can literally be a death sentence. Leave the bike alone and wait for cooler temperatures in such cases. For example, don't ride in the hottest part of the day. On roads trips, try to make your miles in the morning and  destinate at your next stop before the onset peak heat.

Water, water, water
Dehydration often sneaks up on a motorcyclist before he or she realizes what's going on. Keep plenty of water with you and don't forget to actually drink it frequently. Camelbacks and other similar water delivery systems are recommended. Stop riding and seek proper attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

1. Increased thirst
2. Dry mouth and swollen tongue
3. Weakness
4. Dizziness
5. Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
6. Confusion
7. Sluggishness or fainting
8. Inability to sweat
9. Decreased urine output or dark urine

The food factor
When you drink increased volumes of water on a motorcycle ride, you tend to urinate more often. When you urinate more often, you may flush your system of salts and nutrients more quickly than normal. Keep appropriate foods with you to offset this loss. Trail mixes and energy bars can be good means of replenishment, but stay away from foods high in sugar and caffeine. This especially goes for attempting to replace water with energy drinks. Don't do it, at least not in large volumes.

Use riding gear, but use it the right way

We southern riders love our mesh jackets and pants, and they're generally great for warm days. However, once the temperature of the air entering the weaves starts to exceed our body temperature, mesh gear actually becomes a technical liability. As counterintuitive as this may sound, it's better to wear gear which breathes less in such situations. As always, use your best judgment, but remember that 112-degree air flowing through your riding attire can accelerate dehydration and various factors associated with exposure. Pay attention to your body and take note of how your gear is functioning on hot days. It may not be working the way you expect.

Take a break already

On hot days, stop more often. Find some shade, rest your muscles, take on water, and spend a few minutes relaxing. This will afford you a different opportunity, away from the noise and dynamics of the ride, to assess your physical and mental state.

When planned for and executed correctly, some hot-weather riding can be done safely. Just pay attention to nature, your bike, your gear, and yourself for the best results. In any case, have a safe, fun summer of riding in 2012.