Warm, sunny weather and long days make summer an ideal time for motorcycling. But with 2015 on pace to surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record, you need to be prepared to deal with above-average temperatures, especially on multi-day tours where you’ll be riding several hours per day. These tips will help you keep your cool.
1. Stay Hydrated.
According to WebMD, heat exhaustion “is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.” Heat exhaustion can include water depletion and salt depletion, so you should drink plenty of water supplemented by sports drinks (to restore electrolytes lost through sweat) and salty snacks. The easiest way to drink water while riding is to wear a hydration backpack, which includes a water bladder and a drinking tube that can be used on the go, even with a full-face helmet. One of our favorites is Klim’s Nac Pac ($99.99), which comes with a 3-liter Hydrapak bladder and multiple compartments for carrying snacks, tools, maps, sunblock, a hat, etc. The Fuel Pak ($49.99) uses the same high-capacity bladder but without all of the storage pockets.
2. Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine.
You should always avoid drinking alcohol until after you’re done riding for the day. Not only does alcohol impair your ability to ride, it also accelerates dehydration. Even if you only drink after your ride, consuming too much alcohol can leave you dehydrated (and possibly hungover) the next day, which means you start off at a disadvantage. Whether caffeine contributes to dehydration is debatable, but the general consensus is that consuming plain old water (plus the occasional sports drink to restore electrolytes) is the best way to fight dehydration.
3. Wear Wicking Base Layers.
Sweating is how our bodies regulate temperature. When sweat evaporates, it cools the surface of the skin, and the hotter we get, the more we sweat (which is why we need to make a concerted effort to stay hydrated). Wearing synthetic base layers wicks moisture away from your skin, which increases the efficiency of evaporative cooling. Stretchy, snug-fitting base layers, like those from Forcefield, also provide light compression for better circulation and less fatigue. Trust us—once you start wearing base layers, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without them.
4. Wear Full-Coverage Riding Apparel.
When the summer heats up, many of us love to wear shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. However, none of these make sense on a motorcycle, unless you wear shorts and a T-shirt under your armored riding apparel (carry flip-flops in your saddlebag so you can kick off your riding boots during breaks and let your feet breathe). Rider has long subscribed to the philosophy of ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) for safety reasons. No one ever plans to crash, but accidents happen and good motorcycle gear can reduce the severity of injuries. Full-length gloves, jackets and pants, over-the-ankle boots and full-face or modular helmets also protect the skin from the ravages of sunburn and dehydration. By all means, stay comfortable by wearing something that’s well ventilated or has large mesh panels to promote airflow, especially in lighter colors. During the summer, we stay cool by wearing Olympia Moto Sports’ Avenger one-piece mesh suit, which is lightweight, has huge ballistic mesh panels and can be worn over street clothes (or base layers!) but has good abrasion resistance and CE-approved armor in key locations.
5. Wear an Evaporative Cooling Vest.
On really hot days, boost the power of evaporative cooling with a special-made vest that can be worn under your riding jacket to keep your core from overheating. When you soak the TechNiche Hyperkewl Cooling Vest in water, its polymer-embedded fabric allows evaporation to occur slowly, over several hours. (Ridecool.com sells them for just $29.95 with free shipping.) Instead of soaking the Silver Eagle Outfitters Kula-XD Cooling Vest, you fill it with water like a bladder, and its “dry evaporative cooling” uses patented Inuteq technology. We’ve used both with excellent results, though evaporative cooling is more effective in dry than humid climates.
6. Wear an Evaporative Cooling Neck Wrap.
Go a step further by adding an evaporative cooling neck wrap, like Aerostich’s Kool Off Tie ($6). The 100% cotton neck tie is “filled with water-absorbing polymer crystals which can hold 350–400 times their weight in water and they release it slowly (over a period of days).” You can also wear a bandana or neck gaiter soaked in water, but they dry out much faster. Neck wraps have the added benefit of protecting your neck from sunburn.
7. Avoid Riding During the Hottest Part of the Day.
Since the hottest time of day is usually between noon and 5 p.m., if possible, plan to ride during the cooler morning and early evening times. Wake up early, have a light breakfast and cup of coffee, then hit the road. You can ride for several hours and then take a break for lunch, nap in the shade (that’s what Clem Salvadori likes to do), catch a matinee in a cool, dark movie theater or do some sightseeing. Early evening rides can be a real treat, but beware that dawn and dusk times often see greater wildlife activity, such as deer crossing the road. Stay cool, but also stay safe.
8. Take Frequent Rest Breaks.
If you’re like us, on scenic, back-roads rides we often don’t stop until the low-fuel light comes on. But on a motorcycle with 200-mile-plus range, that often means riding for several hours between stops. On hot days, you should stop more often. If you’re not wearing a hydration backpack, frequent stops allow you to drink some water and have a snack. Take off your helmet and pour some cool water on your head. Walk around and do some light stretches to get the blood flowing throughout your body. Sit down in the shade for a few minutes. Or, like many people do these days, take a selfie and post it on Facebook.
9. Use Common Sense.
If you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, have a headache or cramps, or feel your skin becoming unexpectedly cool and clammy, your body could be overheating. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. Don’t try to be tough and “ride through it.” Pull off at the next exit or stop as soon as possible and immediately find a way to cool down. Remove your helmet and put a cold, wet towel around your head. Walk into an air-conditioned store or restaurant and order a pitcher of ice water. Take a dip in a cool lake, river or swimming pool. Give your body a chance to cool down.
10. Take a Day Off.
We go on motorcycle tours because we like to ride, but sometimes it pays to take a day off. Long, hot days in the saddle are more likely to leave you fatigued, dehydrated and sore than long days in cooler weather. Plan your next tour around a daylong visit to a national park, historic site or city that is best explored on foot. Or build in a rest day where you can hang out around the campground or lounge by the hotel pool. Americans are constantly in a rush, always on the go. Summer motorcycle rides are fun, but when it gets really hot sometimes the best thing to do is just put your feet up and chill out.