It's a hot day. The temperature is hovering at 100+ degrees and the sun is beating down. You’re wondering if you should be riding in this kind of heat. But you really want to ride. Heat exhaustion while riding your motorcycle is a serious condition that can sneak up on you causing a very dangerous situation such as a possible and unfortunate “get off”, better known as a crash. But, a hot day doesn’t have to prevent you from enjoying a nice ride. You simply need to be prepared, follow some basic guidelines, wear the proper gear and drink, drink, drink. You might be thinking that in order to be comfortable riding your motorcycle in the heat, you need to wear less and you’ll be tempted to throw on a T-Shirt and shorts for your ride. There are several things wrong with this idea. The most obvious being that, if you fall, your t-shirt and shorts will not protect you what so ever. But a not so obvious fact is that, the less you wear, the hotter your body will get.
We all know that when your body gets hot, it sweats. Add a breeze to this sweat and you have your body’s natural cooling method. Blood collects in the vessels close to the skin, is cooled off via evaporation, then travels back into your body’s core to prevent the essential organs from over-heating. This natural process works great when you’re playing sports or sitting on the patio with a nice breeze blowing. But, when riding at highway speed, the sweat on your unprotected skin evaporates before it has a chance to provide cooling. It actually has the opposite effect; it will create more heat on your body, like a convection oven, shutting down its natural cooling system. This is particularly dangerous while riding since you don’t realize it’s happening until you’re feeling the effects of dehydration; headache, fatigue, dizziness, lack of concentration.
The trick is to use your body’s natural cooling system, but balance the amount of water you are taking into your body with the amount of water you are losing through evaporation of sweat. Your first step is to reduce the rate of evaporation. Do this by drinking plenty of water throughout your ride. A great way to know if you’re getting enough water is to monitor your urination. If you are peeing, and your urine is relatively clear, you’re doing ok. If you drink and drink and you still don’t have to pee, you’re not drinking enough. If your urine is dark, you’re not drinking enough water. Another way to reduce the rate of evaporation is to wear more clothing, not less.
Dress in Thin Layers
For mild heat and shorter rides (two or three hours);
If you’re going to be riding your motorcycle for a relatively short time; say, two to three hours, here are some guidelines to follow when selecting your gear.
For your upper body, let’s start from the inside out. Begin with a trip to your local sporting goods store. Invest in a long sleeve shirt designed especially for hot weather. Sportswear brands such as Under Armour or Champion make very comfortable shirts that wick moisture away from your skin. You will want the shirt to fit snug, not too loose. In mild heat this layer should be enough to protect your skin under your jacket allowing your body to retain its natural moisture.
Next, grab your jacket.
There are so many motorcycle jackets on the market it can be difficult to figure out which one is best for riding in the heat. Should you go with mesh or leather? In mild heat, with a good quality undershirt, your best protection will be a leather motorcycle jacket complete with elbow armor and extra protection in the back. Some leather jackets are perforated allowing just enough air flow to provide cooling without steeling your body’s moisture. A jacket with adjustable vents will work nicely as you can control the amount of air flow through the jacket.
A mesh or textile jacket will also work well with some precautions. Make sure your mesh jacket includes armor in the elbows, back and shoulders since it is not the best skin protection if you fall. Mesh tends to melt when sliding on asphalt. Also, a tightly woven mesh is better than cheaper, loose weave that looks like fish net. Textiles, combined with a tight weave mesh will offer air flow, but in a more controlled amount, allowing your body to cool without drying out. Again, adjustable vents will allow you to control the airflow.
Open up all the vents in your helmet to allow airflow around your head. Your scalp is bound to be sweating and when the breeze flows through your helmet just right, it creates a nice cooling effect. Can you say, “Ahhhhhhh”?
Again, leather pants are the best protection especially those with armor in the knees and hips. Sometimes you can find a combination of textile and leather; the textile allowing for air flow, while the leather, strategically placed, provides protection from road rash. If you are wearing mesh riding pants, don’t wear shorts underneath. Engine heat and the constant blast of warm air can actually result in burns on your legs. Wear jeans or some other type of long pants to protect your skin.
If it’s Really Hot…
If it’s really hot you can add a water-soaked cotton shirt under your jacket (and over the undershirt). You will have to stop more often to re-soak the shirt, but this trick works wonders in hot and dry conditions (not necessarily in humid conditions). A water-soaked bandana under your helmet will also aid in keeping you cool. These are inexpensive ways to stay cool on hot motorcycle rides of moderate to short distances.