Riding in high heat doesn’t have to be something to dread. When temperatures spike, learn how to keep your body cool, hydrated, and relatively comfortable.
Story by Jim Foreman
In Memory of Dr. Guillermo Cisneros “Mi Doctor” QEPD
Summertime is the time when most Americans, Canadians, and visitors from Europe and Asia come to ride in North America.
Summer is the time riders are traveling to well-known destinations across the continent. Riding in high heat also brings its own risks. The danger changes from inattentive drivers to dehydration and heat stroke. These are the most insidious of issues because when you begin to feel it, it’s already in full effect.
There are several ways to effectively avoid dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke on hot summer days. They go against conventional wisdom. Those who have experience know that ‘conventional wisdom’ should be rebranded as ‘fool’s wisdom.’
The symptoms of dehydration include light-headedness, loss of focus, slow and sloppy responses to the road, infrequent urination, dry mouth, and feeling sleepy.
If one is feeling the effects of dehydration, stop as soon as possible and head to a shady area. Begin drinking water. Pedialyte or Electrolit (in Mexico) can help a lot, but make sure to chase it with plenty of water. If Pedialyte or Electrolit is unavailable, coconut water does the same thing naturally.
Plan on spending a couple of hours letting your body rehydrate. Typically it takes two urine cycles to get back to proper hydration. You’ll know you’re right when your urine is light colored instead of a dark yellow.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion are faintness or dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating often accompanied by clammy skin, pale face, muscle cramps, headache, and fatigue.
Heat exhaustion usually accompanies dehydration. Stop riding and get into a shady or air-conditioned place and rest. Ideally, check into a motel with Air Condition, drink a lot of water and take a nap. Alternatively, a library can serve as a great place to cool down and even catch a few winks if you’re discreet.
Heat stroke is a severe medical condition, and one must call for medical assistance immediately. Signs include the initial heat exhaustion and fever, throbbing headache, staggering or disorientation, seizures, and ultimately unconsciousness.
Do not mess around with this. Heat stroke can be fatal. While waiting for help, get the victim into a shady area or place with AC. If appropriate, strip off many of the victim’s outer clothes and use water and a fanning action to cool them down until help arrives.
When you begin to feel the effects of dehydration, it’s already in full effect!
The key to avoiding heat exhaustion and heat stroke on a motorcycle is to keep moving. Even at a slow pace, you are moving enough air for your body to keep cool. If you are in stopped traffic, many states allow riders to slowly ride in the emergency lane to keep moving. It’s critical for a rider to be more conscious of their health and safety than committing a traffic infraction. It may be necessary to find an alternate route. Sometimes, one must lane-share to keep moving. It’s better to potentially get a citation or warning than it is to end up in the emergency room. Most states have exemptions for minor traffic offenses for medical emergencies. If behaving discreetly and prudently, without making a scene, most law enforcement will give leeway to a motorcyclist who keeps moving during these conditions.
Riding in high heat doesn’t have to lead to dehydration or worse. The most important factor to realize is that riding in hot temperatures is drastically different than walking or standing still in the heat.
The safest and easiest way to handle high heat is to stop every hour and drink a half-liter of water. At the same time, you should also have to visit the restroom and pee. If you’re doing it right, the urine should be a light color. If it’s dark yellow, you’re dehydrated and should take a long break in the shade or air-conditioned building.
It doesn’t matter how long you can go between fill-ups or whether you are doing an Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 1000. During high heat (90°F and up), stop to drink water and pee every hour. When it cools down, it’s safe then lengthen the duration between stops.
Let’s make something clear. When it’s said to drink water, it’s WATER you need to drink. Sparkling or flat is fine. Please don’t drink sugary or alcoholic water. This includes many sports drinks. Sure, they may have electrolytes, but they also are packed with sugar and other nasty stuff. Coke, other soft drinks, and energy drinks don’t hydrate you. Instead, they have the opposite effect and make you more thirsty.
Pro Tip: Drink half a Pedialyte or Electrolit and chase it down with water. An hour later drink the other half. It can help offset oncoming dehydration in your favor!
What you wear will have a significant impact on how well you handle high-heat riding conditions.
Fool’s Wisdom says, ‘Ride with a T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, and a party-lid, half-helmet, or no helmet at all, to keep cool. While this may not be a bad move when walking or staying still, when riding, it will accelerate dehydration drastically! A rider won’t even feel sweat because it’s evaporating so quickly.
There are two types of hot, humid heat such as on the east coast and dry heat one encounters in the desert.
For humid heat, wearing a vented long-sleeve jacket, pants, and a full-face helmet will give a rider the best success to keep cool. The vents will keep air circulating, and the natural cooling effects of the body will work correctly. A jacket and pants help the body regulate its temperature.
For dry desert heat, a non-perforated jacket with vents is best.
Wear gear that can control airflow through zipper vents. Just open up the vents a little to keep a little airflow and circulation going. As long as you’re moving your body will do the rest to maintain a proper temperature. It sounds daft, but experienced all-day summer riders know this to be true.
Wetting a polyester shirt, or a gaiter around your neck will do wonders to help keep you cool. If you use a skull cap, bandana, or do-rag between your head and helmet, wet that too.
An evaporative cooling vest in 105ºF+ (40ºC +) temperatures will keep your body cool and its temperature regulated. The effect lasts about one hour, but that one hour gives an excellent opportunity to drink water, use the restroom and recharge the vest (soaking it in water).
One can travel around Phoenix, Arizona, during the summer, in relative comfort, wearing an evaporative cooling vest.
Perhaps surprisingly, the color of the gear doesn’t matter when riding in high heat.
Sure when standing still, the color black absorbs more heat. When moving the airflow will negate nearly all of the effects of the color. Either way, a full-face helmet with good venting adds to the positive benefits of this effect.
Timing is Everything
Most riders in high heat areas such as Hermosillo, Sonora generally don’t ride during those extreme months, opting for air-conditioned four-wheelers. If they do choose to ride, they start at daybreak and ride until noon, then call it a day.
Whether you’re a new rider, an old-timer, or your country’s leading pediatric surgeon, pushing your limits is a losing gamble.
High heat days don’t have to kill your riding time. One can ride safely and relatively comfortably by paying careful attention to your body and keeping it equipped with the necessary tools to do its job.
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