You have to be out there riding your motorcycle and when you are riding you are going to be in the heat—there is no escaping the heat. What you can do is be prepared for it—especially on long-distance rides.
1) Watch very carefully for signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. Your body will send you signals that it's having trouble with the heat, which can include cramps, nausea, headaches, extreme fatigue, flushed or pale skin, dizziness, and heavy sweating. Left unchecked, you can develop heat exhaustion, which is a form of mild shock. If you're feeling these symptoms, it's time to pull over, rehydrate, rest and recover for as long as it takes. Don't be in a rush to get back on the motorcycle – sometimes a rider doesn't want to inconvenience their friends by holding things up. How long do you think a trip to the hospital will hold up the ride?
If heat exhaustion is allowed to develop into heat stroke, you're in big trouble. Your cooling system shuts down, and body temperature can rise to as high as 105 degrees. Brain damage is possible and at the very least, you'll likely have an erratic pulse and trouble breathing. People with heat stroke often pass out – not something you want to happen when you're riding. For more tips on avoiding, recognizing and treating heat exhaustion and heat stroke visit the Red Cross website.
2) Bring more water than you think you'll need. Water is vital for keeping the body cool, but it also is necessary for digestion, for flushing toxins out of your body, and for lubricating your joints when on your motorcycle. It also cushions your organs and tissues, so when you get dehydrated, your body just won't work properly, things will start to shut down, and you'll physically crash. The worst thing is that by the time you start feeling bad, you're already in trouble, so it's VERY important to stay hydrated. That means drinking plenty of water before you get on the bike, and consuming 1 liter of water every hour, especially in extreme temperatures. We try to get water that includes electrolytes (like Gatorade) to help replenish vital minerals that are lost when you sweat profusely. Use the pee test—if you are not peeing you are probably dehydrated and the urine should be light yellow to clear. If you want to know other signs of dehydration check out this post.
3) Include stops on your route where you can cool off. One of the best ways to rejuvenate is by getting off your motorcycle, out of the heat and into a cooler environment. You meet interesting people in rural convenience stores, and many have large ice freezers outside. We place our motorcycle helmets in the freezers while we go inside for a cool drink. A quick stop can enable you to ride another 45 minutes even in the worst heat, so plan your motorcycle routes so that you have services and conveniences no more than one hour apart. If it's in the 100's and you've got a two-hour ride before your next stop, you're putting yourself through unnecessary misery and risk. We take advantage of virtually every rest stop on the road—get off the motorcycle, walk about and drink—and even engage in a urine test (see above).
4) Dress properly and keep your skin covered. Seems like simple, advice, but it's amazing how many motorcycle riders don't follow it. Any areas of skin that are exposed will be much harder to cool, as the sweat will evaporate from the air rushing over it at speed. This means you'll dehydrate faster. It may seem counterintuitive to cover yourself with clothes in the heat, but look at the Bedouins in North Africa – they're covered head to toe. Of course, on a motorcycle you need to wear your gear (all the time and always), which can be heavy. Remember to dress for the slide–not the ride. Regardless you should stay covered up. A skullcap with ice water poured on it is great especially when you vent your helmet for the evaporative effect. I use another wet bandana around my neck and on longer rides a cooling bandana. I used to use a wet t-shirt under my jacket but have graduated to a synthetic that wicks away the moisture (sweat) from your body—again using the evaporative effect opening the vents on your jacket.
5) Wear a cooling vest. When on a long motorcycle trip and when temperatures rise over 90 degrees, a cooling vest may be worth it. Basically, it's a vest that is filled with tiny beads that retain water. This is a much better solution that soaking your t-shirt, as cotton doesn't retain the water and it evaporates quickly. You soak the vest, shake off extra water, then put it on under your riding jacket. The moisture forms a cooling layer next to your skin, and you feel much more comfortable. Cooling vests are as cheap as $30 and run up to $100. The more expensive vests are better quality garments, and usually don't bloat up as much with the retained water.
Here are some other great articles on the subject of hot weather riding:
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