When the weather starts to heat up, the dangers of dehydration, sunburns, and heat exhaustion start to become very real for motorcyclists. At the worst end of the spectrum is full-blown heat stroke, which can be fatal, and requires immediate medical intervention, so let’s cultivate some strategies to prevent ending up in that place.
The heat not only presents dangers to you as the rider, but also puts more stress and strain on your motorcycle and its engine, and there are some smart things you can do to keep your bike running great, and not risk damaging it, too.
I’ve already covered some of my tips in my Beating the Heat article, and all those remain true. That just scratches the surface of some of the tactics you can employ, so let’s get a bit deeper into what you can do to stay cool AF on the road.
Hydration is absolutely critical to your body’s thermoregulation capabilities. Even if you employ tricks like soaking or chilling your gear, helmet liner, or a bandana/neck gaiter to provide cooling and prevent water loss from sweating in the first place, you will inevitably sweat and lose water and electrolytes. Even if you’re not sweating, just the air flowing over your skin will draw water and electrolytes from your body and can leave you inexplicably dehydrated, even in cooler temperatures.
Just drinking water is not enough, either. The loss of electrolytes, which are minerals that carry electric charges and regulate nerve and muscle function, among other things, are a critical component here. Without them your brain and body just won’t work right.
You need to replenish the electrolytes, or you’re going to have a problem.
Your usual -ade sports drinks don’t really pack much of an electrolyte punch, and they can be loaded with sugar. They’re a bit better than water, but there are much better options, like BODYARMOR, Pedialyte, LMNT, and other bottled drinks and powdered mixes truly deliver on the electrolytes and will leave you hydrated and refreshed. Powdered mixes like LMNT or Pedialyte Sport are easily the best for riding, since they take up very little space on their own, and you only need to pack a single bottle for mixing them.
A final hydration tip that I’ve picked up from firefighters and other first responders I know is to pre-hydrate. When you know you’re going to be riding hard and in the heat and therefore sweating a lot, the strategy is to do your best to get out in front of the effects of dehydration and load yourself up with extra hydration and electrolytes for at least a few hours, or even a day or so, prior to your ride.
The downside of keeping yourself hydrated to the nth degree is that you’ll be needing to stop to pee a lot, which brings us to out next point…
Take frequent Breaks
Unless you’re doing an Iron Butt challenge, there’s no award for how many consecutive hours or miles you spend in the saddle. You may earn some bragging rights when hanging out at the coffee shop, but nobody actually cares.
There’s no point in pushing yourself too hard, too far, or for too long a period of time. If you’re continuously pushing yourself to the limit, you’ll just end up fatigued, overheated, and beat to hell by the time you get to your destination. A steady pace is much better. By taking breaks to rest, cool down, hydrate, grab a snack, and refuel your bike, you’ll be able to keep yourself comfortable, fresh, and energized. It’ll make the ride more enjoyable, because you won’t be wiped out.
Story time: I was out riding the other day, and the sun was just beating down. The heat index was about 92º, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I made a pit stop at the local QuikTrip to fill my gas tank and grab a drink. While pumping gas, I saw another rider exit the store and when he returned to his bike he started slathering sunscreen all over his face, head, neck, and bare arms. While it was great that he was doing something, you know what would work better than sunscreen to protect himself from the heat and sun? A damn helmet, jacket, and gloves, that’s what.
Gear blocks the rays from the sun more than any amount of sunscreen can. With gear fully covering your body you won’t have to worry about sunburns, windburn (caused by the friction and dehydrating effects of the wind flowing over your skin), or anything like that. Sunburns and dehydration and overheating due to direct exposure of the skin to the rays of the sun are major contributing factors to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. By eliminating that factor, you’ll put yourself in a much better place.
Finally, good gear designed for use in hot weather has features and materials for controlling moisture and cooling your body. It gives your sweat somewhere to go, so it can evaporate in a controlled manner, keeping you cooler for a longer period of time.
Make Dawn & Dusk Your Friend
Whenever possible, try to plan your rides so that you’re out at dawn and dusk. The temperature will be cooler and the intensity of the sun will be reduced. Lower temps and less sun will equate to more comfortable riding conditions.
When it comes to cooling your body and your bike, air flow is absolutely critical. In order to remain cool, you need air flowing over your skin, through your gear, and evaporating your sweat. If you have an oil/air-cooled motorcycle, airflow is especially important, since you don’t have coolant, a radiator, and fans to assist in cooling your engine components. An engine that overheats is bad news and can lead to engine failure.
If you live in a location where lane splitting/filtering is allowed, and you’re comfortable doing so, take full advantage of that to maintain forward momentum and keep air flowing. If lane filtering isn’t on the books, or you’re not comfortable doing it, plan routes to avoid stop and go traffic as much as possible. An extra 15 minutes added to your commute is totally worth it to not get thrashed by the heat.
Pick the Right Oils & Coolants
Oil and coolant are the lifeblood of your motorcycle, and combined with airflow, are critical to keeping your engine cool, trouble-free, and running right in hot weather.
You want oil that is stable at high temperatures, has a high flash point, can pull a lot of heat away from the engine, and can endure a ton of abuse over intense heat cycles. Quality synthetics like those from AMSOIL, Motul, Lucas, and Maxima are the best by far.
Obviously, a water-cooled engine will fare much better in hot weather than an air-cooled one, and you can enhance its cooling with the right coolant. High performance products like Engine Ice, Redline SuperCool with Waterwetter, and Maxima Coolanol absorb and dissipate heat better than your run-of-the-mill coolants. Upgrade your coolant for lower operating temperatures and more protection for your engine.