When the sun shines, the motorcycle calls, and the open road beckons.
So maybe you're thinking of taking a long Summer swing through the good ol' USA –Sturgis, Daytona, or even just down the road to the Washington coast.
No matter how long a trip you're planning, keeping cool in the hot sun matters because dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke can rise up and grab you by the throat before you even know it.
Of course, it's important to know the warning signs so you can react accordingly.
But it's even more important to stop overheating problems in their tracks BEFORE they happen.
How your body cools itself
You've heard a million times that normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, modern data puts it closer to 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit, and a healthy adult will typically be between 97- and 99 degrees.
It's not a fixed number. Your body temperature can go up and down throughout the day depending on many factors, like how active you are, time of day, age, sex, and whether you've eaten or drank anything recently. For women, it can even depend upon where you are in their menstrual cycle.
Our bodies constantly generate heat, and most of us feel pretty comfortable wearing a modest amount of clothing at 70 degrees.
However, the more active you are, the more heat your body produces. And when you're working hard or exercising, or it's just a hot and heavy day, your body temperature rises, which causes you to start sweating to cool things off through evaporation.
"Ok, everyone knows how sweat works. Why are you telling me this?"
The difference between Dry and Wet heat
Well, sweat works DIFFERENTLY in different types of heat.
When it's hot and dry with low humidity (like you'll get cruising Arizona), it's easy for the sweat to evaporate and take the heat with it.
But when you have hot and humid (Florida!), the air's already loaded with moisture, and it's harder for the sweat to evaporate and cool off the skin.
Now, if you're thinking, "well, if it's hot out, I'll just cut back on the clothes I'll wear when riding, "… not so fast!
Why it’s better to cover your skin
While skimping out on what you're wearing CAN keep you cooler in the short run, it also puts you at greater risk for road-rash, sunburns, and (later in life) skin cancer. At a minimum, overdoing it in the sun definitely causes wrinkles, and the "Grizzled Biker" look isn't for everyone. (Although it does suit many just fine.)
A healthy dab of sunscreen can reduce the risks of sunburns and skin cancer. But you can't forget about the places like the back of your neck and hands, which can still be exposed even while wearing full gear. Think about it – have you ever seen someone reach for their handlebars, and suddenly, you see their wrists between the gloves and jacket?
Yup. There are many areas like that. Sport bike riders can get a nice thin strip of tan across their lower back if their jacket and pants don't overlap. And if you wear an open-face helmet and goggles, your nose is getting beaten down by the sun.
So, your best bet to stay protected is to keep covered.
You may be asking, "Won't wearing full gear make me hotter?"
THAT is why you need to understand the very important concept of dehydration.
Preventing Dehydration for an enjoyable ride
The cooling effect when sweat evaporates on your skin gets "watered down" when you're wearing full gear. But whether you're in full gear or hardly any at all, the silent assassin to think about is dehydration.
If you're not keeping your body fully hydrated, you're going to be one hurting cowboy.
When your body is running low on fluids, you lose the ability to be cooled through sweat. That's when the process of Vasodilation begins. Vasodilation is when the blood vessels near the skin expand so more blood can be cooled more quickly.
But the more blood you get flowing to the skin, the less blood there is available for more important body parts like your brain and muscles. That can cause poor decision-making and slower reactions, both of which are critical to riding safely.
Plus, when you start becoming dehydrated, it can lead to a whole host of heat-related illnesses, beginning with heat rash and ending with heat stroke.
If you experience any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is get off the road to an air-conditioned place and kick back with a couple glasses of cool water before continuing.
A good rule of thumb is for every hour you spend riding in the heat, drink 8 to 16 oz of water. Now, you can go with any of the hydration/sports drinks like Gatorade, but it's not required as it's likely you won't be depleting your electrolytes the way a triathlete or professional athlete would.
Ok – you got it. Drink lots of water, watch for heat-related symptoms, and get off the road to an air-conditioned area if you notice anything.
Good to go, right?
Nope. Because as the old TV commercials always said, "But wait… there's more…"
Tips for a safer ride when it’s hot
If you're heading out for any trip in the heat, you should first plan your ride around the peak hours of the heat. And that means jumping out of the sack and starting early.
Note that getting an early start may mean you need to layer up because the desert is hot during the day and cold at night. A great example is Death Valley. From November to March, the highs are mid 60's to mid-80's and the lows are low 40's to high 50's. But the rest of the months have highs from the low 90's to over 118, and lows between mid-60's and low 90's.
Now that might not seem too bad, especially evenings – but remember. At night in the desert, there are no clouds, no nothing to trap heat in. So, packing clothing that can be layered is essential.
It would be best if you also considered wearing a moisture-wicking garment as your base layer, with raingear being an excellent barrier against the cold morning air. Then, you can remove some of the layers as the day warms up.
But ALWAYS, always keep your protective layer on when riding.
"Ok, I've got this now. Let's hit the road!!!"
Well…. Not so fast….
Unfortunately, there is just one more thing for us to go over.
The tools you need to make this the best ride possible
The first tool of the trade you should consider is a mesh or hybrid motorcycle jacket.
Here's how they differ.
- A mesh jacket might not come with a windproof, waterproof liner.
- A hybrid motorcycle jacket will usually come with abrasion-resistant materials that can be closed to prevent air from entering through the mesh.
As long as we're sticking with the upper body, we also recommend a cooling vest. They can be used under any motorcycle jacket and get great results. Simply soak it in water and wear it until it's dry. Then repeat.
Next, you'll want to wear mesh over-pants or riding jeans. Both are better than chaps, leather pants, or textile over-pants at keeping you cool.
For gloves, you'll want to go with perforated leather or mesh motorcycle gloves. Perforated leather gloves allow the heat to escape a bit better. In contrast, mesh motorcycle gloves typically have a solid palm with mesh on the back of the hand and fingers.
When it comes to boots, you can find some that are designed for warm climates. Unfortunately, due to the Western Washington climate, Eagle Leather rarely carries any. So, you will likely have to special order those from us or find them on the internet. However, we do carry motorcycle boots and motorcycle shoes that are comfortable when riding in warm temperatures.
Other accessories you might want to consider are:
All of these are great to help combat the heat, and Eagle Leather has them in stock.
So, if you are planning a trip this summer, use these tips to STAY COOL!
As always, if we missed anything, please leave a comment below.