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When is it too hot to ride a motorcycle? For the diehards, that ambient temperature does not exist. But if you’re going to ride in the heat, here are some things to think about.
Spring and summer are the best times to bust out your motorcycle and hit the road. When March starts rolling around, I start thinking about planning some trips.
Actually, that’s not entirely correct. I think about it all the time, I just get more serious in March!
If you plan on riding the hotter months you need to plan ahead more and keep some things in mind so that you don’t become another statistic for heat exhaustion.
Don’t take off your motorcycle gear
When its extremely hot, you want to start taking stuff off. Having lived in the desert southwest and going on some rides in summer heat I can empathize.
Although it may be tempting start removing gear, you may want to rethink that decision.
Let’s start with gloves.
Some riders want to remove gloves because their hands get too hot and sweaty and feel like their grip on the handle bars may suffer.
Think about this;
If something happens and you fall off of your motorcycle, guess what the first thing that’s going to make contact with pavement is going to be?
Me personally, I don’t remove my gloves for two reasons:
- I feel naked without them
- The style of grips I have on my Goldwing isn’t completely covered with rubber. There’s metal exposed. When its extremely hot out, my grips get pretty warm. Not having gloves on would make my hands worse.
Removing your helmet
I’ve ridden in the Vegas heat, so I know hot.
I’ve known guys that take their helmet off in the heat (full face helmets) and I just don’t get it. To me, removing my helmet is taking off the number piece of gear that’s going to help keep me from becoming a vegetable.
Yes, wearing a full face helmet when its hot out does get pretty stuffy. This is where buying a half comes in handy so that you can change your helmet style and get some air if you need to.
On solo trips I’ll bring a half helmet, but if I have my passenger there’s just not room for the extra gear.
If your helmet is really bothering you that bad, maybe it’s time to look for a helmet that has vents. These helmets are my favorites.
Keep your skin covered
When riding in the sun and heat, you want to keep your skin from being exposed to UV (ultraviolet) from the sun. Specially if you know your going to be on the road for a while.
Resist the temptation to not put on the normal amount of gear you use to protect yourself and dress properly for your ride.
Have you ever paid attention to motorcycle cops in the summer time or in cities where it gets particularly hot? The wear long sleeve shirts to protect their arms.
If they didn’t, they probably would have 2nd degree burns on their arms by the end of their shift.
Not only does keeping your skin covered keep you from getting burned, but it keeps you from getting dehydrated faster. Skin that’s exposed will be harder to cool because your sweat (that’s supposed to do that job) is evaporating off of you.
Here is generally how I dress for a ride, doesn’t matter what the weather. It’s my base layer that I either ride with or go back to.
Boots – I use comfortable military style boots that are breathable. They’re very comfortable and are suitable for almost any climate. I don’t generally ride when it’s really cold out if I can avoid it. If I did my boots probably wouldn’t be all that great.
Pants – I usually wear outdoors style convertible pants. I don’t typically wear jeans, for me they’re not comfortable. I can’t stand tight clothing when I ride.
Shirt – Long sleeve breathable style. It’s lightweight, keeps my arms protected.
You can add anything from that list you want.
Your mesh suits and jackets don’t work
Mesh riding jackets and suits will work well… up to a point.
Mesh gear is designed to allow more airflow over your body to help keep you cool while you ride.
Here’s the problem;
When its super-hot outside (98 or 100+) your riding in a blast furnace. The wind doesn’t cool you off, it actually compounds the effects of heat on you. The same with cold to.
If you’ve never ridden in really hot temperatures, think of taking your wife or girlfriends hair dryer and put it on ‘high’. Now point it at your face and you have some idea of what it’s like.
If your body is sweating to keep it cool, the hot wind is blowing through your mesh gear evaporate your sweat and cause to get dehydrated quicker.
The way I combat this is to wear a cool vest underneath my (armored) mesh jacket. This helps to create a bit of a ‘swamp cooler’ effect as you ride.
Cooling vests are a big help in keeping your cool in the summer heat and if you don’t have one, I would recommend getting one.
Carry Plenty of water
Whenever you go for a ride, you should be taking water with you no matter what the temperature is outside. In fact, you should try and bring more water with you than you can drink during your trip.
I’ve seen different riders accomplish this in different ways. Once common way is to get yourself (and your passenger) a camel pack to wear while you ride.
Of course, most of us that have cruisers with the extra luggage space have a little more room to bring drinks.
Typically, what I do is bring a small lunchbox type cooler and pack it full of drinks. I keep several icepacks in my freezer at all times, so I shove those in with it to keep the waters cold.
If I know I have stops along the way, I still buy water so I don’t drink all of my onboard water unless I really need to.
It’s important to keep yourself hydrated as much as possible when your out riding. Chances are you thirsty before you actually feel it and failure to keep yourself hydrated will cause your body to crash physically.
You need to drink about a gallon of water an hour specially if your riding in any kind of elevated temperature.
Think about heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is no joke when you’re out on the road riding. Your body will give you some warning, but some people are more susceptible than other to the effects of heat exhaustion.
Once while on a ride with friends, one of them passed out on the back of the motorcycle at highway speed. We managed to get stopped at a local gas station and I had to help lift my friend’s wife off of the motorcycle and carry her indoors to cool off.
The passenger new they were about to pass out from the heat and at least gave my buddy some warning which helped the situation from becoming a total disaster.
Your body will warn you that its had enough of the heat with the following signs:
- Flushed/pale skin
- Heavy sweating
- Lightheaded or dizziness
When all of these symptoms hit, its time to find a stop immediately and get yourself out of the sun. Heat exhaustion is a form of mild shock and when these symptoms hit its time to pull over.
If left unchecked or treated and heat exhaustion develops into heat stroke, the end is near. Your bodies cooling system shuts down and your brain can start to cook.
If you’ve started to feel the effects of heat exhaustion it’s time to find a place to get cooled down. Drink lots of water and hang out for as long as it’s going to take and don’t rush it.
Watch your motorcycle’s oil temp
I’ve ridden in some hot weather and so far, haven’t experienced a problem with my motorcycle’s oil becoming too hot.
That said, it is an issue that you’ll want to pay attention to. Some motorcycle’s may need a fan assisted oil cooler to help keep them from damaging the engine.
This can be a potential problem specifically with Harley’s, and some mechanics have recommended installing a fan assisted oil cooler.
Do you need a fan assisted oil cooler for your motorcycle? If you live and ride in a hot environment, you should contact your dealer and get their input if a new oil cooler is necessary.
Use Cool Wraps
For the most part, all of your skin will be covered by all of the gear you wear to keep you safe.
One of the areas that gets left unprotected a lot of the time is the neck area. Soaking a cool wrap in water and wrapping it like a handkerchief can help you from getting sunburned and help keep you cool.
Placing any kind of cool wrap on your skin can help keep your body temperature from going through the roof and make you a lot more comfortable.
There are a lot of options out there form cool wraps and some of them work the same a cool vest does. I travel with both.
Oily Asphalt And Tar Snakes
It’s no secret that when temperatures start to reach hellish levels that it’s going to do a number on the asphalt.
As asphalt starts to heat in the sun, the pavement can become soft. If the asphalt is soft and heavy trucks are traveling on it, large ruts will appear in the roadway.
What can also happen is oily patches from the asphalt appear on the roadway. Oily patches of course, are no friend to motorcyclists and can cause you to go down.
Another road hazard that can be a problem in the hot weather are tar snakes.
In a lot of states, an oil/tar mix is used to fill cracks in the asphalt creating ‘tar snakes’ which can be a hazard to just about anything on two wheels.
Tar snakes can be problem due to the uneven surface they create and their sticky/oily surface.
If you have the option to take a different route to avoid them, consider it. The problem is that some municipalities get carried away with using this type of roadway fix, so avoid them may be next to impossible.
When your boots start sticking to the pavement at the traffic lights, be prepared.
Plan for stops on your route
Whenever you’re planning on taking a trip in the extreme heat, you’re going to want to stop more often to get out of the sun and re-hydrate.
To help avoid heat exhaustion for both you and your passenger, you’ll need to breaks and find some shade and grab a drink.
My bike is pretty comfortable so I can usually go about 2 hours before I take a break. I’ve since ‘trained’ myself to stop more frequently, about every 45 minutes to an hour.
When you take your breaks get out of the sun and drink some water even if you don’t feel like you need to. When it’s hot out, you can almost never hydrate too much.
Of course, if you’re feeling dizzy take as long as you need on your break and don’t push it. This is sign that heat exhaustion is starting to set in, so be careful.
Once again, a no brainer, but put some sun tan lotion on any exposed body parts you may have. More than likely this will be your neck area and may around your wrist in the gap between your gloves and sleeves.
If you’re wearing an open face helmet, you’ll need some there to.
I always keep a bottle with me for any trip I take.
Don’t ride in the mid-day sun
When you’re riding in the desert or extreme heat, you’re going to need to hit the road a lot earlier than maybe you otherwise would have.
Depending on how far you plan on riding for, it’s best to start your riding day before the crack of dawn.
If you’re on a bit of a schedule, this helps you get most of the days ride done before temperatures reach the insane level.
I’ve done a lot of day rides in Las Vegas where we hit the road at 5 or 6 (in summer its already 80 degrees plus) in the morning so we could be back in the barn by noon or one in afternoon.
Of course, if the heat was projected to be over 105 degrees, we never rode, because my passenger would probably pass out. If you’re taking a passenger, keep their needs in mind also.
In trying to avoid extreme heat, you’ll need to check the weather and plan accordingly.
Park you motorcycle in the shade
A no brainer that every experienced motorcyclist knows!
If you’re looking for a spot to park when taking a break, you may want to circle the parking lot at least once to find a shady spot.
The reason is obvious;
If you leave your bike in the sun (you know, the one with the black seat) you’re going to burn your fanny while your hanging out getting cooled off.
So, what if you can’t find a nice shady spot?
You make do with what can get, but don’t leave your helmet on the seat in an effort to keep the seat cool. You’ll just burn your head when you put it on.
Other summer riding tips for motorcycle riders
Here’s a shortlist of random crowd sourced and rider tested tips and suggestions you try on your next ride.
- Wear clothing that is bright or lite colored
- Make sure you have a motorcycle helmet with vents
- Don’t wear tight clothes in the heat
- If you don’t have a cool wrap, wet a bandana and wrap it around your neck
- Wear a ballcap backwards so that the bill covers your neck
- Carry aspirin/ibuprofen and other medication with you
- Use terry wristbands to cover up between sleeves and gloves
- Don’t wear a wristwatch, it may give you blisters
- Keep a white towel with you to put on your seat if you can’t park in the shade
- Beware of heat generated by your bike – This plus the ambient temperature when your not moving can speed up your potential for heat exhaustion.
- Watch your pee – Yes, I know it sounds weird. If your pee is dark or deep colored you’re not drinking enough water which means you may be getting dehydrated. The more water you drink, the clearer the pee.
If you’re going to go out riding in the heat be smart about it, don’t try to be a tough guy. Tough guys get dehydrated and pass out to.
Wear your protective gear, plan for stops along your routes to cool off and drink lots of water. Hydrating with beer, soda, tea and other soft drinks won’t cut it.