Monday, June 13, 2011

Five Tips For Riding In Oppressive Summer Heat

Living through summer in Phoenix is the reason I've stopped joking to friends and family back in the frozen states about how I'll be kicking back by the pool in shorts with a beer on Christmas: it comes back to bite me every year just as they're getting some decent weather.

Some of you might be glad summer is here. I'm not.

Here in the post-apocalyptic desert wastes - that is to say, urban Arizona - the summer heat rides through you. Starting in late June, the vast expanses of concrete under a relentless sun combine to turn this city into an oven that doesn't cool off until Thanksgiving. It doesn't even cool down at night.

The pavement can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which combines with the heat coming off the motor and the surrounding cars. Getting caught in slow traffic in those conditions will teach you what heat is.

So, what is an earnest biker to do?

Keep riding, of course. Here are a few hard-won bits of advice for those of you who are new to riding in the heat.

Keep yourself covered - Shorts and a sleeveless Corona shirt aren't ever appropriate clothing. On a motorcycle, however, what you might think is keeping you cool is actually
interfering with your built in cooling system. Heat combined with the wind we encounter while riding can evaporate your sweat almost instantly. If you stay covered up, your sweat will accumulate enough to actually do its job and cool you off. You want your skin to be covered with some kind of material that just lets enough air move through it to be comfortable. Note that in July in Phoenix, "comfortable" is relative.

Drink a ton of water - Did I mention you'll be sweating? In intense heat, you can sweat up to four quarts in an hour. That water has to come from somewhere. Drink drink drink. Stop now and then and drink some more. Really, if you're going to be riding in the heat, you need to drink more water than you think you need to. Your goal should be to piss clear. Stopping for a bathroom break beats stopping for dehydration and heat stroke.

By the way, drink water, not sport-drinks.. You might have an occasional electrolyte-laden beverage, if you like, but what you really need is plain old water.

Avoid riding during the hottest time of the day - Seriously, take a siesta during the heat, and ride earlier or later in the day. If it's so hot it's unholy, we'll all forgive you for waiting until a cooler part of the day to ride.

Get elevated now and then - Higher altitudes bring lower temperatures. When you can't take the heat anymore, go up a big hill. It gets 3 to 5 degrees cooler for every 1000 feet of elevation you gain.

Adjust your attitude - It's hot out. You're going to sweat a lot and won't be entirely comfortable. Accept it, get out there and ride.

A final note - some people just can't handle a lot of heat. It's not wussiness, they're just not built to cope with it. If you're the kind of person who gets sick after an hour outside in hot weather, don't ride in the heat. Nothing sucks as much as struggling to get your helmet off before you barf while sweltering in your riding gear on the side of the road.


mq01 said...

EXCELLENT! great tips and reminders! thank you lucky.

RichardM said...

A great summary. If you have spare water, wetting down your shirt before getting back on the bike really does help cool you off. I've ridden my pedal powered bike through the desert more than a few times and as long as you had plenty of water, it wasn't that bad.

Thank you

Roger said...

Great advice mate, we dont have as oppressive heat over here as you do, but it can still get pretty hot. Good words of wisdom.

Scott said...

So what about 100 degree days with 100 percent humidity and no hills? That would the the Florida Summer I know and hate :)

redlegsrides said...

Excellent points and reminders for those who choose to ride in the heat....luckily here in Colorado we have the mountains and its really hot perhaps 3 weeks in August when temps hit the high 90s...or as you Arizona riders call it, warm days.

Here's my list of things to keep in mind re riding in hot weather, if I may.

Lucky said...

mq01 - Thanks for reading!

RichardM - I have yet to try wetting my shirt. I do have a cool-dana. I'm not sure if I like it or not. This year I think I'll try using a regular old bandana soaked in water and compare.

Raftnn - Thanks! I've found it's all about what you're acclimated to. If 80 degrees is hot for you, then 80 degrees is hot. I've been in the desert long enough that I get cold when it's in the 60's - something that 20 year old, Minnesota-dwelling me would never believe.

Scott - Get a sailboat and head for the Carribean, man. That's what I would do. But if you're not going to do that, the same ideas all apply when you're on the bike. Also, you're in a part of the country where you can wear seersucker and not look entirely out of place - do so (but under your gear, OK? Seersucker isn't know for it's abrasion and impact resistance.).

Charlie6 - Thanks, and that was a great article!

Doug Klassen said...

Mercedes-Benz' racing team did some research several years back and found that driver reaction time can slow up by as much as 20% well before the driver feels overheated. We motorcycle guys can't afford to give up that kind of reaction time in traffic, so as Lucky noted, drink lots of water, stay as cool as you can, take frequent breaks.

Anonymous said...

These are all good tips. Load up on fluids before getting out in the heat- by the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.

And if you're not peeing, you're dehydrated.

The one about covering your skin is valuable too. Saw this on "Survivorman". Baring your skin just accelerates the evaporation of moisture from your body. Look at people from nomadic desert cultures- they cover every inch of skin possible.

Motorcycle Madness said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucky said...

Doug - Thanks for the info - who knew reaction time could slow so much?

No Name - Yep. It's important to remember that motorcycling is an outdoor activity, despite our gear and proximity to cages.

Motorcycle Madness - Thanks for reading!

Jim Liston said...

Absolutely correct on all five counts. I just returned to Lake Havasu City, AZ.where the temp here is ALWAYS over 110 degrees for at least three weeks in July/August. I was on a 5,000 mile, eight state jaunt through Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. I rode with long sleeves and a bandana. Hot as hell but worth it. The Humidity was the killer. In Missouri I bought a Camelbak and kept it full of ice and water. I'll never travel in summer again without it.

Katherine Inman said...

Thanks for the tips on smart riding! It's not fun to feel like you're in a Road Warriors movie while the heat of summer is simply blazing. Water is important to our bodies, so make sure you prevent yourself from sweating away the supply in your body. By all means, sweat as it's important, but replenish it and stay safe.

Unknown said...

I should add that one must get the better oil coolers for their motorbike. Weather is one thing, as well as usage. All of which are variable. So the best insurance, I think, is by building up the bike in such a way that we know it will withstand. The best part is that we can measure it this way.

Han @ Harley Oil Coolers

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips on smart riding

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