Hot Weather Survival Tactics for Motorcyclists

Hot Weather RidingWhether you describe “Hot Weather” as 80 degrees or 110 degrees, if you are riding for several hours in heated temperatures, the main thing to prevent is also the most obvious: DEHYDRATION.  Dehydration is excessive loss of water from the body.

Motorcyclists should not think too lightly of this malady.  Dehydration can lead to a range of “bad” to “very bad” things that are listed below.  As a rider, you may be surprised at how fast dehydration can effect you on the road, especially since there are a surprising amount of motorcyclists (and non motorcyclists) who live their non-riding lives in a near-hydrated condition anyway. (Although I’m sure that does NOT include YOU!!)

What’s the easiest way to tell if you are dehydrated?

If you’re thirsty?

Well…OK…that’s true: you should definitely drink water when you are thirsty.  But there are riders who are so used to ignoring their body’s thirst signals that there’s another way: check the color of your urine.  A DARK yellow color indicates you are dehydrated.  Which means you are well past the point of not drinking enough water.

That may not sound too revelatory, but here are some of the hazards and symptoms that can impact any dehydrated rider anywhere in the world:

  • Heat Cramps: If you feel cramps in your legs or abdomen, you need water. In fact, you’ve passed the point you need water.  And things are going to get worse until you get some of that H2O.
  • Heat Exhaustion: If you kept on riding in spite of the cramps, or even if you didn’t experience cramps, but are riding beyond your body’s normal need for water, you are now motoring into the realm of becoming a prime candidate for heat exhaustion.  Some of the symptoms that you may expect include lots of sweating, headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, tiredness and even fainting spells. Obviously these are the kind of symptoms that can badly effect your motorcycle control and reaction time to routine threats to motorcycle survival.  So, “Heat Exhaustion” means “bad” news for bikers.
  • Heatstroke (also known as sunstroke): To put things in proper perspective, heatstroke is a medical emergency and the person should be taken to a hospital. This is well beyond the stage of feeling uncomfortable simply because it’s hot out.  Signs to watch for include rapid heartbeat; rapid breathing; confusion or incoherence; blanking out; hot, red, dry skin; elevated body temperature; and even hostility (more so than normal for any of your easily aggravated companions).  Note that the rider has now passed the sweating stage.  The dehydration is so advanced that there is not enough water in the body to perspire (which is the normal way the body cools itself).

    A rider experiencing heatstroke might even appear to be intoxicated.

    As heatstroke continues to advance, the face may change colors, moving from red to a pale or bluish tint.  Unfortunately, if heatstroke is this far advanced, things can still get worse, including the failing of body organs accompanied by unconsciousness and coma, and in rare circumstances, death.  In short, you don’t want to come near the possibility of experiencing heatstroke.

    It’s worth re-stating that you don’t want to get yourself anywhere near the point of heatstroke.

    However, if a rider you know does get heatstroke, you need to help them fast, no matter what objections they may offer:  Their body temperature must be lowered immediately. Begin by getting the rider out of the sun, and ideally into some air-conditioned area. Their clothing should loosened and/or removed to allow more ventilation.  Even better would be to get the rider into some cool water, such as a bath, or even a lake or river if such is possible.

OK, now let’s look at what you can do to enhance your safe travels through hot weather.  Let’s start out with the most obvious:

  1. Drink lots of “water.” WATER is emphasized since refreshments like soda, coffee (or any caffeinated drink) or alcoholic drinks can actually contribute to dehydration, instead of helping to alleviate it.
  2. Insulate your skin from the heat.  It may seem counter-intuitive to wear protective clothing on a hot day, but you NEED to cover your exposed skin.  Think of the desert nomads that spend their whole lives traveling in the desert with their camels: They ALL wear garments that cover their entire body and head.  In real simple terms, exposed skin on a hot day is not only subject to sunburn, but bare skin soaks up MORE heat from the sun.  If the outside temperature is higher than your normal body temperature (36.8°C or 98.2°F), and if your bare skin is exposed to the heat, your body temperature has no where to go but up.  On the other hand, if your skin is covered, you are insulating yourself from the heat.  It may “feel” good (particularly on shorter rides) to take your jacket off on hot days, but it is pushing your body into the range of dehydration symptoms even faster.  (Of course, riding without proper motorcycle gear on a hot day could also result in considerably more severe circumstances should you take a tumble on searing asphalt with bare skin or without a helmet).
  3. If you are riding in areas of low humidity, for example, in the deserts of the American Southwest (or any place that is hot and “dry”), you can cool yourself by dowsing your cotton shirt with water and zipping up your jacket on top of it. Your closed jacket will keep your shirt wet, longer. Of course, if you happen to be wearing a mesh jacket, you can feel quite comfortable for only a little while, as the water evaporates from your shirt under the mesh quite rapidly.  In other words, it won’t take long before your shirt is thoroughly dried out and you need to do it again. 

    Now, if you try this in a part of the world that is hot “and” humid, then you will simply be hot and wet with this tactic.

  4. If you are motorcycle touring and you know the temperature is going to be uncomfortably warm for you in the direction you are heading, then don’t ride in the hottest part of the day. Hit the road before the sun rises, get several hours of riding under your belt, and then get to a hotel or make camp before the heat becomes unfriendly.  Additionally, if you are one of those folks who is not an early riser, then hit the road in the late afternoon, and ride through sunset and into the evening.  (Of course there is a risk in finding “No Vacancy” signs at motels, hotels and campgrounds if you want to end off your riding too late in the evening.)
  5. Perhaps the simplest tactic is to take regular breaks and get into some shade (while drinking plenty of water!)

Enjoy safe riding!

34 thoughts on “Hot Weather Survival Tactics for Motorcyclists

  • wrapping a wet bandana around your neck,, but obviously not something long that can get tangled in various things,, works. I do search and rescue work and a quick way to cool someone is by putting something cold at “pulse points”. Any of the places you take a pulse,, wrists,, neck,, etc. The blood flow is closer to the skin and in larger vessels at those points and it actually cools the blood slightly and spreads it throughout the body. This works very well. I’ve seen a material designed to evaporate slowly that goes around the neck and is marketed towards hikers but would work great for riding as well! As a personal note,, I was working at a first aid booth at an air show last summer and a woman brought in a 2 yr old that was beyond sweating,, beat red,, and screaming.. We stuck her hands into an ice water bucket ( up past her wrists) and in less than 5 minutes she was looking better,, then we started getting her sipping water,, drink too fast and it back fires,, another thing is soaking your feet,, remember how that feels when over heated? same principal,, lots of blood flow near the surface!.

  • In Hawaii our average temperatures run from 66F to 88F, humidity averages 43% (nice) to 88% (awful), median cloud cover is 51%, and we get rained on 4 out of every 10 days. Most days we get get it all! Rain, sun, cool, hot, humid, dry. In other words, dressing safely is almost always uncomfortable and it’s really tempting to just ride around in shorts, slippers , an “aloha shirt”, sunglasses, and nothing else. But, being comfortable riding today isn’t worth the chance of losing all my rides of tomorrow! Anybody have some tips or recommendations for gear for safe, comfortable riding in the tropics? I wear a mesh jacket, good boots, full face helmet, and gloves and i sweat!

  • Re-hydration is the ONLY way to remain in control of your motorcycle or your body when it is truly warm, and the author is also correct about the need to keep skin covered.

    One of the things I used to do when crossing the San Joaquin Valley in CA during summers was to soak both my shirt under my riding jacket as well as use a cold drinking fountain to do the same to my helmet liner. Heat transfer occurs as the air moves over the wet surface, and it made rides to say, Redding, CA surprisingly comfortable.

    This despite wearing an all weather touring suit of dark coloration. This does not replace the need to drink water though, and also try to avoid caffeinated drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, or even Iced tea as they are all diuretics and will make you urinate more than you would if simply drinking plain water.

    Best tactic I found was to simply shove off from my then home in Los Angeles at about 3AM if I wanted to be in Oregon or Weed, CA by nightfall without knocking myself out because of the heat. Was pretty easy to bypass the majority of the heat in the agricultural belt by about noon.

  • Hi
    Great comments I am ridding from the UK to Turkey in July 2013 and it’s going to be bloody hot, I have really taken a lot of good ideas from your article and replies, if anybody has done this ant advice would be gratefully received.

  • Hey guys,
    Sensible info, i ride here in the middle east all year round, temps can reach 50 + or more than 130 degrees. one point missed is when dehydrated, your concentration is lost and then followed by becoming delirious, not good for riding safely.

    Camel pack essential with some liquid hydration therapy. regular stops to cool off. Never ride alone and your bike needs to be in excellent mechanical order. ensure you have reliable coms and someone who knows where you are and your destination and ETA.

    Interestingly I ride a BMW boxer air cooled which works fine even in these temps, better than a lot of water cooled bikes that struggle particularly when stationary?

    BR Gary

  • I have to say I just don’t get why some of you girly men feel like you always have to wear a leather jacket even when it’s crazy hot out. If you’re so scared of crashing on your cruiser that you must wear a full face helmet,leather jacket ,armored pants etc it’s no wonder you’re suffering from the heat.If you’re that afraid just don’t ride. A good helmet, long pants,boots and half gloves is enough when it’s hot.

  • Great info Im going to by a combined leather and mesh jacket for just around town and use my fully enclosed rivert jacket when going any distance take plenty drinking water should be good

  • On a trip to Sturgis some yrs. ago I left souix falls at 8:30am and headed west the temp climbed up to 94 f. shortly after. I had 520 mi to go .I kept my leather jac.on with vents open .After two gas stops arrived in sturgis, pulled into a station and almost fainted. A couple riding double on a sporty that passed me earlier were laying on the ground with e.m.t’s working on them. They wore t-shirts only .There lic. said pennsylvania. One hell of a ride.!!!

  • I ride in the southeast where it is very hot and humid. I recommend highly the Veskimo Personal Cooling System as being very effective in keeping you cool in the most oppressively hot and humid weather.

  • Biggz,

    Jacket? Try Langlitz in Portland, Or. Custom made to your measurements. Topnotch motorcycle leathers . . . made in the USA since 1947.

  • A first class article about a subject that some riders take no or little notice of.I now ‘listen to my body’ it helps and do not forget the sun cream on your face if your flip-up hemet visor is up.

  • Gosh! what you have said makes so much sense. Perhaps wear thinner gloves in the hot weather and open up the vents of your jacket and your if you have them. I wear first class long sleeved tops under my jacket they wick very well but it is surprising how much one can sweat on a long journey. if you are riding a flip-up helmet with the visor up don’t forget the high factor sun cream on your face and especially the nose.

  • Can’t emphasize enough the need for head covering. Of course, a DOT helmet is the best for anyone who cares about their family; but the shade it offers is very important. If your head sweats, the cool air passing under the helmet helps cool your head and your head is the most important part of your body that needs to be functioning properly at all times.

    Bare-headed riders not only look stupid, they just don’e seem educated enough to realize the effects of sunstroke, sunburn and of course the worst of all – road burn.

    So ride in the sun but take your shade with you….

  • In March 2007 I lived in suburban Adelaide, South Australia which has a climate similar to California.
    My brother-in-law asked if I’d come and work where he lived at that time which was about 4000kms away in Port Hedland, Western Australia To take advantage of this trip I decided to go via Perth, Western Australia as my sister lives there which added a few hundred more kms.
    Most of the trip across the south coast of Australia to my sister’s place in Perth is about 2800 kms (1740 miles) was without drama.
    The final leg of the trip was 1780 Kms (1106 miles) along the coastal road to Port Hedland. This was by far the more interest part of the trip.
    I left around 7am with coolish to mild temperatures until midday. As I travelled further north the temperature was getting warmer and after several drink stops I made it into Geraldton a provincial city about 460 kms north of Perth. I fueled up, got a drink and headed for the nearest shopping centre where I stayed for about two hours getting over the heat. At 4:30 pm I set off again and about 45 minutes later I was in the next town where I sat for another hour. I was so far behind in travel time that I would have to travel an unknown road in the dark.
    I set off again and a short way up the road I spotted a rest stop that had a couple of water tanks in so parked the bike, got the shower gear out, stripped off and and had a much needed all over wash.
    The rest of the trip was fairly un dramatic except for one casual chat with a guy. He made a comment about me having a leather jacket on in the heat as he would never wear one in those tempuratures. He had trouble understanding that by wearing the jacket I would not lose so much fluid loss by evaporation and that it was a lot cooler while riding.
    Oh! I found out later that Geraldton had had it’s hightest March temperture on record the day I was there which was about 40C.

    I make a point of stopping every hour and more often if the temperature requires it. It’s better to arrive late in one piece than not to get their at all, and all ways carry extra water than what you think you’ll need.

  • I crossed through Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California in the mid-July ’08. I made sure I had the following;
    1. Full motorcycle gear; mesh jacket with wicking type long sleeve shirt and a cotton tshirt over that. Socks were wicking type, and I wore long underwear w/bike shorts w/padding. With armored motorcycle pants, I am well insulated from the heat.
    2. Full face helmet & I wear earplugs & apply Kamille hand lotion on my face, neck, hands and arms to seal in moisture and avoid chapped skin.
    3. Camelbak in tank bag w/Powerade & ice. This allows me to drink every 30-45 minutes whle riding and maintain proper hydration. Water is good but the electrolytes in Powerade (not too much sugar or sodium) make a big difference.
    4. Motrin at morning, afternoon & night to help with muscle inflammation, really makes a difference.

    I make sure to take my “long break” for lunch around 1pm, and get inside an air-conditioned restaurant. Keeping out of the midday sun without losing too much riding time was the goal. With temps at 105F to 115F I was riding the entire time in relative comfort. Cagers would stare in disbelief and i would look over at them and they looked beat. Even with A/C, they’re basically sitting in a greenhouse on wheels. With proper shielding, moisture/sweat control & hydration I enjoyed every mile. In 2009, I did it again up through the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, to Moab and back. In 2010 a short hop to Tombstone, AZ without any issues. Happy Riding.

  • MCg,

    thanks for the article, in the end, as always, the best is to take things easy, take breaks from time to time, and always remind that the adventure is the riding as such and not necessarily arriving to x or z destination as quick as possible.

    On the other hand, I would appreciate it if you could elaborate whenever possible on the appropriate and/or best riding gear/apparel for hot weather, starting from the principle “all the gear, all the time” (i.e. jacket, pants, gloves, boots, helmet….)

    best regards

  • I live and ride in Central Texas. .. HOT & HUMID…. When at stops, I fill the front pockets of my jeans with water. Heavy cotton demin takes forever to dry, and the cooling effect is right over your major arteries. Also, a wet demin jacket will take forever to dry and cools your entire core. I also layer with a cotton sports bra and a cotton tank on super hot August days. Stop often, look for breaks where you can swim or put your feet in a river…… and never go any where without a large bottle of water.

  • I would first and foremost like to all of you here apologise for this supposedly obnoxious post. I am sure to have some readers bristling in indignation but this is too scientific an idea to not share.
    I humbly request you to look beyond the nauseating to the practicality of the suggestion.

    This may well work out to be one of the cheapest and the most practical solutions to the vexing problem of installing evaporative cooling systems for riding gear that are cheap, compact, flexible and easily available.

    What do you look for in a cooling system :
    1. It should be thin – about 3mm when dry and when saturated with water, should not exceed 5mm in thickness. Thus it should not occupy major space inside your gear.
    2. Should be based on water absorbing polymer crystals. Should be cool and dry to touch and should not soak your T-shirt, balaclava and gloves.
    3. Should absorb your excess perspiration and not smell. That means that it needs to have anti-microbial treatment.
    4. Should be easy to attach, detach and replace without clumsy add on components, adhesives and tapes. Should not be itchy, scratchy and uncomfortable.
    5. Should be easily available at most utility stores. Should be extremely cheap.

    The perfect solution is actually staring at us from shop shelves and we have just not spotted it. . . the humble women’s sanitary napkin or pad.

    If you have got over your bout of nausea or hysterical laughter or both, let me just proceed to explain my idea in a scientific manner.

    Not only are the above criteria absolutely satisfied but it also qualifies for the following reasons :

    1. The self adhesive pads make it extremely suitable for attaching on the EPA foam in the helmet, under the removable liner.It is thin enough not to affect the fit. I have had marked cooling by utilising this contraption in 90-105 F temperature conditions when in motion. If you dont mind sticking your head into those and riding around town there you are. No one will notice since it goes under the liner.
    2. If the “wings” are clipped, the 8″ X 3″ is the perfect size to attach to the inside of the collar of your jacket. Not only will it retain moisture longer than most other contraptions, but it will be less obtrusive and one less item to manage on a ride. Better than a wet bandana by far. Definitely wont soak your shirt.
    3. My friends are experimenting with attaching on the inside of the jacket in the armpit area and on the inside of the sleeve in the area of the lower arm that faces upwards when riding (facing the sun). There is also an attempt to attach a half piece to the inside of the glove in the area from the knuckles to the wrist. It can also be placed on the inside in close proximity to air-vents to cool the incoming air.
    4. When replenished, the suggested items do not lose water easily if the jacket or helmet is lying on a desk, obviating the requirement to saturate just before a ride. You could do it hours or even a day earlier.
    5. Thankfully major brands are available in plain white with no identifiable labels or logs printed on it that would embarrass you in public. (They are anyway going to be pasted on unseen areas). Mercifully most men would not be able to identify it if they saw one.
    6. It is easy to peel off when soiled without leaving a gummy residue and quick to attach a fresh one.

    If you have got over the fearful thought of being caught riding with these things plastered all over your gear, please evaluate my suggestion objectively on merit and present your feedback.

    It is a near perfect solution although a little kinky.

    If it gains acceptance, who knows, P&G and Unilever may start producing them in jacket sizes XS to XXXL 😉

    Regards and my humble apologies once again for stirring up the other males out here.


  • I purchased a cooling vest (the kind you soak in water for 2 minutes and put it on) before taking my weekend motorcycle class on an asphalt parking lot. The first day I work a dark long-sleeved shirt over the top and was a bit warm, but on the second day I wore a white long-sleeved one and felt much better. The instructor got the information to buy him one for the future. I used it many times through the summer and it was one of the smartest “gotta have it” purchases I have made!

  • Also forgot to mention … when hot-weather riding, avoid huge protein meals. Protein heats up the metabolism. Instead, eat fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, yogurt. Your buddies may think you’re being a panty-waist eating rabbit food for breakfast and lunch, but your tummy will be full of nice, cooling foods to prevent your body from creating a lot of heat digesting while they’re busy sweating their butts off after eating the steak, sausage, eggs, etc. Save the heavy protein foods for dinner after the ride.

  • When riding in heat, it’s a good idea to pack some salted nuts & apples. Folks focus on the water a lot, but sometimes neglect the electrolytes (potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium). For extreme riding, you can buy Pedialite…it’s a dextrose-based solution full of electrolytes you can buy at most grocery stores. It’s recommended by doctors for children (or adults) that have diarhea and too much fluid loss. You can mix it 1/4 to 3/4 water, to ensure all the water you’re sucking down from your camelpak is also helping you replenish electrolytes and some carbohydrate for energy (because sweating uses a lot of energy, too). The dextrose in the pedialite is better than gatorade’s sucrose/high-fructose corn syrup, because dextrose (glucose, actually), is primarily used by muscles for fuel (or converted to glycogen for storage in muscles as quick energy later). Meanwhile sucrose & fructose are primarily used by the liver, and since it can’t use too much at one time it’ll conver the rest into triglycerides (fat) and store them in your body fat. Bottomline, the dextrose / glucose is a better fuel source for your body & muscles than gatorades sugar-water. But, salted nuts and fresh apples also make a world of difference on a rest stop. They help top out your electrolytes, and the fat in the nuts will help provide a slow digesting energy source to help even out your blood sugar if you’ve been sucking down too much gatorade or sugary things.

  • You do NOT want to go through a heat stroke; axe me how I know.

    Being ‘cool’ is not nearly as important ans being ‘alive’.

  • Here in the summer heat of East Texas I was taught by some very old-school bikers . When you wake up in the morning , start drinking water . Keep drinking water constantly till you have to take your first leak . After you use the bathroom , drink about one more quart of water before heading out . I’ve seen riders fall-out at stop lights from lack of water . Stay on top of it . We have a lot of rallies down here in Texas and , we also see 100+ summers weather for months . Ride Safe ! We don’t want too have to scrape the yankees off the asphault before calling it a night .

  • Here’s a pretty simple solution: Stop once an hour! Get off the bike, get a drink, take a leak, stretch your legs. Riding is for fun. It’s not supposed to be an endurance contest.

    I’d suggest that you should not ride if you are in a hurry. Enjoy the ride!

  • A camelbak is a very useful accessory while touring. We can carry water on our back and easily sip without stopping.

  • No problem Antonio. You are welcome to translate the articles to Portuguese for your website. Just include a link to the original article on this website. Good luck with your motorcycle touring company! MCg

  • Hello there, i hope you are having a great week.

    I live down here in Miami, FL and I just begin to run a company to bring tourists to ride motorcycles in USA. Your article is very interesting and if you allow me, I would like to translate it to Portuguese to be used in my company’s website.
    Please let me what you think about it.

  • A very useful article.Riders ought to know & respond to their body call. We in India generally have hot & humid climate.So we gotta have plenty of liquid before we leave for riding (in afternoon).
    And for those of u who believe in indian methodology, try the following:-
    1.take chilled yoghurt (curd) shake before leaving.
    2.try green mango shake i.e. heat the mangoes until they get pulpy soft and mash them , mix with water to make a shake(of course u can give it ur flavour salty or sweet). a hankie dipped in chilled water under ur helmet.
    4.drink chilled water with lemon or mint essence.

  • OOPS, my bad.

    The first paragraph below is better stated;
    “There is another factor contributing to dehydration from riding with exposed skin”.


  • Another thing that riders, or most anyone does not realize is that the exposed skin in the wind also is “air dried” by another process not realized. If you were to take a wet sponge and blow 60 mph air onto it, the water would evaporate considerably faster than if it were covered by clothing or some type of barrier.
    Dud you say!!! read on…
    The point here is that the sponge is porus, ahhh, just like our skin…hmmmmm, there fore unprotected skin in the wind will substancialy contribute to our dehyration.
    Ever hear of windburn?
    Last year on a group ride in high 90 degree weather, I wore a long sleeve wet shirt under my mesh jacket. it would last for about 45 min. At stops in the later part of the ride (in the heat of the day), the others started showing signs of getting heated. I and my wife were fine. they thought I was possibly crazy but they were the ones that were getting hot and heated.
    One more point, studies have shown that as our body gets dehyrated, our blood actualy thckens there by placing a increased strain on the heart and circulatory system.

  • Most riders here in Indonesia usually have one of those bottle holders attached to their bikes, me included, as an extra precaution. we usually attach these to a place where wind would pass easily to keep it from heating up. we do this since the heat around and near the equator could get unbearably hot quite fast after 8.30 in the morning. of course this might be because I live in a very dense city with no city-planning what-so-ever.

    and forgive me for being a little bit out of topic, but what type of jacket do anyone of you recommend in an area with the condition almost similar to arizona? my last jacket is already shredded in an incident I need a new one but I have to order it from the US, there just isn’t any size for me here.

  • I spent several days in southern Utah on my 2007 RoadKing this August. I wore under my regular vest a hydration vest which I purchased at Harley Davidson Timpanogos (worth a visit) after talking to a cool couple there. It kept me comfortable all day long. (It did stain a few shirts, though.)

  • I see riders all the time wearing LESS clothing in hot weather. This is a mistake as a riders body cannot take advantage of it natural cooling system. The body is technically water cooled. The body sweats, and the evaporative effect carries away heat. Riding in a t-shirt does basically two things; it eliminates that water from sweat by blowing it away before it can carry away any heat, and the skin heats faster as there is no barrier between the skin and the sun.

    I don’t like mesh for much of the same reasons. I wear an Aerostich Darien zipped to the neck with vents open, and a wet shirt. I can stay very comfortable for very long stretches without over heating, even in 100+ degrees. Higher humidity causes more challenges of course, but it still works better than nothing!!!

    Stay cool out there…

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