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Understanding the dangers of long-distance riding fatigue

Added September 20, 2019
Guy sitting on a motorcycle

A road trip on a motorcycle can be an uplifting, exciting, and invigorating experience. It can also be physically and mentally draining—especially on longer trips. But there are ways to reduce the risks involved.

What leads to physical fatigue?

Riding a motorcycle puts you in a physical position that’s relatively static. If you ride a motorcycle that’s built primarily for style, that position can become uncomfortable very quickly. Optimally, a bike for long-distance riding—like a touring motorcycle—is well customized to support the rider’s unique ergonomic needs, making for more comfortable body positioning. But no matter how well you set up the arrangement of the saddle, handlebars, and foot rests, you still won’t change your body position much. That leads to cramped and weakened muscles after hours in the saddle on a high-mileage day.

What leads to mental fatigue?

Motorcycle riding requires great mental concentration, constant visual scanning, and continuous decision-making. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation breaks it down into a policy they call “SEE”—scan, evaluate, and execute. Mental fatigue can feel like your mind is in a fog. Some people would call this tired feeling as being “spacey” or “groggy.” You may even feel like you’re in danger of falling asleep while driving. However you describe the drowsiness, when your mind is fatigued, you lack the mental clarity needed to SEE and avoid hazards. Some of the causes of mental fatigue are:

  • Lack of sleep 
  • Stress
  • Medications—both over-the-counter and prescription
  • Disease 

Hazards of riding while fatigued

Today’s roads and traffic are an ever-evolving landscape of hazards that we need to navigate every time we ride our bike. This is why we arm ourselves with the best motorcycle safety training, excellent riding gear, and a well-maintained motorcycle—including the tires. Ultimately, how we handle the hazards that we encounter on every ride and avoiding crashes depends on being mentally sharp, alert, and focused. Here’s how mental fatigue affects us:

  • Reduced alertness to road conditions and traffic
  • Increased reaction time
  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Reduced fine-motor skills
  • Increased irritability

So how do you know if you’re suffering from mental fatigue? Here are some warning signs:

  • Wandering in your lane
  • Not remembering the last few miles of riding
  • Missing a turn or exit
  • Blinking, yawning, and feeling tired
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet

How to stay awake while driving

Fatigue can find us anywhere at any time. The pressures of work, caring for family, or any number of stresses that pop up can be exhausting. For many of us, fatigue is just part of life. Learning how to reduce and manage fatigue can help support us not only in life, but on the road, too. Here are six tips to help:

  • Sleep: Getting a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is good for your health. While some might cut those hours short in order to get everything done during the week, sleep deprivation doesn’t cut it for safe motorcycle riding. Make it a point to get good sleep for several nights before your big weekend ride or starting a tour—and every night while on a motorcycle tour. If you use your bike to commute, get a good night of sleep every night.
  • Take breaks: When you’re on the road, it’s a good idea to plan several breaks during your riding day. Getting off the bike for a little while and refreshing your body and mind will improve your alertness. A great way to do this is to stop and sightsee or explore the area you’re traveling through.
  • Stay hydrated: Staying well hydrated is critical, especially during the hot summer months. Your body and mind need water and the essential electrolytes you lose through sweating and restroom stops. Dehydration combined with fatigue makes for a double whammy of rider performance reduction.
  • Stretch: One way to cope with the physical fatigue caused by motorcycle riding is to do some stretching. There are countless books and internet sources with stretching exercises to target the parts of your body that cramp up while on a bike. As with all exercise programs, check with your doctor first.
  • Eat for the road: Good nutrition is always important for good health. Consider eating lighter meals with a balanced mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. Avoid heavy foods and large meals that are harder to digest and can cause after-meal sleepiness. Also, try to avoid too much sugar. It may pick you up fast, but when it’s burned up, your blood sugar will drop and so will your energy.
  • Avoid alcohol: Drinking alcohol and riding a motorcycle is simply a bad idea—especially if you drink alcohol the night before you ride and in excess. Even a small amount of alcohol can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. 

Of course, in addition to protecting yourself from the dangers of accidents and crashes, it’s also important to protect your bike. A number of insurance coverages like roadside assistance are out there to protect you while you’re on your ride. Discounts can also help make insurance coverage even more affordable.

Till next time, ride safe!

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Before you hop on your motorcycle, there are four things you should do to get ready for riding. 

It’s time to ride. Are you in shape for it? With a few regular exercises, you can ensure a safer and more comfortable ride.