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Tips to avoid heat exhaustion while riding

Added August 30, 2015
Heat Exhaustion Breaks

For most people, motorcycle riding is a warm season activity, and there is nothing that says “let’s go riding” more than a sunny summer day. As experienced riders, we start each ride with a safety inspection of our motorcycle and riding gear. While we ride, we automatically scan for road and traffic hazards we need to avoid. How often, however, do we consider the hidden risk a hot summer sun poses? Without preventative measures, we can develop heat exhaustion.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is an illness that results from overexposure to high temperatures and dehydration—or loss of salts also known as electrolytes. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can develop into heat stroke, which is a life threatening illness. Before you develop heat stroke, the symptoms of heat exhaustion can be hazardous to the point they could cause you to lose control of your motorcycle.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion

  • Profuse sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

Causes of heat exhaustion

Our body’s natural way of cooling is through the evaporation of sweat. When the relative humidity rises above 60 percent, evaporation slows down. While wind at riding speed may offset the effect of high relative humidity, you’re still losing fluid. The combination of high temperature and high humidity creates a high heat index. As the heat index increases, so does the risk of heat exhaustion.

Riding a motorcycle wearing dark, tight-fitting leather gear that doesn’t allow air to flow can trap body heat and sweat. The dark colors also will absorb more heat from the sun, potentially turning our gear into a personal sauna. Combine that with high relative humidity, a high heat index, and low water intake, and you have a formula for trouble.

Tips to prevent heat exhaustion
Prevention may be the best medicine for heat exhaustion. Here are some tips and tricks you can use:

Tips for riding gear choices

  • Wear light colored gear
  •  Wear gear with ample ventilation
  • Wear gear that’s loose enough to allow air to freely flow
  • Dress in lightweight layers

Tricks to keep cool

  • Take frequent rest stops to cool off in the shade or air conditioning
  • Drink plenty of water, even if you’re not thirsty
  • Soak a bandana with cool water and wear it around your neck
  • Wear a wet t-shirt next to your skin under a ventilated jacket

Many common medical conditions and medications can make you more susceptible to heat exhaustion. Consider consulting your family doctor before taking a long summer tour to better understand your personal risk factors and develop a strategy to stay cool.

How to treat heat exhaustion

Park your motorcycle and get out of the sun and into an air conditioned space. If AC is not available, seek a cool shady place to rest. Remove heavy riding gear. Apply cold wet clothes or soak your shirt with water. Rehydrate yourself with water or a sport beverage with electrolytes. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. If your symptoms persist after 10 minutes, you need to get medical assistance since heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Till next time, stay cool and ride safe!