10 Tips For Extreme Heat Motorcycle Riding
Most parts of the country are already feeling some heat in the 2016 riding season—lucky them! The rest of us here up north are waiting, and with that warm weather will be more great riding weather and eventually some real heat.
But even as we talk about the best strategies and types of gear for riding in hot weather, while staying relatively protected from the hazards of the road, it’s also important to keep in mind other, more subtle hazards to your health.
In my many years of riding motorcycles in all kinds of weather, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, I can recall only one time I cut a ride short because of the weather – and it wasn’t what you might think. I’ve done rides in snow, rain and hail, but the one thing that made me think twice about completing the route I had planned was intense heat.
In the summer of 2012, the upper Midwest had an unusually intense heat wave. As I left my house for a ride to the Mississippi river, it was just a touch over 100 degrees in the shade at about ten o’clock in the morning. By the time I got out about 40 miles, the thermometer on my bike showed 108 degrees.
Riding with a textile mesh or ventilated leather jacket allows for some cooling effect by channeling air inside the jacket, which achieves that cooling effect by evaporation of perspiration. Riding a bike at highway speed can have an effect similar to what wind chill does in very cold weather. It intensifies the effect of heat on the body and increases the rate of evaporation of sweat from the body.
In extreme heat, the body loses fluids at a higher-than-normal rate, which can cause dehydration. When that happens, the body produces less perspiration, or even none at all, and, in combination with physical exertion, certain medical conditions and high environmental temperatures, hyperthermia, and heat stroke can develop.
On that scorching, cloudless day, despite having already taken in one of the two bottles of water I had along, I began to feel nauseated and woozy—definitely not a good combination any time, but potentially catastrophic on a motorcycle. I found some shade and stopped, finding my skin hot and dry. These things told me it might not be a good idea to try to ride for several more hours, not to mention what a mess I might be in if I had a breakdown on some shadeless stretch of road. I took in my last bottle of water and headed for home.
That brings us to our discussion of our top 10 best warm-weather motorcycle riding strategies. (Note that the following product examples may, in some instances, have been replaced by other models or discontinued. These examples are provided for illustration of the types of features to look for and checking out multiple products is suggested.)
Hot Weather Motorcycle Gear – Tips to Protect Yourself
Hot Weather Ventilated Riding Gear—Jackets and Vests
Textile mesh jackets have a clear advantage over perforated leather in terms of lightness and air flow for cooling. Hybrid jackets that include leather in key areas in combination with textile mesh or solid textile with closable vents can offer the best of both worlds.
Full textile, non-mesh jackets are available that combine ready cool and damp weather capability with strategically-placed closable vents for good warm-weather performance such as the Held Carese II Jacket.
Perforated leather and/or zip open vents can provide some welcome cooling effect, but unless there are several openings or fairly extensive use of perforation, the leather jacket tends not to breathe as well as mesh or mesh/leather hybrids. As noted above, however, if your body is going to be air cooled on a very hot day, then lots of liquids need to be along, too. For extreme conditions, a cooling vest can be a great option to consider. Examples include the Macna Dry Cooling Vest or the Harley-Davidson Hydration Vest. These have the advantage of working to cool body core temperatures which is the key to helping prevent nasty heat effects.
Design of riding jackets that offer lots of mesh for cooling, pockets for bringing gear you want to keep close at hand and impact protectors has come a long way over the years. The Spidi Multitech Armor EVO Jacket we reviewed here not long ago is an example.
If you go for lots of mesh in the construction of the jacket, but want that same jacket to serve when things are cool or damp, be sure to check into whether it comes with a thermal and/or water resistant liner, or whether those items are sold separately, or even available. Those kinds of add-ons can add significant cost, though the versatility may offset the cost by sidestepping the need for another jacket entirely. Textile jackets that combine heavy duty mesh with high-visibility colors and reflective stripes, piping or logos provide ventilation and protection.
Full leather jackets that don’t use perforated leather can have effective cooling with the addition of zipper or hook-and-loop closure vents on the front of the body, shoulders or arms and back of the jacket. An example is the Held Harvey 76 jacket.
No matter which type of jacket gloves or boots you opt for, take a careful look at how the product is built. In long-term use or in a crash situation, single-stitched seams may be more prone to separate than double-stitched seams. This is one of those subtle differences in product construction that can make a difference in price, but also may make a big difference in durability and performance. Our Online Director/Editor still relies on his now out-of-production Alpinestars 365 Gore-Tex suit for nearly ever long-distance tour; the suit has held up gracefully since 2009, without any issues.
For jackets and riding pants that are touted as waterproof or water resistant, seams that are taped or sealed and water resistant types of zippers, as well as storm flaps over openings may cost a little more, but they tend to work better. Storm flaps may seem a minor detail, but they make a big difference; those that include hook-and-loop or magnetic closures or products that include internal storm flaps tend to seal out the weather pretty well. We mention this because even a sunny, warm day can get cold, windy and wet before you get back to the shed.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Gloves:
Sweaty palms just don’t appeal to most riders. On a hot day, it can be very tempting to go without gloves. But doing so may be unnecessary and risky since a person tends to instinctively extend their hands to break a fall, which can lead to nasty abrasion or laceration injuries to unprotected skin. Today, there are so many options for gloves these days, it is possible to get both stout protection and comfort.
All-leather palm and inner finger surfaces are a typical design feature, often enhanced with gel foam padding and double-leather construction at high wear or potential impact surfaces. Some are perforated for ventilation or may be mixed with textile or breathable synthetic materials.
The back side of the hand and fingers are where some glove makers get very creative in terms of both appearance and function. Impact protection over the knuckles, back of the fingers, back of the hand and even at the wrist on gauntlet styles is available. The remainder of the glove back surface may be perforated leather or mesh textile material. Some styles ventilate for cooling very well; others that emphasize impact protection may ventilate best via textile materials between the fingers. For examples of differing approaches, see our review of the REV’IT! Neutron 2 gloves, the Castle Attack gloves, IXS Talure II gloves, and Castle Streewear Sport Mesh gloves.
The final feature to look for is a positive retention system; some sort of adjustable wrist closure that will prevent the glove coming off right when you need it most. An elastic wrist band built into the glove is OK for comfort, but may not be effective enough. A hook-and-loop closure wrist strap, adjustable buckle or snap system offers more positive results when properly fitted.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Pants:
Material options and design features for versatility in meeting weather conditions in riding pants are about as extensive as for jackets and gloves. While many feel it is tough to beat good old denim jeans for all-round comfort for summer riding, fact is, there are a lot of options out there these days that add value and protection.
Jeans themselves have come a long way, now being offered in a number of value-added forms from a range of manufacturers. For example, the basic denim fabric can be enhanced with stretch for better fit, backed or lined with Kevlar for extra abrasion protection and even outfitted with pockets for the insertion of impact protectors.
Recently, jeans incorporating high-strength abrasion-resistant thread in the fabric used for the entire garment took the feature of abrasion protection to the next level, eliminating protection limited only to the areas with reinforced lining. The Bolid’Ster riding jeans incorporates Armalith thread into the fabric of the entire product.
Textile riding pants apart from denim-based products are available in a wide range of configurations, generally including the same hybrid material options as those available for jackets.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Base layers
If you plan to do a track day on a hot day or simply prefer to go with leathers top to bottom no matter the weather some clever base layer options exist to maximize comfort as you maximize protection. If adding layers in hot weather seem just plain wrong, it’s important to consider what the base layer is made of and what it’s made for.
Generally, when considering base layer options, it is for increased warmth in cool or cold riding conditions. But a base layer can also be made of modern materials that keep snug, close-fitted leathers or other outer garments from binding, it can wick perspiration away from the body to improve comfort and cooling and it can facilitate airflow.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Helmet:
The helmet is one of the items of riding gear most often cited as uncomfortable—and dispensable—in hot weather. It’s true that a heavy, non-ventilated helmet of an older design can be something of a pain on a hot day, but then again, there are a lot of lightweight, well-ventilated alternatives available today. Moreover, modern helmets offer a lot of value-added features that not only provide state-of-the-art comfort and protection, but convenience, as well.
For example, helmets made with carbon fiber or some composite hybrids of fiberglass, carbon fiber, polycarbonate or other materials can be light, meet the most stringent impact protection standards, cool well with flow-through ventilation, let you forget your sunglasses with internal slide-down sun shades, enable installation of Bluetooth communications gear and look pretty cool in the bargain.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Boots:
Footwear tends to be tougher to find in terms of great summer ventilation with protection for foot, ankle, shin and Achilles tendon as well, but it is out there. For example the Sidi Roarr Boots and Sidi Traffic Air boots. There are many other options out there, of course, so take ventilation as well as comfort and protection into account when checking into riding footwear.
A note here about riding gear and protecting yourself—we encourage riders to don protective gear from head to foot no matter how hot the weather or how short the ride. On a motorcycle, even the most mundane, low-speed mishap can cause a variety of injuries and wearing protective gear can help reduce severity and in some instances prevent those injuries.
Of course, no gear, no matter how well-designed can prevent injury—including serious injury—in all instances, but with so many options available, there’s really no good reason not to protect yourself.
Hot Weather Supplies:
Water, juice or other things to drink—you may not be able to count on being close to a source to buy some in the event of a breakdown or unplanned stop. Some sunblock and maybe a light long-sleeve cover shirt and hat in the event you end up spending more time in direct sun than anticipated. If you or your passenger are allergic to bee stings or other things that you may encounter, be sure to take the Epi-pen or other medications that may be prescribed along. Not a summer has gone by where I haven’t had a close encounter with a wasp, bee or hornet and I’ve been stung more than once on the bike; fortunately, I’m not allergic, but a lot of people are. A serious allergic (anaphylactic) reaction out in the middle of nowhere can be life-threatening.
Hot Weather Motorcycle Tips to Protect Your Machine:
Engine Cooling & lubrication and Drive Line:
As you might expect, cooling for the bike itself is vital. Little things that aren’t likely to cause problems when riding in cool weather may do so in the heat of summer. For example, liquid-cooled engines and bikes with oil coolers can be kept at maximum heat exchange efficiency by keeping the equipment clean, free of bugs and leak-free.
A stiff bristle brush is handy for clearing the radiator and oil cooler of jammed-in bugs, dirt and debris. I put a fine window screen material in front of my bike’s radiator to prevent bugs and debris from getting deep into the core. That also makes sweeping them away a lot easier. When that gets damaged or too gunked up to sweep clear, it’s cheap and easy to put a new screen on.
Keeping the cooling fins on an air-cooled engine clean is at least as crucial. Built-up road grime, bugs and so on cuts down heat dissipation from the engine, pushing operating temperature up. Air cooled engines operated in high heat environments can really benefit from the addition of an oil cooler, too. Since air-cooled engines rely on air flowing over the cooling fins to disperse heat, avoiding long periods of stationary idling where possible can help keep the heat build-up down.
Checking the coolant level is critical to cooling system performance, as well as doing a drain and flush to keep the coolant at maximum efficiency as recommended by the bike’s manufacturer. Similarly, keeping the oil clean, of the recommended grade for high temperature and at the full mark helps protect the engine from heat-related problems. Fact is, most engine components are designed to handle high operating temperatures—if cooling and lubrication systems are working as designed—but high heat can cause engine oil lubrication to be less effective and that, in turn, can cause problems. Keep an eye on your oil pressure gauge or warning light; critically low oil pressure can cause very expensive problems in short order.
Extreme heat is the enemy of final drive and primary drive components as well as the engine. Making sure the primary drive lubricants are up to snuff (clean and the right viscosity) and up to the right level cuts friction and wear as well as providing a medium for dissipating heat.
Final drive rear gear units on shafties need love, too. Generally, changes for the lubricants in those units are recommended with the same frequency as engine oil changes. Giving the fluid level there quick check is a good idea, as well as greasing any final drive Zerk fittings.
Giving metallic chain final drives a good cleaning and lubrication as recommended in your owner’s manual can also help reduce friction, wear and heat build-up. Belt final drive systems tend to have some degree of heat build-up in the belt under normal use; extreme heat makes matters worse. Keeping the belt clean, properly aligned and at the right tension can help prevent problems.
Tire Temperatures and Air Pressures:
Tire air pressures are absolutely critical at any time, but when pavement temperatures are in triple digits, under-inflated tires (which are prone to blow-out failures to start with) become a disaster waiting for a place to happen. Time to failure gets even shorter if the bike is loaded with luggage and a passenger.
Manufacturers may recommend different tire air pressures depending on load, so check those out for your ride and adjust accordingly. And if you’re out riding, bring a portable one with you – such as a MotoPumps Mini Pro.
Electrical systems on modern bikes tend to be less affected by high heat environments than vintage bikes, but making sure connections are clean and tight whenever you do electrical work is always a good idea.
Loose or corroded connections at the battery or in the wiring loom cause increased resistance and can build up heat and cause blown fuses or other failures even in cool weather, but most of the ones I’ve had happen occurred in the peak heat of summer.
Carry extra fuses along in your kit—and make sure you have the right amp rating and type of fuse. Among my bikes, I have old style glass tube fuses as well as mini-fuses and one bike with what amounts to a fusible link as the main. Try to identify the fault that caused the fuse to blow in the first place before putting your spare in or you may just blow that, as well and could end up stranded on the roadside, in the heat, until help arrives.
Last but not least by a long shot—keep your cool, ride safe and help make this summer the safest motorcycle season on record.