- We are exposed to the elements devoid of shade or air conditioning.
- We are limited in what refreshments we can carry close-at-hand.
- Our heads are stuffed into a helmet that traps hot air and restricts circulation.
- Our gear is designed to keep us safe, head to toe, not to keep us cool.
- We ride perched on top of internal combustion engines emitting heat directly at us.
My tried and trusted method of beating the summer heat is getting out and riding earlier in the day. Typically I’ll wake up at 5am and aim to get wheels rolling by 6am during the summer months. If I ride for 2-3 hours I am usually back before the sun is high and the day gets too hot. However, I was out for a ride a few weeks ago and found myself on the road longer than I had anticipated. The day was heating up pretty good and I could feel myself starting to lose energy inside my leathers and helmet. The hot air was rising up from the engine, cooking my thighs and making it difficult to breath. Once in motion the breeze is sufficient to cool rider and bike, even at temperatures over 80°, but stuck in stop-and-go traffic the heat became intolerable.
Once I safely returned home I felt drained and exhausted. Memories of my enjoyable early morning canyon ride now eclipsed by the difficult ride back through city traffic. My thoughts turned to an email I received form Cycle Gear a few weeks earlier that I had nonchalantly dismissed. It was promoting some products for beating the heat and summer riding. Looking back over that message, I collected my own opinions from the experience to create this list of life-saving tips.
- The most important point to remember is your body needs to be in shape to withstand the heat of summer riding. Stay in shape by exercising. Stretch the night before the ride by doing squats. Drink plenty of water the night before to wake up hydrated. And absolutely get a good nights sleep to wake well-rested before your ride. Riding tired, stiff and dehydrated is a very bad way to begin your epic cruise through the canyons and can only get worse from there.
- Equally important is the health of your motorcycle. Nothing could be more dangerous than breaking down with no shade, exposed to the searing sun, dressed in all your gear with minimal supplies at hand. Perform regular checks and get a pre-summer tune-up to keep the cooling system of your bike optimise.
- Take plenty of water with you. Cycle Gear recommended a HydraPak or similar backpack unit, but I have been told these make riding more difficult. Especially if the type of riding you do is of the more aggressive sport riding variety. Having almost a gallon of liquid sloshing around on your back as you tip your bike from side to side through the twisties can get to be quite a distraction. A tank bag with a hydration pack is a better option, and more readily available to refresh you than a tank bag with bottle(s) of water can be. either way, staying hydrated though your trip is essential. Even if it means stopping once or twice an hour to pull a bottle of water from a tank or tail bag.
- Wearing breathable protective jackets and pants can help remove heat from your body, and help air circulate to keep you cooler. I’ve not been a fan of mesh jackets or pants, but I’m told they are every bit as dependable and safe as leather. They come with removable liners and CE grade protective padding so would be well worth looking at. I’ve always worn leather jackets and pants, and that can get really difficult in the heat. My current set are very well perforated and this really helps circulation and cooling.
- While talking about breathable clothing, also consider getting wicking under-garments. These remove the moisture from your skin and keep you feeling much more comfortable in the saddle. LDC make motorcycle-specific gear that has seams in all the right places (and none in the wrong ones) and these come highly recommended. An alternative which may or may not be cheaper is a regular pair of cycling shorts. I wear these for the added comfort of the butt-pad which is great for longer rides. Wicking t-shirts too aid in keeping your body fresh. They will typically dry out quicker and in better shape than regular cotton underwear too.
- Wear a helmet that has good ventilation. Just as perforated leathers allow for better air circulation around your body, a well-ventilated helmet keeps air circulating around your head. I have not been a fan of the modular flip-face helmets, stylistically they do nothing for me and I have questioned how robust they are compared to a traditional full-face. For the simplicity of flipping up the front and allowing you to breath at a rest- or gas-stop, though, they are wonderful. One of these would be a good choice for a long distance tour. Otherwise, the full-face helmets that offer the best ventilation are the Shoei X-11 or newer X-12, designed to increase airflow around the head. This is not a cheap helmet but widely reported to be one of the best on the market for ventilation.
- Finally, an item I have yet to try that looks worth investigating based on some internet-wide research is the evaporative cooling vest. Basically a personal swamp cooler that you wear, the vest is allowed to absorb water which, when evaporated as the hot air passes through it, cools the surrounding air and thus our bodies. These vests need to be snug fitting to work properly. They have an outer layer that keeps our riding jackets dry, while the interior holds enough moisture to keep cool for a couple of hours, even in triple-digit heat. These reportedly really do work well, and for $30 are a bargain worth trying. My lo-fi ghetto version is the long-sleeved t-shirt soaked in water that I store in a freezer bag in a tail bag ready to pull out when it starts to get too hot. It works for a while but the cotton t-shirt dries out too quickly with my perfed leathers and can feel a bit uncomfortable.
There you have it. Summer will not last forever. Autumn will be upon us soon, even though it feels like this heat will never end now. With these tips you can still get out and ride safely and enjoy the Southern California highways without suffering.