How dangerous is heat? Well, for about 700 people a year it’s deadly. According to our friends at the CDC more men die of excessive heat than women. (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6136a6.htm) Heat is often thought of as annoying but seldom do we think of it as overly dangerous. For motorcyclists we need to look at heat in a broader sense because it’s more than just uncomfortable and a little dangerous–it’s a rattlesnake that needs to be respected because like any other “incidental” danger we often think about and then overlook it, we don’t take it seriously enough.
The danger with hyperthermia (too hot) isn’t just the idea that we can physically become so warm that our bodies shut down it’s the idea that we heat is the actual issue when, for motorcyclists, the real problem is dehydration. On a bike we get hot, we get uncomfortable and we get annoyed but we don’t get real about what’s happening. In the heat our body is busy trying to cool itself. It does this by sweating. Sweating is convective cooling. Simply put this is why we enjoy standing in front of a fan on a hot day. Air passes over our sweating faces, heat is wicked away and we feel better. Most importantly you need to remember that sweating part. The sweating part is the part where you surrender water for lowered temperature. It’s a trade off. You get cooler but you also dehydrate in the process. Dehydration means that if you don’t put water back in you start working your way to being a human prune or raisin or jerky; you decide. As you dry out you actually do just that! You dry out. Your blood thickens. Your heart works harder to pump it. You may get a headache. Cognitive function suffers. Your kidneys start working very, very hard as does your liver to deal with concentrated toxins in your now thicker blood. You’re in a bind and you’re impaired.
Remember that fan that feels sooo good and how good it can feel to be on a moving bike in the heat? On a motorcycle you’re on fan blowing 60 miles per hour. Unless you stop riding you’re in front of a sixty mile per hour fan that’s scrubbing sweat off you so fast you might not even realize how much you’re sweating. The way to solve this problem could be simple: Don’t ride in the heat but some of us use the bike as primary transportation and that means you need to consider that fact that you’re not just burning fuel you’re burning water.
If you ride in the heat (whatever the reason):
1. Drink. Every stop. Every arrival and every departure should be baptized with water. Even a stop at the drinking fountain on the way in or out is a wise move.
2. Drink more than you think you should. Yes, you can OD on water but the odds for that a infinitesimal. Biggest issue for you on a hot day is to stay hydrated. If you’re over-hydrated then you may need an extra bathroom break and that’s not a bad thing.
3. Speaking of peeing, if you’re not peeing you’re not drinking enough. Lack of urination or excessively dark urine means you’re running low on water. Yeah, it sounds kinda gross or maybe like the stuff only old folks talk about but the color and quantity of your urine is a key indicator to your hydration status
4. When you stop, make sure you’re still sweating. If you’re not sweating then you’re actively in a world of hurt. Dry, red skin is a bad sign and you may want to seek professional help immediately.
Riding in the heat is possible. Remember that you’re in a new area of risk. Use sun block on exposed skin. Stay hydrated. Understand you are being impaired and be willing to dismount and recover.