Better Riding: Coping with extreme heat

Shubhabrata Marmar Updated: April 28, 2016, 12:03 PM IST

Riding is great fun, right? But sometimes it can feel like it is just too hot to be out and about on two wheels. Well, that's not actually true. Riding is always fun and there are a few things you can do to make riding in extreme heat more enjoyable, less draining and arrive fresh and ready rather than exhausted and about to collapse from heat-exhaustion. If you don't want to feel like a Dodo because you were out riding in the heat, read on.

What effectively happens when you ride in the extreme heat is that the body has to work extra hard to regulate its temperature and keep from overheating. Our primary cooling mechanism is sweating and the heat will usually dry the sweat pretty quickly on the move which means you won't actually feel the loss of water and salts. So one minute you're fresh as daisy and then suddenly, you're feeling too hot, too exhausted and too tired to carry on.

This is not a joke. One of our own colleagues once rode in the peak summer heat out of Delhi in an unvented leather jacket. Three hours in, he red-misted, passed our car and disappeared into the distance. We found him twenty minutes later nearly passed out by the road side. It took nearly an hour in the car's aircon and a massive amount of lemon juice and water to return him to a stable state. After which the jokes finally began again. Here is how to avoid it:

1. Buy and wear the right gear

A lot of people discover after buying a jacket or pants that "breathable" doesn't cut it in our heat. It really doesn't. The only stuff that really works in our heat is mesh gear. I use mesh gear almost exclusively in Mumbai all year round.

We have heard from people who think mesh may not work in a crash. I've crashed multiple times, including a stunning 90kmph, where mesh gear always worked. Including one jacket which has survived multiple crashes.

kawasaki zx14r (2)

What you need to know is simple. First of all, mesh is brilliant for heat control and works reasonably well in a crash as well. Second, you get a lot of mesh gear now that has a windproof outer layer or panels that can be taken off when not needed. My Joe Rocket Alter Ego pants subscribe to this idea and I've successfully used them - not kidding - from minus three (with rain) to plus forty-five degrees celsius without issue.

2. Carry water with you

Think about it, if you're losing water in the heat how do you get it back? Yes, by drinking water. Hydration changes your ride completely. I scoffed at the idea myself but I am now a full-blown card-carrying convert. What you want to buy is some sort of a hydration bladder. Camelbak, BTwin and more brands are now easily available at outdoor activity stores all over urban India now. You can get backpacks, bladders that go into your existing backpack and more options. Insulated bladders with insulated drink tubes tend to be quite effective at keeping water cold for three or more hours.


What you have to do is simple. First, carry cold water and actually use the bladder even on short rides so it becomes second nature. Second, take small sips often rather than large gulps infrequently. Ideally, you're looking for a situation where you're sipping water often enough to never really feel thirsty. The feeling of being thirsty is a sign of you already being in water deficit.

I drank nearly eight litres of water one sip at a time over a recent 1000km trip on the bike. It made riding through forty-plus degree heat the whole day easy enough for me to arrive, unpack, shower and head out to catch a movie at the end.

Try, Decathlon's India site etc for hydration gear.

3. Use a neck buff

These buffs are pretty easy to get or buy and they're cheap. They've usually an endless (no seams) tube of stretchy material that is advertised as a really versatile thing, you can wear it in any number of ways and so forth. In the heat, just soak one in cold water and pull it dripping with this over your head. Before you start riding, just ensure the back of your neck is touching the wet fabric. And whenever you stop, just re-wet the buff again. The idea is to keep the back of your neck cool so that the blood headed to your brain is cold and it tells the brain the it is less hot than it actually is. It sounds like a trick but works like a charm.

4. Drink tea instead of soft drinks and energy drinks

When you do stop, drink tea or lemon water. Sodas just make you more thirsty. Energy drinks will also dehydrate you and coffee is a diuretic (as in it makes you want to stop and pee later). If you're into electrolyte-based energy drinks, moderate your consumption by drinking a lot of water along with the drink. Tea will tend to keep you feeling quenched longer than sodas and all of these fancy drinks. And of course, when in doubt, drink water.

5. Base layers rock

Base layers are usually stretchy, clingy clothes that are designed to sit next to your skin. What they do is absorb sweat quickly and spread the wetness over a large area. This makes it dry faster as well as cools a larger patch of skin. In hot conditions, I find that base layers make you feel cooler overall and you sweat less as a result. More importantly, you never get that horrid sticky feeling even after hours of sweating. Just remember one thing - because of what they do, base layers can make you feel horrendously cold if you get caught in the rain as all that water dries stunning fast cooling your skin. Base layers aren't cheap but you don't have to buy motorcycle-specific base layers in any case. Sports brands like Nike and Adidas as well as foreign budget clothes brands like UniQlo all make base layer or base layer-type clothes you can buy. They're usually not very cheap but hunt down the best deal you can find, you will not regret it. Try for base layers in India.


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