Beat the heat while motorcycle touring this summer

June 2, 2011

Tips for riding a motorcycle in extreme heat

Tips for riding a motorcycle in extreme heat

A journey down Route 66 stirs unexpected emotions

Riding down Route 66 near Amboy, California, I was finding it hard to stay awake. I was at the back of a pack of a dozen Harleys; it was early July and the midday temperature was 112 degrees. The wave of heat rising from the tarmac turned the horizon into a hallucination, imaginary skyscrapers in the distance. At the front of the pack, I saw Tim raise his hand to signal to the group that we were pulling into Roy’s, a famous and now defunct Route 66 motel. I hoped we’d find water there.

We’d been on the road for several hours, having left Las Vegas to 4:30am to get a lead on the desert sun. It was our first motorcycle tour from Sin City to the MotoGP races in Monterey, California, and we really didn’t know what to expect. Fueling up after we crossed the Hoover Dam, everyone drank plenty of water, and bought an extra liter bottle for their saddlebags.  We were all highly experienced riders, and had ridden in all kinds of weather and extreme temperatures. So the thought of riding desert roads in July was more interesting than intimidating.

How naive we were… 4:30am, the temperature in Vegas was already in the high 80’s. Our destination was 29 Palms, with scheduled stops in Oatman and Needles for sightseeing, fuel and water. A leisurely stop for breakfast at the excellent Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, AZ had us back on the road at 9am, and the pavement was already sizzling. An electronic sign outside a local bank had the temperature at 108 degrees. By the time we pulled into Needles to refuel, our group was visibly wilted. At 70 miles an hour, the wind felt like a giant hairdryer blowing straight into our faces. We were sweating out water faster than we could drink it.

Despite all the water consumption, nobody used the restrooms. I’d gulped down almost four liters of water in three hours and couldn’t fill a thimble with pee. Our bodies were working overtime to keep cool. There’s sixty miles of straight road between Amboy and 29 Palms, with little or no services available. Roy’s hadn’t been operational in at least a decade. The bikes had plenty of gas, but our personal tanks were empty. Everyone was exhausted, we were out of water, and a couple of riders looked like they were about to pass out.

Luckily, there were some roadside entrepreneurs hanging out at Roy’s, selling no name bottled water and snacks out of a cooler. Some kind soul had a garden hose snaked out to the parking lot, and we laughed and poured water down each other’s heads and backs. The water coming from it was probably 80 degrees, but compared to the ambient temperature, it felt heavenly. As we sat under the awning at Roy’s, in the shade, guzzling h20, I watched everyone slowly come back to life, and knew we’d make it to 29 Palms.

We learned a lot on that first day of riding in the desert, and completely changed the way we approach hot weather riding. Make no mistake, no matter how tough you are, no matter how experienced a rider, no matter how good your physical condition is, if you don’t respect the heat, it will knock you on your ass. We’re not Doctors, but here are some tips we use for surviving a motorcycle tour through the summer heat:

1) Watch very carefully for signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. Your body will send you signals that it’s having trouble with the heat, which can include cramps, nausea, headaches, extreme fatigue, flushed or pale skin, dizziness, and heavy sweating. Left unchecked, you can develop Heat Exhaustion, which is a form of mild shock. If you’re feeling these symptoms, it’s time to pull over, rehydrate, rest and recover for as long as it takes. Don’t be in a rush to get back on the bike – sometimes a rider doesn’t want to inconvenience their friends by holding things up. How long do you think a trip to the hospital will hold up the ride?

If Heat Exhaustion is allowed to develop into Heat Stroke, you’re in big trouble. Your cooling system shuts down, and body temperature can rise to as high as 105 degrees. Brain damage is possible and at the very least, you’ll likely have an erratic pulse and trouble breathing. People with Heat Stroke often pass out – not something you want to happen when you’re riding. For more tips on avoiding and recognizing Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke, visit the American Red Cross website here.

2) Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Water is vital for keeping the body cool, but it also is necessary for digestion, for flushing toxins out of your body, and for lubricating your joints. It also cushions your organs and tissues, so when you get dehydrated, your body just won’t work properly, things will start to shut down, and you’ll physically crash. The worst thing is that by the time you start feeling bad, you’re already in trouble, so it’s HUGELY important to stay hydrated. That means drinking plenty of water before you get on the bike, and consuming 1 liter of water every hour, especially in extreme temperatures. We try to get water that includes electrolytes (like SmartWater) to help replenish vital minerals that are lost when you sweat profusely.

3) Include stops on your route where you can cool off. One of the best ways to rejuvenate yourself is by getting out of the heat, into a cooler environment. You meet interesting people in rural convenience stores, and many have large ice freezers outside. We place our helmets in the freezers while we go inside for a cool drink. A quick stop can enable you to ride another 45 minutes even in the worst heat, so plan your ride along roads that have services and conveniences no more than 1/2 hour apart. If it’s in the 100’s and you’ve got a two hour ride before your next stop, you’re putting yourself through unnecessary misery and risk.

4) Dress properly and keep your skin covered. Seems like simple, advice, but it’s amazing how many people don’t follow it. Any areas of skin that are exposed will be much harder to cool, as the sweat will evaporate from the air rushing over it at speed. This means you’ll dehydrate faster. It may seem counterintuitive to cover yourself with clothes in the heat, but look at the Bedouins in North Africa – they’re covered head to toe. Of course, on a motorcycle you need to wear abrasion and impact resistant gear, which can be heavy. I wear a mesh ventilated textile riding suit, Tim wears a leather jacket, based on our personal preferences, but we’re always covered. In our experience, the people who are effected most by the heat are those who don’t cover themselves properly.

5) Wear a cooling vest. When temperatures rise over 90 degrees, a cooling vest is worth it’s weight in gold. Basically, it’s a vest that is filled with tiny beads that retain water. This is a much better solution that soaking your t-shirt, as cotton doesn’t retain the water and it evaporates quickly.You soak the vest, shake off extra water, then put it on under your riding jacket. The moisture forms a cooling layer next to your skin, and you feel much more comfortable. Cooling vests are as cheap as $30 and run up to $100. The more expensive vests are better quality garments, and usually don’t bloat up as much with the retained water. Our favorite cooling vest is made by Silver Eagle Outfitters, and you can order one here.

Hope you’ve found these tips helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below, and be sure to follow along our summer rides on Facebook and Twitter.

Ride Safe !

– Jim

Tips for riding a motorcycle in extreme heat

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  1. Colin on July 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I am due in the US in September for a month of biking in the South West, starting in Phoenix. Being a UK bike rider this all sounds great, the thought of waking up knowing that it won’t rain and that I can get out and about is a dream. It is hard for me to imagine this kind of extreme heat; the mesh jacket I have ordered seemed like an indulgence, given that I will never wear it in the UK. , but now the hydration back pack and the mesh seem like essentials. Thanks for the advice.

    • Jackson on May 31, 2017 at 7:03 am

      I lived in Bullhead City Arizona for 30 years, riding all over the Southwest, September, October and November were always what I considered perfect riding weather. Temps then generally run in the 80. Enjoy your visit.

  2. Jim on July 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Colin the hydration vest is a luxury and it will dramatically cut down on the fatigue you feel when riding in the heat. It will keep you from getting sleepy on the bike when it’s hot, it’s really an important piece of safety gear in hot weather riding. Glad you found our post useful!



  3. Gary "GAZZ" Myors on July 28, 2013 at 9:53 am

    We have recently returned from doing the Wild West (self-guided) Tour. I had a wet vest for our Death Valley crossing. to make it more effective I put it , our water and our neck cooling collars in the sink with ice over them. We packed them into the saddle bag with additional water until after the breakfast stop at 9am. We left Vegas at 6am and we were in Jakes Saloon at Lone Pine for lunch. It was an easy ride doing with the right preparations. It may have been a different story had we left a couple of hours later. Thanks Tim for the hint. Oh! I forgot one other essential item. A spray bottle full of water, I would spray my face, pass the bottle back to my wife who would spray herself and then do the back of my neck.

  4. Adrian Angulo on July 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Had the same experience, I went SOLO from PalmSprings to Vegas, went through JosuaTree Nat Park and decided to refuel both Bike and me at next town, ohhh surprise… a sign saying: Welcome to the heart of the Mojave Dessert! Next services 90 miles. Glad I had water and the bike was still with gas. Its easy to make of a great trip an amazing disaster. Nice article!

    Adrian from Cozumel EagleRider

    • Jim on July 31, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story Adrian – send us some pictures of your rides in Cozumel! Shawn told us how amazing it is down there.


      Jim McDermott

    • MH on June 20, 2016 at 1:02 am

      Any tips about about the effect on a motor riding in 100 plus heat..other than watch the oil temp, and let motor cool off from time to time…my bike is not water cooled…

      • Tim Orr on June 28, 2016 at 12:10 pm

        You have it Adrian. Watch the dials and don’t load the motor to much. 100’s not to bad and i’ve not noticed and effect until around 110. From then on the bike can start to feel different in its power delivery. I’ve still not had problems but regular stops help and thats as much for me as the bike in those temps.

  5. Ed on July 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Great article to help keep people up and running. So many riders think about the bike and destination and not enough about self. Good job

    • Jim on July 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Cheers Ed, glad you found it helpful!

      • Julie young on July 15, 2015 at 9:00 pm

        Route 66 one to do on my wish list for sure !! Although I am just a pavilion !!
        Great info ..
        What about your legs !
        Protective trouser seem to stick to you when in hot weather I have textile ?
        Any advise would be greatly appreciate !
        Thank you
        Kind regard julie

        • Tim Orr on July 29, 2015 at 1:58 pm

          Hi Julie, For the most part people tend to wear jeans although for me thats not enough protection. I wear a pear of Belstaff jeans with Kevlar stitched in. Still not as good as leather but a lot cooler. Let us know when you start planning your ride and I’ll be happy to help and quote you.

        • Dale on April 30, 2017 at 10:56 pm

          I wore leather pants from Bakersfield to needles and on home to Oklahoma. Wore them all the time on our 4700 mile trip, never got hot with them, used a harley cooling vest also

  6. Susan W on November 9, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Hello there. Wonderful article. There are several of us discussing Rt66 for our annual summer trip. 3 of the group (me included) have ridden long days at 104 plus. We use the cooling vests, neck coolers, coverage and one other item I didn’t see mentioned. We have large camel backs that we fill with ice and then add water. Also, have a cooler bag in my Harley saddle bag with 10 extra bottles of water.

    Just curios what would be the longest distance between fuel if we stay as true as possible to the old road? I have one rider who is going on her first long trip, she will be fine, but we have one non harley. It only has a 4 gallon tank. I can add a fuel can, but would rather not.

    The lady on that bike has completed many ironbutts. So we are talking about one ultra and 4 street glides other than the Yamaha. So, fuel is my big worry. Thanks in advance for any help. We are lookin
    g at 2nd week in June.

  7. Gary Stone on August 3, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Water and more water kept 2gal containers in my bags ,sun block on face slatered on ,my forhead skin burned and cracked ,wet bandana on face ,The desert will eat you up if un prepared and in short order.

  8. Brian Thorn on May 31, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I didn’t see LD Comfort mentioned in any of the comments. It is the favored undergarments for those of us in the Iron Butt Association. It’s dual layer fabric allows you to soak the shirt for evaporative cooling, yet your skin stays dry. The long johns help to protect your legs from the radiant heat of the motor and the pavement. For those of us that long distances in hot and cold weather there is no better product.

  9. jason on June 3, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    buy white gear. i cant stand heat and always wore black as im goth. years later i went on holiday and bought a white tshirt and the difference is crazy

  10. Devvie on June 27, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I fill up a camel pack from hiking I live in AZ and worked 6 years outside going to multi locationso an road mine I would do 100-300 miles a week and the pack made a huge difference I would stop an fill it with ice and water it kept my back cooler an I had cold water when we ride any where that is longer then a hour I fill it up an take it with me

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