Don’t let the ease of using the throttle fool you– motorcycling is a physically demanding activity. Guiding a 600-pound cruiser through traffic or a 450-pound sport bike through a twisting set of corners requires a surprising amount of strength– even holding yourself up against a 60 mph headwind requires muscle strength. Riding a motorcycle puts you in a natural environment, exposing you to sun, wind, and rain. Fighting off these elements, while remaining mentally alert, demands energy, and hazards such as dehydration, heat stroke and hypothermia are real threats to motorcyclists. Dr. John Bodnar, medical director for the American Motorcyclist Association’s Pro Racing Medical Advisory Board, shares some guidelines here for dealing with health concerns that motorcyclists might encounter on the open road.
Dehydration: Dehydration is a serious concern for every motorcyclist, not just those in warm climates– you can become dehydrated in cold weather too. The key to staying well-hydrated on a motorcycle, Dr. Bodnar says, is to plan ahead. Hydrate before you ride (starting as long as 48 hours before a planned trip) and continue drinking for the duration of the activity. Try to drink a quart of fluid for every hour if riding in extreme heat or under physically demanding conditions; half that amount is sufficient for normal situations.
Perspiration isn’t your only enemy, evaporation will also dry you out– which is another reason, besides injury protection, to keep your skin covered while riding. In addition to losing moisture to wind, exposed skin is subject to sunburn and other types of heat stress.
Dehydration symptoms include lightheadedness, nausea, and blurred vision. The only remedy is to rehydrate. Dr. Bodnar suggests that plain water is best for rehydration. Some sports drinks are formulated with salt solutions that can help them be absorbed into the body more quickly, but he notes that most have sugar mixed in so you are taking on calories as well. Water is more than adequate for rehydration purposes.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: Heat exhaustion is an advanced stage of dehydration. A person suffering from hear exhaustion perspires profusely, depleting water reserves, and rapidly uses up other energy stores to stave off the effects of heat. Heat exhaustion will cause body temperature to rise to a low-grade fever. Symptoms are similar to dehydration (dizziness, nausea, feeling faint), only more extreme. A person suffering from heat exhaustion needs to be cooled off as quickly as possible to prevent heat stroke. If you have access to a cold bath or swimming pool, put the victim in the water to immediately cool them off.
Hypothermia: Extreme cold can be as dangerous to a motorcyclist as heat. The most common energy in cold conditions is hypothermia– a dangerously low body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to cold. Hypothermia is especially worrisome to motorcyclists because a rider typically sits very still for an extended period, exposed to both cold air and the severe wind chill produced at high speeds. Staying covered is your best defense against hypothermia. When riding in cold conditions, make sure that every bit of your body is covered with windproof, waterproof, breathable gear. Electrically heated clothing can also be an ally against hypothermia. An electric vest can help maintain your core temperature, and electric glove liners (or heated grips on the motorcycle) will keep cold hands from dragging the core temperature down.
Fatigue: Fatigue is a serious risk for anyone traveling by motorcycle. Conventional “pick-me-ups”– caffeine or over-the-counter pills– are ineffective against fatigue. The only thing that fights off real fatigue is rest, and preferably sleep. Pull over at a rest stop for a short nap if possible, or stop riding for the day so you can get some sleep. Riding while you’re exhausted in taking your life, and the life of others, in your hands– do whatever you can to get some rest before continuing to ride.
General Conditioning: A decent base level of physical conditioning is a good first
step in protecting yourself from all of the above-listed health hazards in this blog. It’s not a bad idea to do some stretching exercises to prepare your muscles for a long ride. Before participating in any physical activity, including motorcycling, you should consult your physician. A simple physical fitness program, jogging, walking, or some other low-impact physical activity a few times a week can make riding a much more pleasant and safe experience. It helps to have a strong and limber back, neck, arms, and legs to maximize riding endurance and minimize stress and strain on your body.
Source: (2005). In The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s guide to motorcycling excellence: Skills, knowledge and strategies for riding right. (2nd ed.). Center Conway, N.H.: Whitehorse Press.