As I write this blog entry, the mercury has just hit triple digits outside for the first time this summer. In this kind of weather, automobile air conditioning systems struggle to keep up, as temperatures inside vehicles can hit 140 degrees or higher in direct sunlight. On a motorcycle, you don’t have to deal with the greenhouse effect of a car cabin, but you do have to contend with direct sunlight and radiated heat from the road surface, as well as heat rising from your own engine. Ignore the heat at your own peril.
So, what is a rider to do?
Well, the worst thing you can do is to lose the gear. Riding around in a tank top and shorts is the quickest route to dehydration and heat prostration. Your body regulates its temperature with perspiration. When you ride in the heat, your perspiration evaporates very rapidly because of the air rushing across your body, and so you sweat more, accelerating dehydration. In very short order, you’ll be subject to the symptoms of heat sickness — cramping, headache, stomach upset and disorientation. Not a state of health conducive with safe riding.
Luckily, technology rides to the rescue.
Starting from the inside out, let’s talk about underwear. The first layer against your skin may be the most important in keeping you cool and comfortable. In hot weather, consider wearing a layer of wicking fabric, like Coolmax.
Next, add a cooling vest. Cooling vests are impregnated with water-absorbing gels that slowly release moisture over time, and help to keep your torso cool while you ride. These things have come a long way over the last decade, getting lighter and staying cool longer than when they first appeared. In the old days, bikers used to soak their t-shirts in cold water and put them on wet for a hot ride. These new vests last longer, and are much less uncomfortable than a wet t-shirt.
Now, to protective gear. Mesh jackets with armor are a fantastic way to maintain airflow and comfort. Be sure that the mesh that you select is crash worthy, and that the armor will stay put in a get off. Lightweight riding pants can also be outfitted with armor, and should be part of your riding gear. Choose a light color for your summer riding gear, and you’ll benefit from reflectivity and higher visibility as well. Just avoid camouflage, especially if you’re going to be riding through desert environments.
I prefer perforated leather to mesh, because I tend to ride through a host of micro-climates when I travel. It might be 100 degrees in the high desert, but when I ride off the plains into the mountains, the temperature can drop by 40 or even 50 degrees. Adding a liner to a perforated leather jacket makes that transition bearable, without carrying a whole second set of gear.
Harley-Davidson’s FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket is built of a high tech leather that is designed to reflect light and absorb less heat. I don’t know how it works, but it does!
On to your helmet. Possibly the most important piece of safety gear you can wear, your full-face helmet can feel like a brain steamer in the summer heat. Choose a helmet that is well ventilated to begin with, and open your vents. Also, choose a light-colored helmet — even though black looks way cooler, it absorbs heat. When you are off the bike, don’t leave your helmet on the bike in the sun — bring it inside with you, or cover it with a light-colored cloth.
Riding a motorcycle means never having to wear a tie, right? But you might want to wear a cooling necktie in the summer time. Designed with the same gels as the cooling vest, cooling neckties are great in a pinch. They fit in any saddlebag, and can be activated with a quick soaking in a water fountain or gas station bathroom sink.
Remember, there’s only one thing more important than looking cool — and that’s being cool.