How to ride long distances in hot weather

DCIM103GOPRO

At the end of May, 2013 we planned to cross Sudan and Egypt by motorcycle so we started tracking the weather. The temperatures ranged from 30 Celsius (86 F) in the evening to 43+ Celsius degrees (110+ F) during the day. I had some experience ridden in hot weather in California and Baja California but this time it would be different as we would be in remote areas and in countries where we didn’t speak the language.

Riding in hot weather especially above the normal body temperature (around 37 Celsius or 98 Fahrenheit) can be extremely dangerous. The two main risks are heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. Either one of these two in the middle of the dessert in Sudan could be deadly.

In order to prepare I asked for advice in the motorcycle forums. There I got some very valuable advice that I have summarized below. I also came across an extremely well written article explaining the science of riding in hot weather: Long-Distance Riding in Hot Weather

Tips and tricks:

  • Stay hydrated: Stay hydrated! Your body’s cooling system works by losing water. You need to constantly drink liquids to keep your body running. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, which mean they cause you to piss out more than you take in. Avoid these… At least before a particularly long hot leg of your trip. And remember, proper hydration starts the night before, not the morning that you leave.
  • Water and sun shield: Find a way to carry enough water to sustain you should something go wrong. Make room for water! A sheet or tarp that could be used in a emergency to shield you from the sun is a good idea. We carried 12 Liters of water on our longest day. We drank about 1 liter per hour per person and we used about half a liter every hour to get our gear wet for evaporation cooling.
  • Ride early in the morning: If you can avoid riding during the day then do it! We decided to wake up early in the morning around 3am and finish riding around 9am before the sun was on top of our heads. Riding early in the morning is cooler, there is no traffic and very few people are on the streets. The only caution is that you have ride slower while is dark. We got really scared when a camel jumped in front of us.
  • Avoid riding with mesh gear: Conventional wisdom is that mesh riding suits are best suited for hot weather because they maximize airflow over the skin. However, maximum airflow is not what you need under these conditions. When the temperature is much higher than the body temperature you are pretty much cooking your body and very quickly your body will not be able to provide the necessary cooling. A good explanation on how this works can be found here. One of the recommendions we got was to “Seal up tight and keep your body heat in… it’s a lot cooler than the 122 F outside. Learn from the nomads and wear thin layers to keep the hot outside layer from heating up your insides.” My girlfriend was riding with mesh gear so we decided to buy a dress shirt to put on top of her jacked to reduce the air hitting her body.
  • Wear light color gear: Light colors absorb less light and are a bit cooler than dark color gear.
  • Cooling vests: if you have the money and Ii you can carry sufficient water, then an evaporative cooling vests can be used under a mesh jacket to provide addition cooling. They will need to be re-soaked about every 2 hours. Also, we heard several riders recommending LD shirts that keep the skin dry by moving the sweat to the upper layer and providing cooling with by evaporation.
  • Take regular breaks: as the picture above shows try to take find a shade and take regular breaks. We tried to stop every hour for 5 to 15 minutes. We used this time to relax, drink water and get our head and gear wet. Finding some shade gave our body some rest from the constant hot wind against it.
  • Check tire pressure: Make sure your tire pressure is high. A higher tire pressure will reduce the tire contact with the ground and thus helping it to stay cool. On one of my rides to Baja California the inner tube melted and exploded while going over 100 kms per hour. Luckily I did not get injured but the bike needed several hundred dollars of repairs after the accident.

These are the tips and tricks that we found most useful and helped us cross Sudan and Egypt during some of the hottest months.

Article first published in Nicaragua Motorcycle Adventures