When it gets really hot, riding becomes harder, no? Since we test motorcycles round the year in all manner of conditions, we've found ways to beat the heat. The fact that we primarily test around Bangkok, which adds intense humidity to the heat just makes us better at it. Here's how to stay cool in five easy steps – some of the steps are free!
If you're riding around in waterproof gear, it can get very bad. The actual solution is to have two sets of gear. You can get away with two jackets and one pant. A mesh or heavily vented jacket can make all the difference. Mesh works well enough in crashes – we speak from personal experience – and it is literally as cool as wearing a T-shirt. But if mesh scares you, get a heavily vented jacket instead. Vented pants help but the legs don't notice ambient heat quite as much.
Eliminate cotton. While cotton is great for our weather, it's not good on the motorcycle when worn under gear. Once sweat soaks it, cotton becomes heavy, sticky and it doesn't dry fast. You'll feel itchy and nasty. The solution is a synthetic base layer or two. Once I switched, I find it very hard to wear anything else. A good base layer sticks to your skin and any sweat is immediately pulled off the skin and rapidly spread over a large area of the base layer. This promotes evaporation and cooling. You end up not feeling itchy even hours later and the light, skin-tight fit actually feels great in the heat. Base layers are, however, expensive. Look for cheaper T-shirts from sport brands that promise wicking properties to get similar results. The base layer works for the legs too. If you're going to be on the motorcycle the whole time, you might want to wear the base layers only under the gear nothing else is needed.
Cover your skinIt sounds counter-intuitive but it's true. When you get super hot, you do want ventilation but you don't want to expose your skin to direct sunlight. This only hastens the process of water loss and you'll dehydrate more rapidly. It is the reason why most desert dwellers tend to be covered from head to toe in light fabrics rather than buck naked. Exposed skin on motorcycles also increases injury risk.
Wet your neck and wrists. The back of the neck and the insides of your forearm just below the wrists have arteries very close to the skin. Putting on something wet, especially on the neck, can drastically change your comfort levels. You can use a buff, a handkerchief to instantly find comfort. Wet thoroughly and wear it dripped. If you're wearing a base layer, the drip in to the base layer adds another layer of evaporation cooling.
Hydrate, nix energy drinks. What you're losing most of all in the heat, of course, is water. A hydration bladder of some sort is a great boon in all conditions, not just in the heat. It has come to the point where none of us are without our hydration bags on the motorcycle.
Your body tells you it is dehydrating by way of the sensation of thirst. Ideally, you want to be regularly sipping water so that you're never actually thirsty. If you're at the point where you're getting that dull headache that usually comes further down dehydration road, you'll want to add some salt and sugar or ORS/Electral to the water you are drinking. Note that energy drinks are the enemy here. They cause dehydration they contain often caffeine which is a diuretic. If you want to drink something hot, choose tea over coffee (caffeine again). Tea quenches thirst rather well, far better than sodas and energy drinks.
The next time you're riding in the heat, remember that these are the ways to tackle heat, not riding in shorts. Taking off the gear and riding not only is unsafe, it also doesn't actually help you.