Keeping Motorcyclists Safe in the Summer Heat

Keeping Motorcyclists Safe in the Summer Heat

Advice from State Driver Services and the GA Motorcycle Safety Program

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) and its Georgia Motorcycle Program (GMSP) has some very important weather-related tips for riders during the hot summer months.

“Please enjoy our State’s highways and byways this summer, and remember as the temperature rises, so do the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said DDS Commissioner Spencer R. Moore.

Contrary to common sense, when the temperature rises above 95°, motorcyclists should keep their gear on, not take it off. Wearing protective gear is only one precaution cyclists may take when the Georgia sun shines too hot. Rider magazine indicates riders should consider taking trips at higher elevations, stop frequently and rest in the shade or air-conditioning, drink lots of water, and keep their bellies full. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are serious health risks in the summer. According to the National Weather Service, 2016 saw 94 heat related fatalities.

For motorcyclists, hot weather survival begins with insulation. For example, people living in very hot climates, like the dessert, often wear flowing wool garments to keep cool. The wool keeps the sweat on their bodies, keeping them cool longer. Wool also insulates against the rising ambient temperature: keeping the heat out. Likewise, at high temperatures, the heavy boots, padded gloves, and thick jacket insulate the cyclist from heat. So, when the temperature rises above 95°, cyclists need to add gear, not remove it. For example, adding a wet neck collar next to the skin helps keep a cyclist’s core body temperature cooler. There are several other products created to keep cyclists cool in the summer heat. Unfortunately, in the extreme heat, many motorcyclists assume, like the rest of us, that wearing less means more comfort and safety from the heat.

The body’s cooling system relies heavily on sweat to help us survive the heat. As sweat evaporates off our bodies, it takes some of the heat pouring off our skin. This cools us down. So, ensuring a cyclist is safe in the extreme heat (over 95°) means close attention to insulation and liquid intake. Beyond using gear for insulation, a cyclist needs lots and lots of water. While riding take frequent breaks to enjoy the shade or air conditioning. This helps prevent overheating and keeps you alert. According to The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, do not drink alcohol in extreme heat. Doing so reduces the levels of water in the body, thus preventing the cooling process from working efficiently. Finally, make sure you eat. Food is fuel; it helps your body react to heat in appropriate ways, improving your chances to stay safe.
So how do you know if you are headed towards heat exhaustion or heat stroke? The heat makes us sick when it messes with our core body temperature. When your core temperature goes up, the body starts to conserve energy to combat the heat. Your body shuts off what it considers non-necessary functions: thinking, digestion, balance. By paying attention, a motorcyclist can feel the body warning of impending danger. Muscle soreness or cramping are early signs of problems with the heat. If you are out and your legs cramp-up, take a break and drink a lot of water. Headaches, dizziness, fainting are also signs you are overheating.

When suffering from heat exhaustion, your core body temperature is close to normal ranges. You feel the symptoms listed above plus a few others: clammy skin, extra sweating, nausea even. Heat exhaustion is dangerous, and it can take days to recover. Heat stroke rides the body much harder than heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can land you in the hospital or the morgue. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in cases of heat stroke the body’s core temperature rises dangerously, up to 106 or 107 degrees. If this happens, a person’s heart will race, sweating ceases, disorientation sets in, speech and balance are compromised, and many people faint. If you are around someone showing signs of heat stroke, call 911. Then, move the overheated person into the shade, remove as much of the riding gear as you can, and soak the overheated skin with cool water. You can also fan the injured rider’s body, helping the water evaporate.

So, take that summer ride, but do so safely. Over 95°wear more gear, not less. Take lots of breaks to see the sights, drink water consistently, and have the perfect snack. Then get back on the bike and see where the road takes you.

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