Make the Most of Motorcycling in the Summer Heat with the Right Gear
An idyllic motorcycle ride: a pristine, sunny day with temperate breezes, the wind at your back, and a beautiful mountain valley in your periphery. Ah, if only every day were like that! But during the summer, when the temperature begins to climb and the humidity makes you feel like you're swimming in a hot spring, riding your motorcycle isn't so much about pleasure as it is survival.
Most riders respond to the summer heat by shedding clothing. That guy who rides in protective leathers in the winter might end up in a t-shirt and shorts on a sweltering summer's day. And therein lies the problem. Because even the most adept rider can encounter a situation wherein he'll lay his bike down, giving up protective garb to accommodate the summer heat is taking a chance — a chance many don't want to take, but do anyway. Luckily, there are products on the market today that are designed to help keep riders protected while providing the ventilation they require to remain comfortable.
HelmetYes, there are those who refuse to wear one, but that's another story. There are, also many riders who wouldn't be caught without a helmet, since it is often the difference between a dire and a recoverable injury. And with new technologies, there are a variety of lids to choose from.
The full-face helmet is the most protective headgear on the market. Ones like the pictured Joe Rocket RKT Prime Helmet in Yellow (from $151.99 with free shipping, a low by $1) also feature an advanced ventilation system that utilizes front-to-back airflow that flushes heat and humidity up and out. This helps a bit, but still, on a hot, sunny day your head can cook in a full-face helmet.
An alternative to the full-face helmet is the flip-face helmet, wherein the face portion of the helmet is hinged and can be flipped up to expose the face. When the temperature climbs, many bikers welcome this extra bit of ventilation. However, a helmet like the Nolan X-1002 N-Com Helmet ($149.99 with free shipping, a low by $50) is not as protective as the full-face design because of this feature.
The classic open-face helmet offers substantial protection to the brain, but leaves a rider's face exposed. The pictured Bell Custom 500 Helmet in Orange Flake (from $99.95 with free shipping, a low by $13) features snaps for an attachable face shield, which cuts down the force of the wind in your face, but won't do much to protect it if you go down.
Many riders opt for the half-helmet, also known as the shortie. The protection is certainly not as good as that of the above mentioned options, but the HJC CS-2N Solid Helmet (from $53.99 with $6.99 s&h, a low by $13), is a smart choice and will protect a rider's noggin much better than a red bandana.
Many riders gear up in heavy-duty jackets for fall and winter; even days with temperatures in the 50s can be chilly when coasting at 70 mph. In the summer, though, leather jackets become full-on heating pads. The motorcycle apparel industry has responded by offering jackets made of mesh materials with padding sewn in at key points. For example, the pictured FirstgearRush Mesh Jacket in Black ($161.96 with free shipping, a low by $10) has a 250-denier poly mesh outer shell with a lightweight nylon perforated inner lining that allows for maximum air flow. It also has armor in the shoulder and elbow, and features a back pad. With a jacket like this, air can flow through the layers allowing your perspiring body to cool by evaporation.
Blue jeans are, for better or worse, standard garb for most bike riders. They aren't the coolest of choices, though, and don't really provide much in the way of protection, either. Instead, these Alpinestars Air-Flo Textile Pants ($125.95 with free shipping, a low by $14) have mesh panels with reinforced knee padding. They're dual purpose: if you buy them large, you can also wear them over jeans on cool-weather rides.
Many riders are tempted to go gloveless on hot days, but in the event of a spill it's one's hands that'll make the contact with the ground first. Also, as they're exposed, both wind and sun can burn them without you even realizing it. Better to don a pair of gloves like the Olympia Sports 720 Comfort Cooler Motorcycle Gloves ($28.66 with $4.94 s&h, a low by $5) made of breathable Cordura with a cowhide palm. These gloves have a special cooling foam pad that wicks away heat and moisture.
Most riders wear the same boots regardless of the weather. However, in the summertime, those tootsies can bake from heat that rises off the pavement, the hot engine block, and the sun. Here, too, ventilated styles make for a much more comfortable ride. The SIDI Traffic Air Boots ($195 with free shipping) have mesh side panels that allow air to cool your feet without sacrificing support and protection.
The right clothing can make a big difference in a warm weather ride, but even the best-dressed rider may face dehydration in the summer. The old adage "Drink before you're thirsty" certainly applies here. The typical solution to dehydration is to pack a bottle of water, but some riders find it more convenient to carry a water backpack.
Water backpacks are devices akin to backpacks but that also have a hose that wraps around to your mouth, which feature a valve that provides a flow of water when you bite down on it. Take for example the CamelBak Classic 70-oz. Hydration Pack ($41.25 with $5.95 s&h, a low by $2). It holds 70 ounces of water and has a large filling mouth that allows for ice, too. It's diamond-mesh back panel also allows your back to breath while it's strapped on. What's more, it comes with a lifetime warranty.
Today, there's no reason to leave your bike in the garage on a steaming, hot day. Nor is there a need to sacrifice safety by shedding your normal riding gear in favor of shorts and a Harley T-shirt. If you have the right outfit for the weather and keep yourself well hydrated, you can actually enjoy a spin when the thermometer spikes.
Front page photo credit: Sheri M. Howard