A Summer Weather Warning: Heat Exhaustion

While you are riding this Summer stay hydrated, (no, that doesn’t mean drink an extra beer) you can dry out on a bike pretty fast in hot weather, the combination of you sweating and the wind evaporating it as you ride can have you in trouble before you realize you have a problem.  I got whacked with heat exhaustion this past weekend when I went to the ” The Horse BC Smoke Out” motorcycle rally and didn’t have a clue I was in trouble until I was.  I’m going to list to the symptoms of heat exhaustion, notice the first symptom is confusion, something we don’t need on two wheels!

  • Confusion  (had it)
  • Dizziness   (had it)
  • Nausea       (had it)
  • Fainting    (almost did)
  • Dark urine, which means you are dehydrated.   (didn’t look)
  • Feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Headache   (had it)
  • Muscle cramps.    (had it)
  • Pale skin.
  • Lots of sweating.  (had it)
  • A rapid heartbeat.

You would think with all of those symptoms ticked off I might have a clue, right?  I didn’t even know what heat exhaustion was until a medical friend was talking to me about my weekend, she was like, “you didn’t know you were sick?”  It can sneak up on you, looking back on it I had been pushing myself and my Victory to get to the rally on Friday, I didn’t hydrate during the ride in, or after, then I jumped up Saturday morning, and went to the rally.  I was like a kid in a candy store, custom Harleys, Indians, Triumphs, Hondas, choppers, bobbers, antique bikes, lots to see, woot!  I totally had my head into shooting, looking at bikes and talking with folks, I was fully distracted, no water at all, lots of sun, hot as hell that day, and by 1:30 I was feeling it.  I did find some water, drank a bunch of it, and forced myself to eat lunch, but not much because my stomach felt funny. (cramping)  I went back to the hotel at about 3:00 for a cold shower and a rest.  I was back at the rally that evening after I felt better, but I never felt totally “right.”  At this point I still had no idea I had heat exhaustion, I just thought I was tired from all the running I was doing.

My return to Atlanta Sunday was a repeat of my Friday, all heat, road blasting, almost no water, at one point I stopped and drank forty ounces, but, even then it didn’t seem to be enough.  I felt woozy, sleepy, covered in sweat, and was pretty much miserable.  I did do one smart thing that I think saved me, at one point, I stopped at a rest area and soaked a towel in water, ripped it into strips, and wore them under my Tourmaster Intake Air mesh riding jacket.  The wet towels provided me with the temperature reduction for the relief I needed to make it home.  They cooled me by evaporation, to evaporate, water needs to absorb heat, thus making things cool, it’s simple physics, and it worked like a charm!  This is the same principle behind the motorcycle cooling vests you may have read about.  I felt like dog waste Monday and Tuesday, a little better Wednesday, I found out that it can take a full week to recover from heat exhaustion, and, even as I write this, I still don’t feel fully recovered.

So, what can you do if you get bit by the heat bug?  Get out of the heat and rest, inside in the AC if you can find it.  If you can’t get inside, try to find anyplace that’s cooler and shady, I found a strip of shade next to the Men’s room at the event, kind of a weird place to hang, but I was out of the sun!  Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I did manage to bumble my way along and treat my heat exhaustion, here’s a list of things to do.

  • Drink plenty of water, or, non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages. (no beer!)
  • Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing.
  • Take a cool shower, bath.
  • Try other ways of cooling such as fans or cold towels, ice packs.

If you try these things, and you don’t start to feel better within thirty minutes or so, you need to seek medical help, prolonged heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which can cause brain damage, organ failure, and even death!  (Do you get this IS serious?)  You need to keep this little nugget in mind after you get, and are recovering from heat exhaustion, for a while afterward you are more susceptible to getting it again.  There is no, “I’m all better now,” and jumping back in the next day, no sir!  Try that, and you will be just like me, right back in the jackpot again!  For sure I had it Saturday and Sunday, I got lucky and survived.

How do you try to keep from getting heat exhaustion while riding your motorcycle?  Here’s the short list.

  • Drink plenty of water, drink before you get thirsty if possible, supplement with one of those electrolyte-rich sports drinks, it will help replace the salt lost in your sweat.
  • Avoid fluids containing either caffeine or alcohol, both will cause you to lose body fluids.
  • Cover up, by covering your body you control evaporation and slow fluid loss.
  • Wear a motorcycle cooling vest, they work, your clothes might get a little damp, but, they would be anyway if you were sweating like a pig.
  • A neckerchief soaked in water placed around the neck works, as well as those “cooling” neck wraps, the cool air blowing up around your face can feel so good!
  • Time of day and place, the Interstate in mid-afternoon is like riding in a blast furnace, try to find the cooler side roads if you can.  City streets are just about as bad, so avoid those as well if possible.

So, there it is, heat exhaustion, what it is, symptoms, how to handle it if you get it, how you can possibly avoid it.  If anyone has any other advice, or, your own heat exhaustion story,  please comment.  Stay safe!


3 thoughts on “A Summer Weather Warning: Heat Exhaustion

  1. It’s an odd thing, but riding choppers in the heat is better for your health.

    Last year, Hammer, the owner of The Horse magazine and I decided to ride to the Smoke Out from Detroit, taking a slight detour through Death Valley California and swinging through New Orleans on the way. We were both on rigid chopped Shovelheads, both foot clutch and jockey shift and all that good stuff. This isn’t our first foray into the world of desert riding and we’ve picked up a few tips along the way to prevent becoming Krispy Kritters along the side of the road. On one of our earlier trips out west, we tried an experiment. I rode in jeans and a tank top, Fabricator Kevin kept his helmet on, wore his cloth garage jacket (with a bottle of water stuffed inside) and generally hid from the harsh elements. On that long run, it became apparent that the single biggest factor was the frequency of stops.

    If you are riding a Road Couch, knocking off 300 miles at a clip, you are in a lot more danger of becoming dehydrated than the rigid chopper rider. If you ride a hard tail chop, chances are you’re going to be stopping for gas every 60-80 miles. When we stopped, we all slammed a Gatorade® or something similar, fueled up and carried on. Yeah, it’s that simple, stop often, and drink when you do… not rocket science. Between that and frequent spray downs with sunblock, we had no problem staying perfectly happy on the road. Of course things happen that you don’t expect… When we reached the furthermost point of our trip, Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley, we turned around and headed back, stopping at a nearby scenic outlook to take some pics. Well, that’s where Hammer’s battery decided to give up the ghost. I don’t run a battery on my bike, so we couldn’t do the old switcheroo thing, and the nearest battery store was Wal Mart… back in Pahrump Nevada, over 85 miles away. I rode back to Stovepipe Wells and picked up a couple of Gatorades to leave with Hammer, and then I left him in the desert as I rode back to Pahrump to grab a battery. As soon as I got to town, I fueled and slammed an ice cold drink, feeling a tad guilty about my now refreshed state whilst Hammer was baking in the desert. I made my way to Wally World and picked up a replacement battery. I added the acid in the parking lot, hoping the dry charged battery would work good enough to at least get us out of there. I gassed up again, drank more and grabbed a couple more for Hammer, who must surely need it by now. I rode back to where I assumed Hammer would be crawling through the desert next to the longhorn skull, like some cartoon. Instead, he was posing for pictures with some tourists, but glad to see me and the gatorade nonetheless. We install the battery and took off like a bat out of hell for Nevada. About twenty miles later, the new battery started giving out, the electronic ignition driving Hammer’s 93″ Shovel wasn’t getting the juice it needed, and soon, he was coasting to a stop. This time we were in a totally desolate spot, but there was nothing else to do, but for me to abandon him once more and ride to Pahrump for another battery. It was pretty much a repeat performance for me, but it was later in the day now and the heat had really began to build. There was a car parts store next to Wal Mart, so I went in there and bought a big ol’ car battery. I figured Hammer could bungee it to the rack on his chop, I bought some heavy duty wires and connectors, grabbed two more cold drinks and boogied back as fast and my very sore ass would allow. Hammer wasn’t where I thought he’d be, I thought he was closer to the California line than he was, so I had a moment of panic that I might not be able to find him, but eventually, I caught the sun reflecting off his chrome girder around the next corner. This time he was more interested in the cold drinks than the battery, but we bungeed the big battery on, hooked it up and got out of there. It was late by then and we were not going to make it back to the hotel room in Vegas before dark, reluctantly Hammer turned his lights on, but the battery held up the whole way. My headlight didn’t work at this point…there’s always something.

    Nothing earth-shattering about hydration there, other than it’s a good idea to have backup if you’re venturing into the desert!


    1. Great story Englishman, it’s a good thing to travel with friends if something happens to your bike. I remember the time I went to Sturgis and lost the transmission on my Shovel outside Council Bluffs Iowa…. but that’s another story for another time… Thank you for telling your story, I always enjoy reading The Horse Back Street Choppers, and I am honored that you would take the time to post here.



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