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Riding in hot weather - avoiding dehydration

It always seems to happen. One week I'm riding around wishing I'd remembered to wear the heated waistcoat, then we get a few days of 'scorchio' weather. Riding a motorcycle in protective kit on a hot day sets up a unique combination of overheating and sweating, and a cooling and evaporating breeze. The body's physiological functions only work in a narrow range and if we get too hot or cold, we get disorientated or worse. So the body tries to maintain temperature of around 37 degrees by sweating. The result is a high risk of dehydration at the same time as we're struggling to stay cool. So what are the dangers of running short of body fluid?

Body fluid and electrolytes are vital to the function of the body's organs. If they are lost through sweating and if they are not replaced, we suffer dehydration. In the early stages, we get rapidly fatigued and start to lose concentration. In the later stages more serious confusion sets in, and the body's metabolic functions start to be affected. Not good. And that's why I send out a notice to riders to ensure that when they attend a Survival Skills advanced rider training course, that they pack some water.

So what are the symptoms of dehydration? A good sign that we are dehydrated is not "feeling thirsty", it's not needing to pee! That tells us kidney function is already shutting down to save fluids. By the time we do feel thirsty, with dry lips and a dry mouth, then we are already well into the early stages of dehydration.

Most UK riders are oblivious to just how real a problem this, even when riding at home in a British summer. In countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US where they ride long distances in hot and dry conditions, they are much more aware of the risks. You'll also see racers taking on board fluids just before the start. But dehydration doesn't only happen to racers. Whilst we're not working physically so hard, we're often exposed to that cooling breeze for longer.

So what can we do to prevent dehydration?

Planning ahead is the answer. We can start by pre-loading with fluid before we go out. For sports like cycling and soccer, it's recommended that we drink around half a litre (roughly a pint) of fluid a couple of hours before we begin. Then around 15 minutes before setting off, aim to drink another half litre.

On the move, we need to keep replenishing fluids. It's easy enough to take a bottle of water with us, so we can take a drink when we stop. For sporting activities, it's recommended that we take around 100-150ml every 15 minutes or so when exercising - that would be around a half-litre bottle of water every hour. Given a particularly hot day, that's probably not far off what we should be drinking on a bike. I took a Hopp Rider Training day at Cadwell Park on a warm autumn day, and we were reminded to get some water on board before going on track, and regularly reminded to rehydrate between track sessions. Doing it right, we should be making regular loo stops too. If that's inconvenient, so be it. It's better than the side effects from dehydration.

Riding alone, we can stop when we like, but on a bike with a 250 mile tank range, don't wait till refuelling stops. Definitely make intermediate stops - remember, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Group rides tend to go on too long, and we're all dependent on the leader deciding when to pull up. So if you're organising a group ride and you know it's going to be a hot day, then factor in short breaks at regular intervals, and try to get people to use the opportunity to top up - you don't want dehydrated and underperforming riders with you.

There's a lot of marketing surrounding isotonic fluids - these are basically water plus the electrolytes we lose in sweat, so they have the advantage of keeping the chemical balance of the body right. You'll find them in most service stations. Isotonic drinks also come in powder form - you can buy tubs of the stuff from any cycle shop and make up a couple of litres for the ride.

Personally I'm not fond of fizzy canned drinks because they are generally sweet and sticky. Coffee is generally considered a diuretic (ie it makes you pee more) but lately there's been some debate about whether the old advice to avoid caffeine-based drinks is actually correct, although it's generally accepted that the so-called energy drinks aren't good for rehydrating. Personally I prefer tea - it's not nearly so strong a diuretic and I like it!

However, they all cost a lot more than plain tap water!

So what to carry fluids in? I avoid buying plastic bottled water, partly because the plastic is liable to split when wedged into a pannier or under an elastic strap, and partly for environmental reasons. Any cycle shop will sell you a plastic water bottle - they are (just about) unbreakable and will squash - or an aluminium bottle. A little more cash will get you an insulated plastic cycle bottle or a Camelbak which is a plastic bladder that sits in a backpack harness - fill either with ice cubes in it, top up with water and even on a hot day, you'll have something cool to drink for a hour or so.

A couple of final warnings. Steer well clear of alcohol. It might be tempting to sink a nice cold pint "because I'll be well under the limit" but if you're rehydrating, the alcohol will be absorbed faster and be even more disorientating than normal.

And... DON'T drink ice-cold water. The thermal shock of pouring ice-cold fluids into the stomach fools the body into thinking it needs to shut down the sweating mechanism. That's definitely not what we want.

Kevin Williams
Survival Skills Rider Training

...because it's a jungle out there


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What is Survival Skills all about?

How are Survival Skills Courses put together and taught?
The Making of a Good Instructor - musings on my Driver Education course

Would a National Standard for advanced training be appropriate?
Writing a riding tip - what detail is necessary?
What to do if you've had an accident
Accident Statistics - dispelling some myths

Improver or advanced, pragmatism or perfection?
Piling on the miles
Compartmentalisation & Practice -  the key to learning new skills
Countersteering - Question and Answer

Braking Rules and Tips
Over-confidence and Riding at the Limit
Practice makes Perfect
The Danger of Misunderstanding
Learning from your Mistakes
A Moment of Inattention
Staying Warm
Staying Awake
Don't just ride for yourself, ride for others
Filtering - what's legal and how to do it
Cornering Problems 1 - Lean or Brake?
Springing into Summer - polishing off the winter rust
Group Riding - Rules and Tips
Awareness of Risk and Risk Management
Cornering Problems 4 - Stability and the "Point and Squirt" technique
Cornering Problems 3 - Staying out of trouble! Pro-active Braking or Acceleration Sense?
Cornering Problems 2 - Staying out of trouble
What is Risk?
Avoiding Diesel
The Vanishing Point - is it enough?
Posture - the key to smoother riding
When the Two Second Rule is not enough
Riding in the Dark
Roundabouts - straight lines, stability and safety
Slow Speed Control
Aquaplaning - what it is and how to deal with it
Rear Observation - when to & when not to!
Staying upright on icy roads
KISS - 'Keep it simple, Stupid' or Low Effort Biking
Overtaking Safety - avoiding vehicles turning right
Proactive versus Reactive Riding
Living with  Lifesavers
Which Foot? The Hendon Shuffle - Question and Answer
Carrying a passenger - Question and Answer
Riding in the rain
Riding in strong winds
Sorry Mate, I didn't see you - an analysis of SMIDSY accidents
Ever gone into a corner too hot and had it tighten up on you?
The Point & Squirt approach to corners
A time to live...
Target Fixation - Question and Answer
The Lurker, the Drifter and the Trimmer
The five most important things I learned as a courier
Overtaking - Questions and Answers
Precision riding - or keeping it simple?
Wide lines, tight lines, right lines - the law of Diminishing Returns
Surface Attraction
Euphoria - when your riding is just too good to be true
Straight line -vs- trail braking
Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and hope for the best
Before you overtake, do you...?
Do you need to blip the throttle on a downshift?
Holiday Riding Tips 1 - Dealing with hairpins (a new occasional series)
Holiday Riding Tips 2 - The (drive on the) Right Stuff
Why SMIDSYs happen
Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot weather
Riding errors - and avoiding them
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - riding in fog
Where does Point and Squirt come from?
Overtaking - lifesavers and following distances
Offsiding - what is it, and why you should think before you do it!
Anger Management - dealing with "red mist" and "road rage"
That indefinable gloss
Overtaking on left-handers - experts only or best avoided?
Apex or Exit - what's important when cornering?

Developing 'Spidy Sense'

Armchair Riding - how to improve summer skills in winter

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 1

Working towards a BTEC in post-test instruction part 2

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IMPORTANT: The information on the Survival Skills website is for your general information and personal use and should be taken as a guide only. Survival Skills Rider Training provides no warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness, clarity, fitness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements and you acknowledge use of any information and materials is entirely at your own risk, and that neither Kevin Williams nor Survival Skills can accept responsibility for your interpretation or use of this information or materials. The content of these pages is subject to change without notice. 

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