You’re free to believe global warming is a Chinese hoax if you want to – it being America and all – but in the here and now, we can’t help noticing it’s bloody hot out a lot more lately than it used to be. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to still enjoy our motorcycles, but it does require a bit more preparation and gear savvy.
What doesn’t work and never has, of course, is riding along in a tank top and open-face helmet. Not only is that a recipe for bodily disaster, it also invites sunburn and dehydration. Staying cool is as simple as observing people who live where it’s really hot (Palm Springs excluded). They don’t wander around in t-shirts and shorts. Oh no. They cover themselves head to toe in loose-fitting garments that let air flow from ankles to shoulders with no restrictions. You need a little air gap inside there: When the ambient air is above body temp, you create your own little microclimate via the cooling effect of your own perspiration and just a bit of airflow.
Humidity plays a role, too. East of the Mississippi, mesh gear lets in liquid along with air and is a good thing up to a point. Way out West where the air is really dry, too much mesh wicks your sweat away faster than your body can produce it. Of course if you’re just going for a short hop, mesh is great almost anywhere it’s hot. But when you’re going to be on the bike all day, things are different.
Among the things that work best for us here at MO are:
WINDPROOF OUTER SHELL
In our dry California climate, what’s needed is an outer layer you can adjust as the climate changes, and the Aerostich Roadcrafter 3 is one of the easiest. The R3 is an unlined version of the original Roadcrafter, and wears a bit cooler and lighter. When it’s chilly, you close up the big underarm and hip vents and the big exhaust port that goes all the way across the back. When it gets warm, you open them up to let the air flow through. (When it rains, the Gore-Tex inside keeps you dry while it lets your sweat out.) What sets the Roadcrafter apart from most is its one-piece construction – which lets you wear swim trunks and little else underneath. The suit’s ingenious entry system lets you slide out of it and into the nearest body of water in about 15 seconds.
In soupier Eastern climes, something in a mesh, like this Tour Master Draft Air Series 3 jacket could serve you very well – and its zip-in waterproof liner will keep you dry(ish) as well as warm through the occasional downpour should you get lucky enough to be in one. Tour Master makes about five kinds of mesh pants, too, as do a bunch of other manufacturers. All other things being equal, of course, light-colored garments wear cooler than black ones.
Whether it’s full-face or modular or a dirt helmet and goggles is less important than that you don’t have hot air blasting up your nostrils and drying out your eyeballs all day, which is just going to dehydrate and fatigue you faster. I totally prefer modular, though, because they make it easy to slurp constantly from your hydration system or drinking bottle. The best helmets for hot weather are ones you can mostly seal up, but which flow a lot of air through their vents to take up the moisture from your sweaty scalp and cool you convectively as you go. Ahhhh… for me, none works better than the Shoei Neotec, recently replaced by Neotec 2, (pictured), of which I must not be worthy since I still don’t have one.
Here’s to hoping the Feher ACH-1, which calls itself the world’s first self-contained air-conditioned motorcycle helmet available to the public, will be a success. The patented full-face ACH-1 is supposed to evenly distribute filtered, cooled air freely across the top of the head, cooling it by as much as 10-15 degrees from the ambient temperature.
When the outside temperature climbs above 98 degrees (ie, your body temperature), all that air flowing through stops having a cooling effect, and starts having a drying-out one – especially in a dry climate. At that point, applying a dry rub to yourself of brown sugar, salt, garlic powder and, wait, sorry, that’s cooking. At that point it’s better to douse your clothing with water as often as you can, leave just enough vents open to circulate a cooling breeze, and maintain your own little rain forest inside your outer layer.
The hotter it gets, the more critical it is to keep yourself hydrated. I love my Kriega Hydro 3 Hydration Backpack, but again, there are plenty more options, including jackets with built-in bladders. The Kriega has a bit of insulation, and if you fill it with ice every time you stop for gas, you’ve always got plenty of fresh ice water at hand. How we rode without these things, I’ll never know.
That leaves the warm bottles of water you also have stashed on your bike to pour down the front of your jacket as you go, for a burst of coolness as needed. If you don’t have a bottle handy, you can just let a couple mouthfuls of cool water from your hydration bladder dribble down your chin. Crude but effective, and especially nice if you’re wearing a bandana that gets soaked as the liquid makes its way to your south pole.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Personally, I’ve always been fine with swim trunks or shorts under my Aerostich and a cotton t-shirt in temps up to 110 or so – as long as I’m moving, anyway. If you’re stuck in traffic, well, that’s just a bummer. You really need to find a cool place to chill until the sun goes down. But there are some higher-tech products now that can help you manage. Harley’s MotorClothes division is the latest to come up with a HyperKewl Men’s Cooling Vest, which Brasscannon’s says he will not be caught dead without. Dip it in water, wring it out, and H-D says it’ll help you keep your cool for up to six hours.
And if you don’t wanna pack an entire vest, you can pick up things like these Hot Headz cooling towels at Home Depot or nearly any big box or drug store. The same principle is at work: Hyper absorbent material holds in lots of water which gradually dries as you roll down the road and cools you. Wrap these things around your neck, put one in your lap… wherever your outer layer provides a bit of airflow.
Aerostich’s Kool Off Ties are the same deal but fashionable, and only $6. Aerostich proprietor Andy Goldfine’s deep wisdom about hot weather motorcycle travel is at the bottom of that same link. It’s a lot like mine but better thought out. I may have stolen it from him…
Old school cotton t-shirts and shorts work reasonably well in hot weather, but technology never sleeps and now there are all kinds of technical base layers specifically designed to wick perspiration away and keep you cool.
Everyone from Nike and Adidas to Alpinestars and Dainese produces these textiles. Read all about the Rev’It Oxygen Shirt (above) and pants we tested a couple of years ago here.
You know what they say – cool feet cool head. Maybe they don’t say that? But there are tons of vented boots out there, including the Firstgear Mesh Hi boots pictured.
Mainly what you don’t want to do when it’s hot is set out in a pair of old “waterproof” boots you inherited from Uncle Bob, only to find out they’re not lined with a breathable waterproof membrane like Gore Tex. Not letting your feet breathe is a recipe for discomfort.
While you’re thinking about your feet, good socks help too, like these Alpinestars Pro Coolmax jobs or maybe some Aerostich Charcoal Bamboo ones, which have super wicking properties while addressing the funk issue. I love socks. Good ones disappear from my closet like 10mm sockets. Who’s taking them?
After that, all you need are some lightweight summertime gloves without gauntlets, so you can leave your sleeves open for air to swirl up into your armpits. Once you find a good clothing combo and learn to keep your inner self damp, you can stay surprisingly cool and comfortable well into triple digits – as long as you can keep rolling that is.
One of the best things to do for yourself is to know when to say when. If you have to cross the Mojave in August, do it at night. If you’re really hot and uncomfortable and having no fun, find some shade or better yet a natural spring. Or the pool in a cheap hotel with a nice dark bar next door. Ahhhh…