Roads of Summer
There's no finer time to ride. But it's also a time when the most serious crashes occur.
Here’s a few tips to make summer more fun and less fraught
We’ve all been looking forward to it: riding in glorious summer weather. But sometimes we forget that summer presents its own challenges. Challenges that can cause discomfort, distraction and even danger.
So what do we need to be particularly aware of riding in summer, and what can do about it?
It sounds obvious because it is, but the biggest issues you’ll face riding in summer are caused by higher temperatures. As far as the rider goes, these include fatigue, dehydration, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.
Countering them is all about temperature control and fluid intake, and it starts with your riding gear. Do not be tempted to go without proper protective gear anywhere on your body: you still need top-to-toe coverage that offers impact and abrasion resistance. But you can stay much cooler by wearing gear optimised for summer riding. These will have mesh, vents or perforations that allow heat build-up to escape but how they perform in practice varies wildly. Pinhole perforations will offer little ventilation while large mesh panels will allow lots of airflow.
It is a compromise, however. Generally speaking, the airier the gear the less protective it is, but some achieve a better balance than others. Check out the thermal comfort and safety ratings at motocap.co.nz.
Stop more often. Just getting off the bike, stripping off some gear and relaxing in the shade for a few minutes works wonders. So allow a little more time for the journey and, whatever you do, don’t get into a mad rush to get home at the end of a long, tiring day’s ride. It’s meant to be fun, right?
Fluid intake is hugely important. One tip is to freeze a couple of small three-quarters-full (to allow for expansion) bottles of water to take in your pack when you go for a ride. Once you stop for a drink they’ll be thawed out but still cold. Camelbacks are great but the water can get warm. And if you’re sweating and drinking a lot of water, watch out for the loss of mineral salts which can make you feel crook. Add a dash of powdered electrolytes to your water or grab a sugar & caffeine-free sports drink at a fuel stop.
Strong sunlight can cause glare. A tinted visor can help but you run the risk of getting caught out if the sun goes down. A clear visor and a good pair of UV-protecting sunnies is the best plan.
An often overlooked issue with the strong summer sun is skin protection. You’re all covered up, you say? Well that’s good, but what about the back of your neck? It’s frequently an exposed area, so apply some sunscreen and take a little with you to reapply.
It’s not just you who feels more inclined to get out and travel in summer. The roads get busier and frustrated, impatient drivers don’t always make the best decisions. It’s best to assume other road users are having more trouble than usual seeing you and may make ill-judged moves that can catch you out. Also, with more vehicles on the road overtaking opportunities are going to be fewer: they’re coming the other way, too. Be completely sure the road ahead is clear before passing. Another issue is merging into gaps in long lines of traffic. Doing it requires cooperation from the last driver you pass, but who’s to say they’re entirely happy about you squeezing in? When you do get some cooperation, acknowledge it with a friendly wave or thumbs up. Drivers ahead may observe your good etiquette and feel more inclined to reciprocate.
We hate to say it, but one of the hazards to watch out for in summer is other motorcyclists. Sure, there are the odd crazies, but it’s also things like oncoming riders overtaking and not seeing you approach. Bikes can be hard to spot in the distance and, of course, they might be approaching at some pace.
With heavy holiday traffic, there’s also a lot of stopping and starting, pulling in and out of scenic lookouts, etc. It’s another thing to consider when overtaking, and also be prepared to come across drivers crawling along, especially just after lay-bys, viewpoints, fuel stations: almost anywhere that a vehicle can stop.
Hot ambient temperatures and scorching tarmac, plus some spirited riding inspired by all that grip, are going to conspire to do one thing to your tyres: increase the pressures. Depending on how much water vapour has sneaked into them the ‘hot’ pressures could be massively more than when you checked them cold. So it’s a good idea to carry a small pressure gauge with you and see what they get to. Around 4psi more than cold is fine but if you find they’re a lot more than that you might want to reduce them a bit. Over-pressured tyres will reduce grip, provide a harsher ride and work your suspension harder. And it shows that wherever you’re getting your air from hasn’t dried out their compressor properly. If you use a servo airline, ask them when they last did it. You might be in for a shock. If you find one that knows what you’re asking about and attends to their air compressor religiously, bleed the old air out and refill your tyres. You’ll be amazed at how it can narrow the cold/hot difference.
With summer tempting you into longer rides, it could be a good idea to make a tubeless puncture repair kit and a small 12V compressor regular companions. Having them with you, even if only one of you in a group does so, will stop a puncture from deflating your day entirely.
We've written separately about tar bleeds and ‘road snakes. But, in a nutshell, treat any shiny patches of road surface as you would in the wet. Molten tarmac doesn’t grip well and the top layer can move around or even shear. Avoid if possible and be super-smooth if you can’t.
With tarmac and tyre temps up, grip shouldn’t generally be a problem. But the hazards that were there in winter haven’t gone away entirely. So, always consider those factors that can lead to severely reduced grip. If a road or driveway enters the main carriageway on a downhill slant, you can bet grit and stone chips have accumulated on that side. Sun and warmth may have completely dried out the road after a spell of rain, but a corner shaded by trees could still be wet.
We hope applying these kind of tips will help your summer riding be safer and more enjoyable. But if you really want to hone your skills, boost your knowledge and get the most out of every ride nothing beats Ride Forever coaching. Check it out here and enjoy your best summer’s riding ever.