Hydration and dehydration are a critical safety concern when riding a motorcycle and one that too often goes overlooked. Consider the science:
The average human body is more than 60% water.
Lose 3% – 4% body water (mild dehydration) — you become thirsty, have dry mouth, dry eyes, urine begins to darken, your brain begins to lose alertness, short-term memory problems develop, and the body becomes fatigued. On a hot day this can happen in less than an hour.
Lose 6% body water (moderate dehydration) — all the above symptoms increase, you also become irritable, pulse speeds up, respiration increases, mucous membranes dry up, urine flow reduces, and blood pressure begins to drop.
Lose 10%+ body water (severe dehydration) — all the above symptoms become chronic, your energy level drops noticeably, you look sick, urine flow stops, toxicity rises as waste products can no longer be eliminated, eyes become sunken, lips and mucous membranes are parched.
Lose 20% body water — you’re dead.
Dehydration happens all day every day
Dehydration, or more accurately the need to stay hydrated, is a part of life. Just like eating. Even if you sit indoors and do nothing all day, every minute of every day you are dehydrating.
We deplete our body water through normal physical processes such as perspiration, evaporation, breathing, and waste elimination. Men lose roughly 3 liters of water per day, women roughly 2.2 liters. That means every human being alive needs to replenish a minimum of 2 or 3 liters of body water a day. Every single day. Even more if you are active.
If your day includes exercise or some other kind of physical activity — activity such as, oh I don’t know, let’s say riding a motorcycle or scooter for instance — you will dehydrate all the more and all the faster. If you happen to be riding on a hot day or at high altitude you will dehydrate that much more and that much faster still.
Staying hydrated = Safer riding
The human body needs water (hydration) to perform all the vital functions required to keep itself alive. Starve the body of water (dehydration) and one by one those functions begin to fail.
The act of riding a motorcycle requires your remarkable human self to perform at its most high-functioning level, both mentally and physically. Eyes, hands, feet, throttle, clutch, shifting, braking, sighting hazards, picking the right line, maintaining the correct body position — the numerous mental and physical processes required to coordinate the correct execution of so many different things at the same time, at speed, places extraordinary demands on us.
Similar to an engine running without oil, when our body is dehydrated maintaining this level of functionality literally becomes impossible. Decision making fails. Physical coordination fails.
You can not ride a motorcycle or scooter safely when you are dehydrated.
Symptoms of Dehydration
The symptoms of dehydration, even mild dehydration, are a dangerous distraction while riding a motorcycle. Your life is literally at risk, both from the effects of dehydration itself, and from the motorcycle accident you are bound to have as a result of it.
Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration
- Dry mouth
- Infrequent urination and/or dark urine
- Dry skin or skin that’s lost its elasticity
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Muscle cramps
- Bad breath
- Cravings for sweets
- Altered mood, crankiness, or fuzzy thinking
If you notice any of these symptoms you are already dehydrated. It’s go time. No joke. You need to pull over and begin re-hydrating immediately.
Symptoms of severe dehydration
All of the above increasing to include:
- Not urinating, or having very dark-colored urine
- Extremely dry or shriveled skin that lacks elasticity
- Severe dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Sunken eyes
- Unconsciousness or delirium
- Low blood pressure
- Extreme thirst
- Not sweating, even when you should be
Not sweating even when you should be (such as when riding a motorcycle or hiking in hot weather) is a sign your body is so dehydrated it has already shut down some of its normal functions.
If you show ANY symptoms of severe dehydration — you’re done. The ride is over. Start re-hydrating ASAP and seek immediate medical attention.
Your rate of dehydration increases while riding a motorcycle
Riding a motorcycle or scooter accelerates the dehydration process. The increased physical and mental exertion needed to ride, perspiration, accelerated evaporation from wind rushing past your skin, and other environmental factors such as warm summer riding temperatures all play a part.
Motorcycle gear and dehydration
As much as you’d like to ride without gear when it is hot, wearing motorcycle gear can help reduce dehydration by slowing the evaporation of body water. Best practice is to cover as much skin as possible. It might feel cooler (temperature cool, not “you are so awesome” cool) to have the wind blowing against your skin, but it only feels cool because the wind is evaporating sweat from your skin (dehydration in action). Wearing a cooling under layer beneath your regular protective gear can help further slow evaporation and make the day both safer and more comfortable.
TLDR — It’s best to cover up and minimize evaporation, even when riding in temperatures over 100 degrees — especially when riding in temperatures over 100º — and to always be hydrating.
How to Stay Hydrated or Recover from Dehydration
Recovering from mild or moderate dehydration — or better yet, to keep yourself hydrated in the first place — is simple. You just need to replenish the water and electrolytes that your body has lost or is losing. Drink up!! Thanks to your body’s natural thirst response doing this will be a pleasure.
That said, in the case of severe dehydration you should both hydrate AND seek immediate medical attention.
Drink frequently throughout the day
It is best that you drink frequently throughout the day. Gulping down a large amount of water every once in a while is not the same as drinking a smaller amount of water regularly.
When we gulp down a large amount of water our brain turns off the thirst response before we are actually re-hydrated. So always drink smaller amounts water regularly throughout the day. (Here’s the science behind how the brain regulates thirst if you’re interested.)
Hydrate while you ride
So how exactly does one drink to stay hydrated while riding a motorcycle or scooter? Actually, it’s pretty easy. Here are a few options.
Motorcycle Hydration Backpacks
If you want to stay hydrated or simply enjoy a cool beverage while you ride then what you need is a Motorcycle Hydration Backpack.
Hydration backpacks come in a variety of different sizes and offer a variety of different configurations of pockets and other storage features. But for hydration purposes what counts is their removable internal water bladder that is connected to a flexible and easily accessible hose. The hose has a bite valve at one end. Bite gently on the valve and you can easily suck water into your mouth while on the move. When not being used the bite valve remains closed to keep water from spilling out.
Popular brands of hydration backpacks include: Kreiga, Klim, Camelback, OGIO, USWE, Leatt, MSR, Fly, Fox…
Motorcycle Beverage Holders
If you prefer to carry your water in a bottle or other container there are plenty of options for this too.
Drink holders that mount to your motorcycle
Drink holders that strap to or hang from your motorcycle
These are often seen on scooters hanging from the front accessory hook.
Motorcycle luggage beverage holders
Many motorcycle luggage brands have their own accessory bottle holder made to integrate with their particular luggage system. If they don’t have their own specific drink holder then often the luggage will feature an accessory attachment system (like MOLLE) made for that purpose.
The best drink for re-hydration
Now that you have a way to carry a drink with you and to safely drink it while you ride, what should you drink?
Simple answer. Water.
Staying hydrated is not at all complicated: drink water. If you are riding in extreme conditions or are recovering from severe dehydration you might also want to add an electrolyte supplement to the water, but generally speaking this is not needed.
In addition to replenishing your body water, you may sometimes need to replenish your electrolytes as well.
Electrolytes are body salts. Vital body salts — calcium, potassium, magnesium, even plain old table salt. They regulate both the flow of water in to and out of our cells, plus the nerve impulses that keep our bodies functioning properly — our heart beating, our lungs breathing, our brains thinking. Minor stuff. — In the simplest terms, without electrolytes our cells would either dry up and die or over-fill with water and explode.
For most us, water alone is sufficient for our hydration needs; we get plenty of electrolytes from our daily diet. But if you are an extreme athlete, or are on an extended road trip during hot summer months, or perhaps are riding through an arid desert, or racing in the Dakar Rally, then adding an electrolyte supplement to your water can be a good idea.
Emergen-C Electrolyte Mix is a nice simple powdered option.
Coconut Water is an excellent natural source of electrolytes.
Recovery drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, and the like, are popular mass-marketed electrolyte replenishment beverages. These drinks are often seen on television being used by athletes and other active people. Just be aware that along with electrolytes a number of these drinks also contain a good deal of sugar. Some sugar is ok, but not too much. So choose your source of electrolytes wisely.
Water Purification Systems
When riding in remote areas and other places without potable water, take a portable water purification system with you so you can make your own. It’s easy to do and can quite literally be a life saver.
A water purification device and water treatment supplies are also good items to keep on hand as part of your home emergency preparedness kit.
As impressive as portable water purification systems are at filtering most all the crud out of water, keep in mind that different water treatment systems achieve different degrees of purification. In some cases you still need to add a couple of drops of iodine or chlorine bleach (just like tap water) to the water to kill the smallest bacteria and viruses and make the water 100% completely pure and safe.
Popular water purification brands include,
Always Drink and Ride…
There is no way to avoid dehydration entirely. Especially when riding a motorcycle or scooter. So as responsible motorcyclists who would rather be alive than dead we must do the best we can to minimize our loss of body water and compensate for any such loss by continually hydrating.
Fortunately, staying hydrated is a very simple and enjoyable thing to do. Even while riding.
To that end, please, always drink and ride… so long as you’re drinking water, perhaps with an added electrolyte supplement, and drinking it does not distract you from riding safely.
Ride safe. Have fun. (And stay hydrated.)
Products mentioned in this article
- Hydration Backpacks
- Motorcycle Drink Holders
- Electrolyte Supplements
- Recovery Drinks
- Coconut Water
- Portable Water Purification Systems
- Chlorine Bleach