I enjoy riding when it is in the 60s or 70s, but when the temperature drops, our body and mind begin to compensate in strange ways. You do not have to be in the snow to be cold when riding a motorcycle.
Unlike water, which freezes at 32 degrees, humans can die in mild weather conditions. One’s body reacts to cold weather depending on age, body mass, body fat, overall health and the length of exposure time to cold temperatures.
Medically, our body’s temperature averages 98.6 degrees. With hypothermia, core temperature drops below 95 degrees. With severe hypothermia, core body temperature can drop to 82 degrees or lower. As our body’s core temperature decreases, the body also tries its best to compensate. When this happens, it becomes dangerous to ride.
As our body cools, we develop a variety of symptoms: shivering, slow and shallow breathing, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion, slurred or mumbled speech, loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps and a slow or weak pulse.
Ninety percent of our heat escapes through our skin. Heat is lost through radiation and speeds up when the skin gets wet or is exposed to wind. We can compensate for this by wearing layered and electric clothing and waterproofing everything.
The neck is sensitive to cold on a motorcycle. Here, there is little protection around the carotid arteries where the heart is pumping blood to the brain. I always carry a balaclava and a neckwarmer.
The body cools 25 percent faster when exposed to moisture. GORTEX is a popular fabric known for wicking moisture away from the body, but GORTEX is a thin fabric. GORTEX alone will not keep you warm enough. Depending on the situation, my rain gear adds a wonderful and useful layer and holds in heat and protects against the outside elements.
The hands are a sensitive extremity. Waterproof gloves are part of the everyday gear in my pack. For cool days, I have GORTEX gloves. For colder days, I have a pair of electric gloves that attach to my electric jacket. I also have heated grips. Those heated grips are handy on those 60- and 70-degree days. Heated grips are just enough to keep my hands comfortable and the ride pleasant.
Eye protection should always be a priority. During the research for this article, I was unable to find out if we lose heat through the eye sockets. When I was in the Army, we often trained in cold weather. After a while, I made it a point to always keep sunglasses on during the day, and at night, even while sleeping, I kept my clear pair of safety glasses on. Although I could not find a study about this (which means I couldn’t find one in the first 30 hits on Google), the eye does contain a good amount of fluid. We have tear ducts around our eyes as well. Even with my face shield down, I wear a pair of glasses, and somehow, I feel warmer.
Once you have done all you can to stay warm, here are few tips to keep you safe. Learn your body and how to dress for the various temperatures. Plan on bad weather and be prepared. Take plenty of breaks. Get off your bike, walk a few minutes and get your blood circulating again, and let your body warm up.
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