Riding on two wheels requires high levels of concentration, alertness and awareness of one’s surroundings. Potential dangers don’t just exist in a motorcyclist’s environment – the most responsible riders are also highly self-aware, and they recognize that some hazards to motorcyclists are internal.
Next to intoxication, distraction and road rage, fatigue is one of the biggest dangers to all motor vehicle operators. That said, motorcyclists face a more strenuous task compared to other gas-powered ways of getting around. Anyone who has handled hundreds of pounds of motorbike understands first-hand how physically demanding it is to ride. It takes muscle to walk the bike out of and into a parked position, and to keep it upright at stops. Vibrating handlebars demand a very firm grip, which can contribute to sore or numb wrists and hands. And if a bike isn’t a perfect fit, a rider can experience painful cramping in the back and limbs, especially when covering long distances.
Unlike car drivers, motorcyclists are directly exposed to the elements. Temperatures in either extreme and buffeting winds take a toll on the body, and it’s much more difficult keep up one’s stamina when drenched from helmet to boots in rain.
There’s also the often-disregarded phenomenon of noise fatigue, which many bikers shrug off or have never even heard of. Loud sounds trigger the automatic “fight or flight” response, which boils down to a release of stress hormones that elevate heart rate, respiration and blood pressure – essentially the opposite of a relaxed state. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can physically wear a person down, although he or she may not even be aware of it.
Here’s the most important tip to prevent fatigue, and it’s a no-brainer: Ride rested. Most tired riders don’t suffer fatigue from the riding itself; they were worn out before they even threw a leg over the bike. If you are sleep-deprived, think twice before you get on your motorcycle. Fatigue reduces reaction time and clouds perception, increasing the likelihood of mistakes in calculating speeds and distances. Because motorcycling is inherently riskier than driving a car, all bikers need to be at their sharpest when they ride.
Monitoring and regularly changing the oil and fluids in a motorcycle keep the machine in top condition. You should think of your body as a machine, too. Proper hydration is crucial to peak physical performance, and the right clothing can protect you from the elements. Even in hot weather, full coverage is best. Long sleeves, pants and face shields save the skin from sunburn and windburn, while vented jackets and mesh fabric let in cooling airflow. A comfortable rider doesn’t tire as quickly.
Helmets are good for more than protecting your head in the event of a crash. They’re also great for combating noise fatigue as they dramatically cut down the noise of rushing wind and rumbling tailpipes. Good-quality earplugs can serve as an additional barrier during extended rides. As you fight noise fatigue, you get the bonus of reducing your risk of hearing loss, which is common among motorcyclists who don’t protect their ears.
There’s also an array of bike accessories and modifications designed to enhance rider comfort and ward off fatigue. We will cover some of these later this month when we discuss ways to insure and protect your investment in a motorcycle.