Summer Riding Tips

Beating the Summer Bummer: Don’t Get Tourist Trapped!

Snowmageddon is over and the riding season’s in full swing. You’ve packed away your heated vest and thick gloves, your boss has granted you a brief period of paid freedom from drudgery, and your goal is to cross several state lines over the next two weeks. You’re forgiven for being giddy at the prospect of a string of long, warm days riding through new places, but don’t let your enthusiasm blind you to the reality of unfamiliar roads, high temperatures, and heavy holiday traffic. Summer is no excuse for riding stupid, but many riders do it anyway and pay the price. Here’s how to avoid being one of them.

First off, don't skimp on your riding gear, Sure, it's way hotter in your destination of Denver than it is in your hometown of San Francisco, but physics works the same way in both cities; hit the deck in jeans and a T-shirt and you'll be shredded like a block of mozzarella, only this time on a road surface that's hot enough to cook a pizza. Instead of seeking relief from the heat by shucking down (which really only dehydrates you faster), get mesh gear, or a cooling vest (see Endless Summer Gear here), or at least tie a wet bandana around your neck and soak your T-shirt under your jacket. Learn the signs of dehydration; they're sneakier than a motor cop behind a billboard. Stop often to drink water—not coffee, iced tea, or soda, which contain caffeine, a diuretic—and eat a salty snack to help your body retain the fluid longer.

Keep your eyes on the road and not just where it’s going but its condition too. Learn to read the surface. Tar snakes revert to their original slithery state in hot weather, often making cornering a little too exciting. The money some states spend on pothole repair goes toward radar guns for local cops in others, leaving holes in the road deep enough to mine for coal. Scan the road surface for sand, dirt, and gravel not only in construction zones but before and after, where dump-truck spillage piles up and passing cars can scatter it.

A thoughtfully planned trip away from the usual tourist destinations are usually rewarded with a safer ride and great places to stop when it’s time to refuel your bike and body.Photo: Brian Hatano

Vacation hot spots might be fun to visit, but they’re often the worst places to ride through as clueless tourists slow down to gawk at the sights and condo-sized RVs lurch off of and onto the road heedless of passing traffic. Fight the urge to pass them in risky places; wait for your chance, and do it safely, or you could end up enjoying an awkward roadside conversation with an annoyed statie while Wynn E. Baygo and family bumble obliviously on toward Wall Drug. (Where the hell is that, anyway?)

Summer—especially summer evenings—is prime time for insects. In some parts of the country you don’t have to ride far before your face shield looks like a display case at the natural history museum. Pack a small bottle of cleaner and a microfiber cloth in your pocket or tank bag to wipe off the multi-legged corpses that accumulate there. If your windscreen is so tall you can’t see over it, bring polish and cleaner for that too.

Vacation time is precious, and the less of it you spend working on your bike—or waiting for someone else to work on it—the better. Do a complete service before you leave. If you’re not sure your tires will last, get new ones; the same goes for the chain and sprockets. Sign up for a roadside-assistance plan—like the AMA offers—and know what it covers. Some just get you to the nearest shop that can work on your bike, while others cover your expenses while it’s laid up. Find room in your luggage for tool/tire/first-aid kits so you can deal with the unexpected and unpleasant on the spot instead of waiting for help to arrive while your hotel reservations are automatically converted to no-show charges on your credit card.

Quick Facts

After a day or two riding in 100-degree temperatures, an evening ride in the 70s can chill you to the bone. That's why some riders carry electric vests all year long, and all the smart ones bring layers to warm up.
A thoughtfully planned trip away from the usual tourist destinations are usually rewarded with a safer ride and great places to stop when it’s time to refuel your bike and body.Photo: Brian Hatano