Knowing your own physical and emotional limits is as key to safe riding as knowing the limits of both your machine and your own riding abilities. Here our special correspondent looks at how to deal with fatigue on long trips
Experts say that fatigue contributes to between a fifth and a sixth of all car accidents. That may not be true in motorcycle accidents across the board, but fatigue is definitely an issue for riders on trips of three days or more. It’s something that you need to consider and prepare for, and if you are riding with other people, it is an issue that you should discuss and accommodate as you plan your trip. Different riders will have different requirements for rest, and if the trip is to be a safe one, all members of the group should be willing to accommodate each other.
Motorcycle Safety, Fighting Fatigue
Fight the fatigue! For the safety of yourself and the people around you, don't ride if you are feeling any little bit tired.
Adequate sleep can be a bit hard to come by before and during a multi-day ride especially the night before you set-off. I am always thinking of things I want to do or pack as I try to get to sleep on the night before I depart. I also have trouble getting to sleep while travelling. If I combine that with early departures, I quickly have a sleep deficit. For that reason, I like to plan to allow myself to sleep late every two or three days, setting no departure time. Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid; it actually tends to reduce both the quantity and quality of sleep. You might think that you can’t fall asleep on a motorcycle, but I have known riders who simply fell asleep while riding, waking up as they bounced through a ditch - or in the hospital. They often said they didn’t even realise they were tired.
This is so true, two of us finished work and rode through the night to Metz. We arrived at the last services on the Autoroute and cat-napped so no-one would rob us as we slept. The cold had got into our backs as we rode. As we rode into Metz to meet our friend I was falling asleep. The morning was chilly, I kept the visor open, but I kept catching myself nodding-off…. I scared myself silly; I was supremely foolish and stupid.
Experts say that you’ll have “tired times” during every 12-hour cycle, most often between 3:00 and 5:00 (a.m. and p.m., local time). You may want to plan to arrive by that point or stop for an early dinner. If you can or need to, take a day off just to relax and catch up on your sleep.
Unless you ride your motorcycle almost every day or take rides of three hours or more almost every weekend, you may not be completely adapted to your bike. After a full day or two of riding, you will become acutely aware of muscles that you are using full-time to ride. You may be able to overcome some of this discomfort by properly setting up your bike and fitting components, such as an AirHawk seat or perhaps a good aftermarket saddle, that make it more comfortable. However, you also need to give your body a chance to adapt. Taking breaks every hour or two, especially during the first few days of a long ride, will help this adjustment.
Extended exposure to wind and sun dehydrates and fatigues you much more than your routine two-hour weekend jaunt. Let’s say you have gone to Crete on holiday and hire a ‘bike. Riding in a T-shirt and open-face helmet may seem like the best way to deal with the heat, but will actually wear you out and heat you up much faster than if you wear a vented or mesh jacket and a helmet that protects your face from the wind. Perspiration gets a chance to stay on and cool your skin if the wind flow is reduced but not eliminated. You will sharply reduce sunburn and windburn and their fatiguing effects by covering yourself fully. A screen also reduces the amount of wind that’s tearing at you but leaves enough to cool you.
Wind noise (and exhaust noise if you have loud pipes) will not only permanently damage your hearing, it will fatigue you quickly. Both noise sources are at their worst if you wear a poor or old helmet, but even a full-face helmet that seals your ears well won’t reduce these noise sources sufficiently on an extended ride, so you should wear earplugs as well. If nothing else, you’ll appreciate them when you try to go to sleep at night and the roaring in your ears isn’t as loud. A screen can also reduce wind noise.
Vision clarity can be an issue on extended rides too. When the BMW K1200LT came out in 1998/99 the screen on this bike had significant distortion in the top of its screen and riding it made riders feel disoriented, eye-strain tired or gave them headaches. If your screen creates this problem, or if you have a visor or sunglasses that are optically imperfect – many, even expensive makes are - you should find a replacement or eliminate the problem. If your vision has changed so that your prescription is no longer adequate, update it before you leave.
Caffeine and Alcohol
A coffee or cola can briefly boost your alertness, but isn’t a substitute for adequate rest. Having a beer before or during a ride is a bad idea for many reasons, but especially if you are slightly tired or fatigued. Discouraging your riding companions from having one also does both of you a favour.
Those boring admonitions about diet and exercise also apply to fighting fatigue too. They increase your energy level, which makes you stronger and more alert.
Drinking adequate water is important too, especially considering that you are being dehydrated more rapidly because of your exposure to the wind. Look out for the signs of dehydration, these vary from feeling dizzy, feeling tired, blurred vision to headaches, any of these signs will affect your concentration whilst riding a motorcycle. STOP, have a drink of water or a soft drink to get the fluid levels back up to normal. I don’t hold with the theory that you aren’t drinking enough if you don’t have to urinate every 30 minutes though.
Fighting fatigue provides benefits that go beyond safety. If you are alert and refreshed, the ride itself is more enjoyable, and you’ll get more out of the sights and experiences that you came to enjoy. And the key thing here is you’ll be on the top of your game because your Concentration will be 100%.
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