Dehydration – a sneaky killer.

In my years of riding and racing in wildly varying climates from the Rocky Mountains, to the deserts of Baja, to the jungles of Costa Rica, I have seen more experienced riders taken out by dehydration than any other single issue. The strange thing is that many accidents / crashes that are attributed to other factors all have one underlying cause… Dehydration.

Dehydration Basics

A variety of factors can cause dehydration but for this discussion about riding motorcycles in hot conditions let’s focus on the following:

  • Decreased fluid intake
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Overexertion

Dehydration can cause many serious problems with bodily functions including cardiovascular stress.  But while having a heart attack while riding is certainly an emergency, for most of us the most dangerous symptom of dehydration is a decrease in cognitive and physical functions.  That’s right, being dehydrated significantly reduces how fast you think and how fast you react… both of these are obviously critical abilities in riding a motorcycle.  One recent study suggests that even relatively low-level dehydration of 2% can slow reaction times by up to 10%.  Think about that for a minute… assuming you’re not dehydrated while reading this article… and if you are dehydrated think about it for 66 seconds.

How to Recognize the Signs of Dehydration

Increased thirst is the obvious sign of possible dehydration. When you crave water or other fluids, your body is sending a message that it needs more fluids. Yet, people experiencing dehydration sometimes may not be able to recognize this thirst.  Therefore, you need to learn to recognize the other warning signs of dehydration which include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness or lethargy
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Swollen tongue
  • Decreased urine output
  • Constipation
  • Trouble concentrating
  •  Headache

Tips to Prevent Dehydration

“Push fluids.” This is the most universal of any medical instructions after seeing a physician for dehydration. It is almost an archetype, but how do you prevent this situation from ending up in the doctor’s office in the first place? The answer lies in preventing dehydration and addressing it once any of its warning signs appear. Consider using these tips to help prevent dehydration for yourself and those with whom you ride.

1. Monitor Intake and Output

Simply put if you are drinking water but not urinating regularly, you may be suffering from dehydration.  My rule of thumb for riding is a full Camelbak for each tank of gas.  If I get to a fuel stop and still have any water in my hydration system, I finish it off and refill it before getting back in the saddle. This should also mean I need to hit the bathroom at each stop too unless I am wearing a race catheter… but that is a story for another time…

2. Pay Attention to the Color

Okay… it is a little gross, but I’d rather have an uncomfortable conversation than see a friend suffer from dehydration or worse crash their motorcycle because of it!  If the color of your urine is darker than normal you are probably dehydrated.  The goal is to drink enough so that your urine is clear or close to clear. 

3. Water is Water

Its best to stay away from alcohol and / or caffeine if you are trying to stay hydrated.  Alcohol and caffeine are actually diuretics and can further dehydrate you… For a multitude of reasons it is best to stick to water or a sports drink with electrolytes and save the rum and coke for after the ride is over. 

4. Reduce Consumption of Salt

High-salt foods may cause the immediate effects of dehydration to grow more severe as the electrolyte imbalance increases.  Try a Popsicle instead of that bags of chips when you need a snack.

5. Watch for the Signs of Dehydration

Watch for the signs of dehydration in yourself and in your friends.  People not adept at recognizing them may ignore them until the affects have taken hold and their cognitive abilities / reaction times have diminished making it even harder for self diagnosis.  I’ve had to sit grown men down in the shade and make them drink 3-4 bottles Pedialyte to bring them back from the brink of being seriously dehydrated.  None were very happy with me at the time, but they all thanked me later.

Ride safe,

Dehydration is an unseen killer and often gets away with murder!
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