Riding the Canadian Rockies in the summer is a never-ending parade of bikes and cagers pulling trailers. Watching my fellow bikers revealed numerous approaches to dealing with the blazing sun (and plenty of time to curse poor gear choices when stuck behind those slow-moving trailers).
The temperature never dropped below 28 °C on my most recent long rides. The temperature gauge actually read above 33 °C the majority of the time, with 44 °C being the maximum I observed. This gave me the chance to test variations of clothing I would wear beneath my gear, and several facts rapidly emerged.
The recommendations I cover in this writing follow the belief that we at BBM fully adhere to—All The Gear All The Time. When the temperatures climb, I see it over and over: riders begin to remove the riding gear in an effort to stay cool. Let me show you how you can stay cool, look good, and still be fully protected.
Summer Motorcycle Base Layers
Most everything studied around base layer clothing tends to focus on keeping you warm versus keeping you cool. If there were no need for protective riding gear, then bare skin would always perform best for cooling the body—but sadly, riding naked is frowned upon and prone to giving you wicked road rash.
First, if you are unprepared, serious swamp action will happen underneath your gear. Very bad. Second, on the hottest days, cotton is nothing more than a sponge.
The key factors you must look for are fabrics that are breathable, moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and as thin as you can find. Basically, seek out polyester-based performance athletic wear. Find a fit that works under your gear.
For some, the fit might be like a second skin for others looser like a t-shirt. Fabric that can pull moisture away from your skin and then dry quickly is the key to staying comfortable under riding gear.
I ride with underwear and a t-shirt with a close fit (but not skin tight—save that tight fit for under racing leathers). The switch to this from standard cotton underwear and t-shirts made a huge difference. I no longer arrived and opened my jacket feeling like I would pass out from my own smell after marinating in my own sweat.
Mesh riding jackets take the win on the hottest of riding days. The airflow through a mesh jacket left me feeling like I wasn’t wearing a jacket but a loose shirt. In the simplest explanation I can give, constant air movement keeps you comfortable, even when it feels like all the air is straight from an open oven. The airflow allows your skin to perform the way it’s supposed to. The thin layer of sweat formed on the skin surface evaporates in the airflow and leaves a cooling effect behind.
With the mesh jacket doing an excellent job flowing air over my upper body, I began to realize the added benefits that go beyond their (expected) fall protection and slide-saving aspects. I had no need to coat myself with sunscreen; the jacket kept the sun off me. Personally, I cannot stand the feeling of sweat and sunscreen building up on my skin as the day wears on.
My final benefit, I am sure many who have ridden in just a t-shirt will recognize, is insects! I have never felt the stinging impact of a wasp or dragonfly smacking off my bare body at 70 mph. I drove through an infestation (it seemed) during a hot ride, and my vision and the front of the bike were just carnage. My upper body, though, had not a single mark or welt from a sizable insect with a death wish.
It would seem logical that a mesh riding jacket is the way to go on a hot ride, so mesh pants should also be the right choice—right? Well, sort of. I have learned that much of this is dictated by the bike you are riding and the type of riding you are doing.
For example, there are some fantastic mesh pants available, but many are designed to be worn with some sort of pants beneath. You can wear some with shorts, but this will be an individual choice largely based on comfort.
Some pants have flex zones and armor in areas that can irritate and chafe bare skin. Now consider this: if you are wearing a pair of mesh pants over shorts, but you ride a bike like my Super Duke that can pump a large amount of heat off the engine, things can be a tad uncomfortable. That same combination on my Goldwing could be just right. So think about both aspects when making a choice for certain mesh pants.
I was quite surprised by how comfortable my riding jeans were on hot days. They provide good protection from the engine heat and flow enough air to keep things from turning into a sweat box.
Overall I found that by keeping my upper body well regulated, the cooling of my lower body wasn’t quite as critical. Again, much of this will be related to what you ride and the ride you are going on. On long highway rides, I found good riding jeans that breathe worked well. For ADV rides, there are excellent mesh choices that protect very well, breathe very well, and are excellent when the speeds are lower.
It goes without saying that open-face, or half helmets will allow for maximum airflow around your head—but for this article, I want to stay focused on maximum safety, so I am going to be looking at aspects of full-face helmets. There are 2 key factors to keeping your melon cool: air flow, and heat absorption. I will add a third area that I feel is overlooked: liner cleaning.
I like a quiet helmet—and that typically means poor airflow, but not always. Modern full-face helmets are such a vast improvement compared to even 5 years ago. Wind tunnel tuning and reworked EPS channels allow for smooth air flow through full-face helmets.
Lids like the HJC RPHA 11, have great venting and little increase in noise levels. The Scorpion EXO-R1 Air has a large exhaust vent, and the overall shape pulls the air cleanly over the top of your head to keep everything cool.
Most helmets have front-facing inlets for air, but a helmet that will truly perform on hot days and flow air must have excellent rear exhaust ports. The exhaust vent is the secret to moving all that moist warm air off your head and out of the helmet.
If you ride often in hot weather, stay away from a black helmet. I know they can look very badass, but you are simply adding to the problem with that massive heat absorber on your head. Changing to a graphic or a lighter colour for your helmet can have a significant impact on sweat levels.
Finally, my added third factor is the liner. Moisture-wicking liners used to be reserved for top-priced lids—but not anymore. Check the specs of a helmet that has your eye, and be sure the liner is quality wicking material. These liners are meant to pull moisture off the top of your head and into the moving air inside your lid.
These liners are fantastic, but for a really great experience, just clean the darn thing! Riding in hot weather means that liner will get nasty quickly, and almost all modern helmets make liner removal dead simple. You can purchase cleaning products, but I find that one of the best ways to clean mine is with a small amount of mild detergent and lots of rinsing. Then simply leave it to dry and reinstall.
Riding boots vary wildly, but when it comes to hot weather riding, the key is breathability. This goes for the boots themselves and the socks you choose.
I find the most comfort when I am not wearing a fully waterproof boot. Most footwear that excels at keeping water out is often quite good at keeping it trapped inside too. As a general rule of thumb, sport boots tend to offer more airflow than other kinds.
After plenty of trial and error, I found the biggest comfort gains came from spending the money and getting proper performance socks. There are plenty of socks that claim to be moisture-wicking and long-lasting, but my go-to is merino wool (and most recently, a very specific wool called Heculan Nuyarn).
Merino wool socks keep my feet comfortable no matter what conditions I experience and have proven themselves over and over in different boots and riding shoes.
Rounding out my riding gear are the gloves. I never ride without gloves. When I made the switch and added gloves for specific weather, I found a huge increase in comfort. There are many choices for hot weather but the key is excellent perforation across the top side of the entire hand.
For example, the Rev’it Sand 4 gloves have a goatskin palm, stretch mesh materials that are abrasion-resistant, and an integrated TPR knuckle protector. The open cell structure of the knuckle protector directs uninterrupted airflow onto the hands. Further perforations on the outside of the glove and control side of the hand increase airflow.
Sweaty palms should not be a regular riding experience, and just like you don’t want sweaty palms after blowing your line in that corner, you don’t want your gloves to be the cause of sweat.
With all the different types of riding gear available, it is hard to justify riding squid because it is too hot out. I can strongly argue that it is actually more comfortable to ride in the high temperatures when you have the right gear. Check out the links we have included and you will have no problem finding hot weather riding products that will fit within any budget and for any riding style.