Rider dies of dehydration in heatwave

Riders dies of dehydration in heatwave

The current heatwave has claimed the life of a Queensland rider from dehydration after riding in the forests of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Thirty-year-old father Matthew Hall, pictured above with wife Emily, started to feel sick from dehydration and by the time the paramedics arrived he was feeling confused and his body temperature was 42, despite an ambient temperature in the low 30s.

His organs began shutting down by the time the rescue helicopter landed. He died soon after.

The sad news and the continued heatwave conditions prompts Motorbike Writer to repeat our article about the hazards of dehydration.

Road riders tend to be a bit blasé about dehydration. Maybe it’s because riding doesn’t take a huge amount of effort. However, we are quite vulnerable to dehydration because of the drying effect of the wind and our constant exposure to the elements.

The dangers of becoming dehydrated in a heatwave are headaches, disorientation, heat stroke, muscle cramps, loss of concentration, drowsiness and nausea, each of which can cause crashes.

And the problem is that once any of these symptoms becomes evident – as it was with Matthew – it is already too late to do anything about it.Dehydration heatwave

Tips to avoid dehydration in a heatwave:

  1. Don’t drink too much alcohol the night before a ride. It has a diuretic effect which means it causes you to urinate more water than you take in which means you are losing fluid. And you can’t counteract that by drinking lots of water because most of it will go out in your urine. Obviously, don’t drink alcohol while you are riding!
  2. Start drinking water as soon as you wake and keep sipping water right up until you get on your bike. It takes about half an hour for water to reach your muscles. Guzzling water just before a ride is not good as it can make your stomach to cramp. The Royal Flying Doctor Service which has attended dehydrated riders in the Outback, recommends carrying 10 litres of water per day! Read their Outback riding tips here.Dehydration motorcycle gear Riders dies of dehydration in heatwave
  3. Wear ventilated motorcycle clothing. Leathers may protect you better in a crash,  but they create a “microclimate” which impairs your ability to lose heat. As a result you will produce more sweat to decrease your core temp. Instead, wear a flow-through jacket. There are heaps of options on the market. Make sure they have vents in the back so the air flows through. Also, loosen the sleeves so you get plenty of air on your wrists which have a lot of blood vessels close to the skin to effectively cool you down. However, be aware that a flow-through jacket cools you down because it is drying the sweat off your skin which can lead to dehydration. A set of Ventz up your sleeve will also keep you cool as air flows up your arms.However, don’t be fooled by your level of coolness as ventilation can also cause you to loose more water through evaporation. So you still need to keep drinking plenty of water.

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  4. Don’t be tempted to remove your jacket in the heat! Exposed skin may feel cooler, but that’s because the sweat is evaporating quicker, but that is just making you more dehydrated. And while your skin feels cool, you’ll be tricked into staying in the sun longer which leads to sunburn. That also leads to dehydration because your body needs water to repair and renew damaged skin.
  5. Get a Camelbak or other brand of water-dispensing unit so you can continue to take small sips of water while you are riding. I’ve seen riders on GoldWings and other big tourers with cup holders so they can take slurps from a water bottle. That’s obviously not as safe as the hands-free Camelback option, but anything is better than nothing. Some people don’t like Camelbaks because the water gets hot, but the temperature of the water doesn’t affect dehydration.Camelbak reduces dehydration heatwave
  6. Stop more often than usual and hang out in the shade or in an air-conditioned cafe. Since you are drinking lots of fluids, you will probably need to stop anyway!
  7. While you’re stopped, have a coffee, but take it easy. No need to swear off your favourite caramel latte, but avoid excess coffee. That also goes for caffeinated drinks such as Red Bull. High levels of caffeine have a diuretic effect just like alcohol.
  8. While having a coffee break, avoid having too many sweet cakes, donuts and muffins. Sugar can dehydrate you if it gets to very high levels in your blood. This can happen if you are a diabetic, take certain medications or have an infection or some organ diseases. Sugar causes your kidneys to produce more urine to eliminate the sugar, leading to dehydration. Likewise, don’t drink too many sugary drinks. Best to stick to plain water, real fruit juices with no added sugar or drinks such as Gatorade that replace salts and minerals lost in sweat.Dehydration heatwave
  9. We’ve talked a lot about urine and it’s important that you monitor the colour. It should be a straw colour. If it’s too dark, you are dehydrated.
  10. Sweat also depletes your body of sodium and if it becomes too low, it can cause many of the same symptoms as dehydration. The average diet probably has enough sodium, but it’s good to have a little bit of salt on your meals or drink sports drinks that have a sodium supplement. However, beware of sports drinks with caffeine and sugar.
  11. Ok, I know I said there were only 10 tips, but dehydration doesn’t just occur in a heatwave. In winter, the cold can shut off the body’s thirst mechanism and trick you into thinking you’re not sweating. Meanwhile, your body is losing fluids as the air passes over your body.

13 Comments

  1. I now use a camel bak after a November 2015 ride to Sydney from the Gold Coast, it got up to 45c. I was fatigued and disorientated. I attended the Motorcyle show on the Saturday and I wasn’t well at all.

    Fortunately our organised weeks ride was to leave on the Sunday just as well as I couldn’t have ridden on the Saturday. I will never ride long distance in heat without a camel bak or similar. I was lucky as I had a very scary moment on the Putty rd on that ride down…

    My sympathy goes out to Emily’s loss

  2. Such sad news and only in his 30’s. This story is one you think only happens outback, but it’s surprising how quick you can dehydrate.

  3. It is also something to take into consideration when buying a bike, especially if you live in a hot climate or plan to ride a lot in summer. Sports tourers I have owned, with their full fairings, have directed some of the engine heat onto the rider. Naked bikes or those with half fairings let the engine heat escape. If you only own one bike you might not be aware of the difference. In the past when I owned two bikes I would sometimes leave the sports tourer at home on the hottest days and use my dirt bike even if I would only be riding on road.

  4. Ask yourself why radiators are black and its not because it absorbs heat, it actually radiates (that word) heat more efficiently, but only when there is a movement of air over it. The minimum required speed if I recall is around 16km/h to create a cooling effect. For clothing that also relies on a black lining to draw heat away from the body as well. Research is not easy to come by on the topic, but lighter clothing can actually be warmer than darker clothing.

    As for hydration, whilst drinking warm water is not great from point of view that it just doesn;t seem to taste as nice as cold water, it is better for you than cooler water as cooler water requires you body to expend energy warming it so it can absorb it. Also a slight sweetness will assist the body absorbing fluids through the gut wall, something as simple as adding some natural fruit juice is usually enough.

    1. There are two factors involved regarding heat transfer, insulation and radiation. Your jacket liner is more affected by it’s insulating properties than its ability to radiate heat via the colour. Standing in the sun however, black’s ability to absorb heat is greater than white.

      1. Contrary to popular opinion,
        colour of jacket, helmet etc has almost no effect on whether it absobs/doesn’t absorb more or less heat.
        Material properties, fit, surface finish, etc determine that.

        Psychologically, however, black is warmer.
        It’s all in your head.

  5. As long as marketing dweebs think we want to buy into the whole bad-ass image by riding a motorcycle, manufacturers will continue with the “got any blacker” menatality, despite it being inappropriate in a hot Australian summer.

  6. I think the fellow was riding off road. We lose and use far more energy and sensible water/body salts riding (and falling) off road. Although, dense tree cover can help and camelbaks are an advantage.

  7. While the article contains a lot of good advice, the situation becomes much more serious above about 42 degrees, – temps which are a daily occurrence in far western NSW.

    Once 42 is reached the air itself loses any ability to cool, so all the breezes in the world up your jumper won’t cool you down. The air takes on a burning aspect from which there is no escape. Even stopping in the shade does not work. Pouring water over yourself is the only remedy, and that does not last long. If you’re riding to Bourke for the Fred Hollows event, bear in mind that it is a long way between air conditioned pubs and cafes.

  8. Surely clothing manufacturers can design clothing that manages the heat more efficiently, starting with simply using lighter colours for the fabric, including the lining and armour? Why the insistence on black ? It makes no sense in our climate.
    I also see an opportunity for a helmet maker to put peltier effect cooling into a helmet, or even into a jacket.
    I realise that this won’t stop people dehydrating as there will still be fluid loss,but it will reduce heat absorption.
    Also, my car advises me to take a break when I’ve been driving continually for more than 2 hours, this tech exists so it should be easy for bike manufacturers to do the same.

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