ABR Masterclass – Medical: Dealing with hypothermia

In the last issue of ABR, Doc Edwards discussed how cold adaptation can make your winter riding more enjoyable, but what if things get serious and you break down in sub-zero temperatures?

In the last issue of ABR, Doc Edwards discussed how cold adaptation can make your winter riding more enjoyable, but what if things get serious and you break down in sub-zero temperatures?

In 2010, a group of nine Americans on an adventure ride were rescued at an area called Agua Hedionda over the mountains in Sierra de Juarez. They were trapped in a snowstorm, ran out of fuel, had no camping equipment, and were exposed to very low temperatures. Two of these riders were Dakar rally legend Danny Laporte and Donnie Elmer, the founder of FMF pipes. The search for the riders began on the Sunday, but they were not found until Monday; seven of them having spent the night in an abandoned house amid temperatures of -8C and the other two Americans were found in a different part of the mountains.

From this story, it’s clear to see that riding your motorcycle in cold weather can be deadly. With winter and freezing temperatures here, there are things about riding your motorcycle in the cold that you need to know.

First, hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it causing a dangerously low body temperature. Being extremely cold is when your body is reacting appropriately to the cold and producing heat. Hypothermia is not the same as being extremely cold, even though you often hear of one becoming hypothermic.

Becoming extremely cold most often occurs because of prolonged exposure to cold weather. It can occur during any season, even in temperate or tropical climates. Cold and wet environments pose the greatest risk. Inadequate clothing in cold conditions may not provide adequate insulation for the body to prevent heat loss.

Temperatures drop fast while riding: at 60mph in 40C temperatures, the wind chill factor is 25C. You could get extremely cold in a matter of minutes without the proper riding attire. When your body temperature drops, you start to have problems with simple tasks such as clutching and braking because your brain, hands and feet become numb. Your decision-making abilities slow down and you might even inappropriately take your clothes off even though its freezing!

Dressing appropriately is the best way to keep yourself safe while riding your motorcycle in cold weather. Remember the following tips as you’re selecting your motorcycle apparel:

■ Keep your hands and feet warm. Invest in a good pair of gloves, liners, and some high-quality motorcycle boots.

■ Keep your torso warm. If your torso is cold, it will restrict blood flow to your hands and feet.

■ Windproof your body. Make sure the outside layer of your outfit is made of a material that will stop the wind. Seal the openings in your gear. Don’t let air come in through the neck opening in your jacket, the sleeves of your shirt, or the bottom of your pants.

■ Choose a good insulating material. Wool is the best natural fibre insulation material, but synthetics such as ­ insulate work well also.

■ If your bike allows it, consider how effective your screen is. ­ is will keep you warmer than if you simply dress in appropriate motorcycle apparel, especially if you ride in the cold regularly.

Assuming that you have a handle on the winter gear, what do you do if you become extremely cold on the motorcycle?

Seek shelter, consume something dense in calories, add clothing, and call for help if necessary. Here are some other things that you may not have thought of:

Breathe right

Whilst exposed to extreme cold, you should take about 30 deep breaths. You have to inhale deeply enough to protrude your belly totally outwards, and exhale in short spurts, not fully. Do your best to breathe deeply and rhythmically.

Keep moving and do some press-ups

This will help produce body heat, keeping you further from hypothermia. After many breaths, exhale completely then hold your breath. ­Then get out of the cold environment and immediately start doing press-ups. Perform as many as you can safely manage.

Know the cold

As we discussed in detail in issue 31 of ABR, take cold showers, walk outside without a jacket, ride the motorcycle some minutes without winter gear. Over time you get used to progressively shifting from being warm to being very cold. Start with two minute cold showers. This is what drives adaptation.

Face the ice

Cold expert, Wim Hof suggests keeping up a routine for at least 10 weeks. After that, you will perceive the cold in a different way: “It won’t bother you anymore, and you won’t shiver.”

Call for help

Don’t be a hero, just reach out to someone and get the help you need to reach safety. Just as the nine Americans called the Mexican authorities with their satellite phones. You will live to ride another day. The nine Americans, including six California residents and three Colorado residents were William Derroth, Don Emler, Robert Rosenberg, Lance Waddill, Don Waddill, Todd Kerbs, Danny Laforte, Paul Eody, and Troy Seysordh.

WHO’S WRITING?

Johnathan (Doc) Edwards M.D. is a veteran physician for the KTM Red Bull Dakar Rally team. During his medical career, he has completed training in anaesthesia, sports medicine, nutrition, and massage. Doc Edwards has completed five Dakar rallies as well as many adventure rides and has written a book called Chasing Dakar. He rides a KTM 640 Adventure motorcycle and continues to help aspiring rally racers prepare for the Dakar Rally.