Techniques – Staying alert while riding


Even a momentary loss of concentration can have disastrous consequences while riding a motorcycle. Misti Hurst explains how to combat fatigue and stay alert in the saddle.

Despite what a lot of people think, riding a motorcycle is a strenuous physical activity. Even if you aren’t riding hard and you are just heading out for an afternoon cruise, your body and mind are continuously hard at work.

The physical effort of sitting on your bike, using your legs to grip the tank, relying on your core to hold you up, and your arms to steer, combined with the mental effort of staying alert, looking ahead, and making split-second decisions, can easily wear you out.

Add wind, rain, heat, and long hours of riding to the mix and you’re putting your body through some pretty stressful circumstances without necessarily realising it. This can cause you to tire quickly and lose concentration, and we all know how important it is to remain sharp and vigilant while riding.

So, here are some tips and strategies we can all use to stay alert and focused while riding.

Keep hydrated

Dehydration can slow your thinking, decrease concentration, increase fatigue and impair the brain’s functionality. Therefore, it is imperative that you start out well hydrated and stay that way throughout the remainder of your ride. Hydration begins before you even hop on your bike. Ideally, you should drink at least a glass or two of water before you leave the house and plenty more along the way.

Men and women, in general, should drink between two to three litres of water per day and that amount goes up when exercising, especially in a warm climate. So, either wear a hydration pack so you can sip while you ride, or stop regularly to rehydrate. Plain water is usually the best option, but sports drinks containing electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium), coconut water or even chocolate milk are great options as well.

Dehydration doesn’t always happen when it is hot out either. Even in cooler temperatures, it’s easy to fall behind in water consumption and to experience the damaging effects. Instead of a cold glass of water on a cold day, try herbal tea, hot apple cider, or water at room temperature.

Symptoms of dehydration can include a dry mouth, headache, confusion, tiredness, cramps, loss of focus, dizziness and, in more severe cases, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, fever and occasionally delirium or unconsciousness. At the first sign of any of these symptoms, you should take a break from riding, rehydrate and rest until you feel better.

Keep hunger at bay

While you’re refuelling your body with water, you should also fill up with some healthy snacks. It’s easy to forget to eat frequently when you’re out for long rides, but when your blood sugar level drops, so does your brainpower. Eating every three hours or so to keep your body fuelled will also sharpen the mind, but you must also make good, healthy choices. Stopping for a chocolate bar or doughnut and coffee isn’t going to provide you with the right kind of nutrients your body needs. Fruit, veggies, whole grains and protein are much better options.

Before you leave on your ride, pack a few travel-friendly snacks in your tank bag or pockets. Some of the best options include beef jerky, almonds, trail mix, granola, energy bars, dried fruit, dry-roasted edamame, peanut or nut butter on crackers or rice cakes, homemade muffins, or fruit bars.

Tailor your gear to the conditions

Wearing the right gear can also help keep you alert and focused. Being too hot or cold on a motorcycle will affect your concentration levels, as well as your enjoyment in the saddle. If you are riding in warm weather, outfit yourself in lightweight protective gear with vents for breathability and tailor your layers for the heat.

In colder weather, layering fitted, wool clothing under-insulated, jackets and pants, will help you stay warm and cosy. Layers are great because, if you get too hot or cold, you can simply remove or add a layer to suit your required comfort level. Make sure you buy good quality, technical clothing that is both waterproof and breathable, and has options like zippered vents so you can adjust on the go for changing temperatures.

A balaclava over your face works well in cold temperatures, and always have something available to cover your neck. There are also plenty of heated gear options available these days as well. You can’t possibly control a motorcycle well if you are fighting with the elements and feeling too hot or too cold.


Stay dry

Good waterproof and insulated jackets, trousers, gloves and boots are a must to ensure you stay dry in the saddle. If you get wet, chances are you will get very cold which will reduce your alertness on your bike.

However, when buying new gear, make sure you test out how it feels on your own bike and how it affects your ability to feel the controls. Boots that are too chunky can make it hard to shift and brake, and likewise, gloves that are too thick can interfere with throttle application. If you need to think hard about working your bike’s controls because of uncomfortable gear, you won’t be as alert to dangers on the road as you would otherwise be.

Reduce wind fatigue

Wind noise can also cause fatigue when riding and take your focus off the road. If you’re getting blasted by the wind, investing in a larger aftermarket screen will help direct it around you, reducing fatigue. Wearing a good pair of earplugs will also keep noise to a minimum and your concentration levels up.

Look after your eyes

Staring into bright sunlight for too long can result in a throbbing headache which will take your focus away from the road. Protect your eyes from the sun with a pair of sunglasses or a tinted visor. Also, make sure you keep your visor clean and wear your glasses if you need them, to reduce the strain on your eyes.

Take a break

Even if you follow all the tips listed above, you might still experience moments of fatigue and inattention. If this happens, your best bet is to pull over as soon as possible for a short break. It’s far too dangerous to try to push through if you are tired, as even momentary losses of concentration can have disastrous consequences. Hop off your bike, stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery, take a little rest and clear your head. As the quote goes, ‘life is a journey, not a destination’.