I’ve mentioned motorcycle touring and hydration numerous times over the past few months.
But I’d be willing to be that most people skimmed over those parts because we’ve all spent years having scientists and researchers telling us just how important it is.
We know what we’re doing when it comes to water, right?
Anybody under the age of 40 would have been brought up being told how important water is for our basic function. You would have discussed it in primary school. Then you would have discussed it in high school – extensively.
Posters would have been plastered over the walls in your university canteen. And now you have a job, you more than likely have access to a water-cooler.
Over the years, you would have read about it in fitness magazines and health forums, and you would have skipped over it in motorcycle-related publications such as this one.
We all know the score with hydration. And bikers across the globe will be fully aware of the importance of motorcycle touring and hydration.
And yet, I bet most of us don’t do it.
Want more like this? Check out our Touring Tips category
I Don’t Drink Enough
I’d be willing to bet that, on the whole, most people don’t drink as much water as they know they should be drinking.
Because despite the abundance of information and colourful infographics that are readily available for our consumption, most people simply don’t see basic hydration as a priority.
The reason I can sit on this particular high-horse is that I, too, fail at this simple task whilst on tour.
I know how much water I should be drinking. As a runner, enthusiastic mountain hiker and tourer, I have a personal interest in water and hydration.
And all of these activities mean I need to drink water. I’m invested in its significance, whether I like it or not.
Yet I still manage to leave myself on the dry side.
Related: 11 Ways To Stay Fit On Tour
The Fundamentals Of Motorcycle Touring & Hydration
As human beings, we are made up primarily of water. It’s our life source.
We lose it constantly (through peeing and sweating), and the sole purpose is so our bodies can dispel all the crap it doesn’t need whilst keeping us from overheating.
There are many physical side effects from prolonged periods of failing to remain hydrated.
But seeing as though we’re bikers, the effect on the brain is probably more important (in the short term) than the physical (long-term) effects.
You Function Better When You’re Hydrated
The simple fact is that your blood flows better when you’re hydrated. And water allows your body to do its job in dispelling the crap we spoke about earlier.
But blood also contains all sorts of goodies that your physiological systems require to function efficiently. So keeping yourself hydrated means rich, oxygenated blood can make its way around your body and feed those systems optimally – including your brain.
Not only this, but water helps mitigate the effects of fatigue and lets us maintain concentration.
General Symptoms Of Dehydration
Aside from the aforementioned loss of concentration and increased levels of fatigue, you can also expect any number of the following:
- Muscle cramps
And the worst part? If you’re experiencing these symptoms, then it’s already too late.
What About Dehydration & Motorcycle Touring?
Well, let’s have a quick look at some of the things you can expect from dehydration when we apply it to riding motorcycles:
- A reduction in the ability to scan for hazards on the road
- Impaired judgement
- A reduction in fine muscle control (read loss of control)
- Impaired balance
- Numbness in the feet or hands
- Severe muscle cramps
- Lapses in the ability to pay attention
- Feeling faint
- Looking but not seeing
Prioritising Motorcycle Touring & Hydration
Maintaining an optimum (or even sufficient) level of motorcycle touring hydration isn’t about glugging litres of water when you feel thirsty.
Maintaining hydration is about small, consistent efforts.
If you’re out on your bike and notice some of the symptoms below, that is your chance to address dehydration before it’s too late.
- Feeling incredibly thirsty
- Not feeling thirsty at all (when you know you probably should)
- Unable to concentrate
- Muscle cramps or aching arms and legs
- Dry mouth, eyes, or even hands/skin
- You don’t feel like you need to pee at rest stops
Maintaining Hydration When Touring
Okay, so now we’ve got all that out of the way, what can we do at a very real level to maintain hydration when motorcycle touring? How do we stay hydrated on a motorcycle?
As mentioned, hydration isn’t just about chugging down litres of water at the end of a ride.
In an ideal world, you should never feel thirsty or bloated. Small, consistent efforts enable you to drip feed your body with water throughout the day.
And because they really are small efforts, they’re not that hard to keep up!
1. Proritise Hydration When Motorcycle Touring
The first thing I do when I get up is down a pint of water. And there’s no excuse not to, really.
Whilst you’ve been sleeping for the past 8 hours, your body has been working away in the background to keep you in tip-top form.
It will be thirsty.
Yet most people head to the kitchen to make a coffee.
Now, seeing as though the kettle is usually next to (or near to) the sink, fill up a glass of water from the tap and drink it whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.
If this is new to you, you’ll probably find it difficult. But keep at it because, after a few days, it will become second nature.
2. Check The Colour Of Your Pee
Checking the colour of your pee is probably one of the only visual signs of your hydration levels. The darker your pee, the more dehydrated you are.
That being said, it is a fallacy that your pee should be clear.
If you go to the toilet and your pee comes out crystal clear like it’s been filtrated over thousands of years through a glacial canyon, then you’re probably drinking a little too much.
In an ideal world, your pee should be the colour of straw. This means you are adequately hydrated, and your body has enough water to go about its functions.
3. Take Breaks To Optimise Motorcycle Touring Hydration
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you probably know that I’m a bit of a lazy tourer! Gone are the days of riding 400 miles a day simply because I ballsed up my itinerary.
These days, I enjoy breaks just as much as I enjoy riding. And breaks are the ideal time to top up on your water intake.
I have a rule when touring: Every time I stop for a coffee, I have a small bottle of water at the same time. That’s the deal!
It’s this consistent topping up of fluids that keeps hydration levels constant when motorcycle touring.
And I don’t sit in the sun. Sitting in the shade staves off unnecessary sweating and water loss.
4. Fill A Water Bottle Before Heading Out
Before leaving the hotel in the morning, I would have had my pint of water upon waking. But just before I also fill up a few small bottles with water from the tap.
We all have a place to store a water bottle (tank bag, top box, pannier, cargo net etc.) So fill it up and pack it away so you can sip on it during the day.
This also comes in handy as ’emergency water’ if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a puncture.
5. Replace Fluids When You Get Back
As with my morning routine of downing a glass of water upon waking, I also down a glass when I get back from my ride out.
I would have been sipping on water throughout the day, so I’m probably not dehydrated.
But if you tour in the summer months, you would have lost a lot of fluids through heat and sweating.
I find it best to replace some of those fluids as soon as I get back.
6. Water At Mealtimes
As mentioned above, every time I stop for coffee, I’ll have some water.
But I also find another way to maintain hydration when motorcycle touring is to drink water at mealtimes.
Of course, have your coffee and orange juice at breakfast. But finish with a glass of water.
Have your diet Coke at lunchtime – but also have a glass of water.
Enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your dinner in the evening. But make sure there’s a jug of water for the table that you can sip on throughout your meal.
7. Splash Out On A Hydration System For Motorcycle Touring
I use hydration systems when hiking up mountains or running in the fells. But I also use a hydration pack for motorcycle riding.
They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but essentially, they all do the same thing.
Sipping With A Hydration Pack
Whilst glugging water is better than nothing, motorcycle touring hydration systems allow you to sip constantly throughout the day.
This gives your body time to decide what it wants to do with the water rather than dumping it in your bladder just for you to pee it out at the next rest stop.
Hydration systems usually come in the form of a backpack. You can get them in various sizes (anywhere up to about 3L is the norm), and they come with a tube that runs from the water bladder in your backpack to your mouth.
Every ten minutes or so, grab the tube, stuff it in your mouth and take a few sips.
You may need an angled tube if you have a full-face helmet. But if you have an open face lid or a flip-front, any tube will do.
If you don’t like the idea of carrying water on your back, you can also buy a motorcycle hydration tank bag.
If possible, fill the bladder with ice before you fill it with water. Not only will this provide some coolness on your back, but it will also keep your water cooler for longer.
Also, don’t be fussy! I know lukewarm water isn’t the tastiest of drinks. But tough! It might not taste as good, but warm water is just as hydrating as cold water.
8. Replenish Electrolytes
When we sweat, it isn’t just water that we are losing. Therefore it isn’t just water that we need to replace.
Most sports drinks do a good job of replenishing electrolytes. You can also buy little sachets that you mix in your water bottle.
Either way, choose one that is sugar-free and with little (or no) caffeine.
9. Drinking Alcohol In Moderation
I would never dream of telling someone not to drink alcohol when touring! For many people, having a beer in the evening or a glass of wine with their dinner is all part of the joy that is touring.
And in many countries, it would be customary to do so! Can you imagine stopping in the vineyards of Portugal and not having a glass of wine? They’d chase you into Spain!
That being said, don’t go overboard. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and can severely affect you the next day. At the very least, it’ll make you feel lousy and lethargic.
Whilst the bar may seem like a good idea once the bikes are parked up for the evening, those extra beers can really shit on your parade tomorrow.
Don’t risk it. Err on the side of caution when managing alcohol, hydration & motorcycle touring.
Want more route planning inspiration? Have a glance at our dedicated Route Planning category
10. Choose The Right Riding Gear
When we talk about motorcycle touring & hydration, it’s easy to focus only on the effects of putting water into our system.
But much of hydration revolves around how we lose water – not just how we replace it.
Choosing ventilated gear will do a great job of keeping you cool on your ride. If you’re cool, you won’t sweat as much. And if you aren’t sweating as much, that’s more water than your body can retain and distribute to the organs that need it.
At all costs, avoid leathers. Leathers will, to some degree, create their own little microclimate that will rob your body of the water it needs.
Motorcycle Touring & Hydration: To Conclude
As a rider, you know yourself that things can go really wrong, really quickly when riding a motorcycle.
We rely almost solely on our ability to read the road, see hazards, react quickly and our level of alertness.
Dehydration has the power to remove all of those abilities that work to keep us alive every time we get on a motorcycle.
Remembering that hydration calls for small, consistent efforts will stand you in good stead.
Make hydration a priority!
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Top image: Mateo Giraud