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Six Secrets to Controlling Fatigue

By David L. Hough

When you’re heading out for a longer-than-normal ride, it’s important to control fatigue. Putting down 500 or 800 miles in a day requires more than just hanging on to the grips and hoping for the best, if you are to avoid jacking up the danger. Fatigue leads to a number of problems that can morph a near miss into a crash, including distraction and delayed reaction time. If you want to survive a long ride, it’s important to recognize the danger of fatigue, and take steps to minimize it.

1. Solve any ergonomics problems before you head out. If you know that your saddle gets uncomfortable after just an hour or two, consider getting it reshaped by a custom saddle maker to eliminate the pressure points that squeeze off blood flow. If your hands, arms, or back get sore from riding, evaluate how you sit on the machine and reach for the controls. You need to be as comfortable as possible, with slightly bent elbows. Perhaps new handlebars with different angles, elevation, or pullback will provide a more comfortable reach. Maybe your footpegs need to be relocated, or the foot levers adjusted.

2. Get rested before heading out and plan frequent rest breaks early in the day. Get a good night’s sleep before a long ride. Take a break every hour even if you aren’t feeling weary. Taking more frequent breaks early in the day helps avoid fatigue later. Get off the machine, stretch your muscles, and take care of prevention details such as eating, hydration, cleaning your eye protection, and re-applying sunscreen. If you find yourself starting to nod off while riding, take a break for a 20-minute “power nap.”

3. Wear earplugs . Noise contributes to fatigue. You can tolerate a very loud noise for a few minutes, but long hours in the saddle exposes you to cumulative fatigue even if the noise doesn’t seem loud. The primary culprit in motorcycling is wind noise, which is a loud, low frequency rumble that the brain attempts to ignore. A helmet doesn’t do much to reduce low frequency noise. Cheap “throwaway” foam earplugs can reduce wind and traffic noise to acceptable levels, which will help stave off fatigue. Custom molded plugs may be required for ear canals which aren’t straight.


4. Stay hydrated. The human body requires a liquid electrolyte to function, just like a battery. If you allow yourself to become dehydrated, your brain and muscles will degrade, and the added work speeds up the onset of fatigue. You lose water through breathing and sweating as well as urination. Plain or unsweetened flavored water will keep you hydrated. It’s best to avoid caffeine, chemicals, or sugar, and extremely important to avoid drinks containing alcohol. You can add powdered electrolytes to plain water to help restore what you’ve lost through sweat. If your leg muscles are starting to cramp, or you don’t need to pee once an hour, you’re becoming dehydrated.

In hot weather, wear an evaporative cooling vest under your riding jacket, and wet it down at every break, to help prevent becoming overheated. In cold weather, keep your neck insulated, and wear an electric vest to keep your core from losing heat.

5. Protect your skin. If you allow your skin to become burned by sun, wind, or chafing, you’ll be distracted by the discomfort, and less aware of the developing situation. Preferably, wear riding gear that covers and protects your skin. Treat any exposed skin with SPF 50 sunscreen, and reapply at least every four hours. Remember to coat your nose, lips, and the back of your neck. Find a sunscreen that resists moisture, to prevent sweat from washing it down into your eyes. To keep your eyes moist, and to wash out grit, use artificial tears as needed.

Coat your sensitive body areas, especially your crotch, with powder to reduce chafing. Breathable fabric base layers (underclothes) are available to help wick away sweat. If you are prone to “monkey butt,” consider sitting on a pelt of unsheared sheepskin, or an Airhawk saddle pad.

6. Plan your schedule to avoid heavy traffic. Heavy traffic demands high intensity focus on what’s happening around you, which leads more quickly to fatigue. Choose routes that are sparsely traveled by commercial truckers. If you have no alternative other than to make a transit on a busy highway or through a confusing area, take more frequent rest breaks. Or, take a long break for an early meal to allow traffic to dissipate. When possible, plan your schedule to avoid riding through or around big cities during the rush hours. On a multi-day trip, preplan your overnight stops to avoid being tempted (or forced) to keep riding when you are fatigued.

The Good Rider- by David HoughDavid L. Hough ("huff”) is a veteran motorcyclist and journalist, with more than a million miles of riding experience over 48 years. Dave was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2009 in recognition of his efforts toward improving motorcyclist skills and knowledge. He is the author of several highly respected skills books, including Proficient Motorcycling and The Good Rider, available from

The author and Sound RIDER! are willing to grant permission to reprint this column at no charge for educational purposes by clubs and non-profit organizations including the military. Contact for more details, full size photos and a full transcript of this article.

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