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Riding in Different Elevations. Things to Know

  1. Stay Hydrated
  2. Wear Sun Screen
  3. Stop Frequently While Ascending
  4. Be Prepared for Radical Changes in Temperature
  5. Know Your Limitations

The best motorcycle destinations for most riders are places where there is smooth pavement, curvy roads, dramatic views and very little traffic. Most often these ideal riding places are in or close to the mountains, and that can mean dramatic changes in elevation. Frequently a full day’s riding includes a variety of low and high places, and it only takes a small amount of pre-planning to ensure you are comfortable in the saddle all day long.

THE HIGHER YOU RIDE, THE LOWER THE TEMPERATURE

The rough rule of thumb is that the temperature changes 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation change (6.5 degrees Celcius per 1000 meters). That means that riding in the Rocky Mountains of the Alps, for instance, you can be very comfortable when you start the day, and by the middle of your day’s ride you might have your heated hang grips operating on high as well as wearing every layer you can fit underneath your riding gear.

Planning for elevation changes in your day’s ride is particularly important if you are planning on camping. Temperature swings tend to be more dramatic the higher you go, and if you are spending the night at above approximately 8,000 feet (2400 meters) or above, then nights can be particularly cold. Freezing nighttime temperatures are common at elevation, especially in the spring and in the fall.

Riding a motorcycle in different elevations

Cold overnight temperatures can affect not only your comfort but also your bike’s reliability. It’s not unheard of for motorcycles to be reluctant to start in near-freezing temperatures, and many a motorcycle traveler has had to push his or her bike into the sunshine and wait for the machine to warm up before it will start.

Riders will want to plan their clothing and gear layers accordingly, perhaps even bringing a warm hat to wear when off the bike. If your motorcycle does not have heated hand grips, it would be worthwhile traveling with two pairs of gloves--a lightweight yet durable summer riding pair and a winter weight riding glove. And don’t forget the base layer, which is great for wicking moisture away at lower elevations where you are warm and for keeping you warm and cozy when it’s cool. Base layers also keep your motorcycle gear from rubbing directly on your skin, allowing for greater comfort while riding.

ALTITUDE EFFECTS

Each person is affected differently by drastic elevation changes, and one person’s experiences can also vary tremendously from trip to trip and even from day to day. Alcohol consumption the night before riding at elevation contributes not only to more rapid dehydration but also to increased sensitivity.

Common signs of altitude sickness include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, lethargy, and generally feeling unwell. These symptoms aren’t fun to experience begin with, and while piloting a motorcycle they have the potential for drastic consequences. While altitude sickness cannot always be completely eliminated, there are several things that are proven to help make you more comfortable actually prevent some of the symptoms.

Riding a motorcycle in different elevations

Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin can be used to treat mild headache symptoms, and anti-travel-sickness medication can be used to treat any nausea or vomiting if you are experiencing those symptoms. Before your trip you can also ask your doctor to prescribe a medication for altitude sickness, although the best remedy is always giving yourself enough time to acclimatize properly.

If you start to experience symptoms, the best thing to do is to not go higher for 24-48 hours. Give your body time to adjust to the changes. If your symptoms don’t get better or they get worse, descending immediately is your only option. Once down, wait until your symptoms completely disappear before attempting to go higher again.

MECHANICAL CONSIDERATIONS

If you are riding a carbureted bike, most likely your motorcycle’s performance is going to suffer from increased altitude as well. The motorcycle might act as though it is starved for fuel, yet in fact higher you ascend the less oxygen there is, so your bike is actually starved for air, which will affect its air-fuel ration for combustion. Not pushing the motorcycle too hard up the long ascents will ensure that you do not damage the engine.

Many of the world’s greatest twisty roads are at altitude, so of course we motorcyclists will be climbing high to ride them. You can ride at higher elevations during the day, but be sure to sleep lower at night until you are completely comfortable higher up. Staying hydrated will help immensely. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after riding at elevation, and eliminate alcohol the day before and during your stay at uncomfortable heights. Get plenty of rest, and then go out and enjoy another great day of riding.