Why am I so tired after riding my motorcycle?
Motorcycle Safety and Preventing Rider Fatigue
We often discuss the dangers of driver fatigue/ tiredness and drowsiness when driving. These messages are usually targeted at the motorist and truck driver – but what about our motorcyclist/ biker and tiredness?
Our motorcycle safety expert Hein Jonker has provided us with some insights as to rider fatigue:
Fatigue is identified as one of the “fatal five” causes of accidents responsible for as much as 20% of all crashes. Yet there is very little police effort in clamping down on fatigued motorists. Instead, we have to monitor our own level of fatigue.
I admit to having ridden tired, yet I don’t think I could fall asleep on a motorcycle.
There is just too much happening that keeps you awake. There’s changing gears, balancing the bike, counter-steering, hand and foot brakes. There’s also the wind slapping you in the face, the noise keeping you awake and the fuel range that requires you to pull over every few hundred kilometres.
Fatigue is a much bigger problem among car and truck drivers who have longer-range fuel tanks and can do longer stints behind the wheel. They also have much more comfortable and sleep-inducing cages with big lounge chairs to sit in, quiet confines, nice audio systems and driver aids such as automatic transmissions and cruise control.
So, since we have to monitor our own fatigue, here are a few tips to help you stay awake while on a long ride.
Pick a more interesting route than the highway. Take back roads and winding routes that require more mental input, more steering, more gear changes and more brake applications. They also contradict the use of cruise control, if you happen to have it on your bike.
Don’t just plan your route; plan your stops as well. Don’t make unrealistic distance goals. Also, be aware that some riders within your group may not have the same stamina as the others, so allocate stops to cater for the most vulnerable rider.
Before the ride, make sure you get adequate sleep the night before. If it’s a ride over several days, suggest to your fellow riders that they turn in at a reasonable hour rather than staying up drinking into the early hours of the morning. It will not only affect their safety, but also yours. And set a realistic departure time in the morning. Not too early.
Remember, you don’t sweat Coke or Coffee, so drink plenty of water. For every cup or glass of your favourite beverage, drink the same amount of water. It will prevent you becoming dehydrated from exposure to the wind. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, confusion and slower body motor skills. But avoid sugar drinks, caffeine and alcohol, which may “give you wings” to begin with, but will ultimately lead to sleepiness. Drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, will disturb the quality of your sleep, leaving you tired the next day.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid carbohydrate-heavy foods. Big meals and foods high in carbohydrate, fat and sugar slow your body down while it concentrates on digesting the food.
Take short stops at least every two hours. The fluids you have been taking in will mean you have to take regular toilet breaks, anyway. Take slightly longer stops between 3-5pm as this is when riders will be feeling more tired and will need longer to revitalise. In fact, try to arrive at your destination around this time.
When you stop, try to get some light exercise, even just walking up and down the street. You’ve been sitting for some time, so there is no point in sitting in a restaurant.
Some people say listening to music on a motorcycle sends them to sleep, but they must be listening to Bach or something. Try something loud and upbeat. Wind noise can also fatigue a rider, so wear earplugs and a full-face helmet. A windscreen will also reduce fatiguing wind noise. Consider getting a communication system so you can talk with other riders and pillions to keep you mentally alert.
Ride in a small group. Riding solo is a recipe for losing concentration, but riding in a big group can also make you switch off. Ride in small groups and take turns leading the pack.
Don’t sit behind vehicles. If it’s safe, pass them. The act of passing stimulates your senses. Staying behind them tends to make you focus on the back of the vehicle which is hypnotic and can send you to sleep. But don’t think high speeds will keep you awake. It is better to mix up your speeds a little to keep you alert.
Guys and girls, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone when out riding, take your time and make sure you complete your journey. Take in some scenery on the way, stop to talk to locals and make each trip a memorable one.
Why Motorcycling is a Good Form of Exercise
Riding a motorbike for just 30–minutes has the same health benefits as going for a jog or completing a round of golf. As a low impact, calorie-burning exercise, motorcycling can even help to promote weight loss.
From the moment you lift your motorcycle off the side stand, you’re doing a low–impact exercise session. Your bike may support your weight but paddle around while maneuvering in or out of a space and it’s leg day at the two–wheeled gym.
Move forward and you’re working the bicep femoris (rear leg bicep), gastrocnemius (calf muscles) and gluteus maximus (bum muscles).
Push yourself backward, and your entire quadriceps (four large muscles in your thigh) come into play. These leg exercises continue every time you come to a halt at a junction or traffic light and when you lean into a bend and put pressure on the opposite footpeg.
The moment your feet rest on the pegs, the workout continues up to the torso. Whether you’ve got a one pack or a full set, your abdominal muscles are responsible for keeping you upright along with the erector spinae in the lower back.
Reach for the bars, and it’s the turn of the latissimus dorsi (V–shaped side muscles), deltoids (shoulders) and triceps (rear arm) to step up. Add to this, brake, clutch and throttle operation, and all 20 of your forearm muscles are pumping away.
Winner by a Neck
Wearing a full–face helmet for long periods, battling headwinds and twisting your head side to side, will build your anterior and posterior neck muscles.
By now, you should be getting a complete picture of the major muscle groups a rider uses every time he or she slings a leg over the saddle.
It’s a fact, riding motorcycle tones the muscles and improves core strength. The overall positive health impact of biking doesn’t end there, however, as we still haven’t covered that huge muscle between the ears.
Mind Over Matter
Regardless of your circumstances, there will be times in life when stress takes a hold, like hot tarmac to a new tyre. Stress is the leading cause of depression and according to the NHS, around 11 million adults in the UK take anti–depressants.
While your GP is unlikely to suggest riding a motorcycle as an alternative to prescription drugs any time soon, riding is clinically proven to reduce stress. As bikers, we’ve known about the stress–busting benefits of biking for years, but how exactly does this work?
Firstly, pick up a helmet, put on gloves, turn the ignition key, and your body will kick–start your cognitive faculties. The psychological changes in the right side of the frontal lobe allow for complex thought, planning, voluntary movement and speech.
All of which are essential for spotting a potential hazard and taking action to avoid an accident.
This process will allow the rider to compartmentalise everyday problems and enjoy the subsequent ride. Extensive research by Japanese neuroscientist, Ryuta Kawashima, at the University of Tokyo and Yamaha, concludes that riding a motorcycle could prevent the onset of dementia.
Also, under normal circumstances, the human body reacts to stress by pumping adrenaline into its system. Known as the fight or flight hormone, alongside it’s physical effects it may help to combat stress.
In a study funded by Harley–Davidson at the Department of Neuroscience, University of California, a 30–minute motorcycle ride increased adrenaline levels by almost 30 percent and the heart rate by 11 percent. These percentage increases result in endorphins entering the bloodstream. It is these that trigger a feeling of positivity similar to that experienced when exercising.
It’s an open and shut case. Motorcycling is not only good but an excellent form of exercise for the mind, body, and soul.
How To Enjoy Motorcycle Riding Without Activating Back Pain
The wind in your face. The thrill of the open road. The sound of your pipes. Back pain flare-ups.
Admittedly that last item isn’t exactly a selling point of motorcycle riding. Yet, many people who ride also experience a past back injury coming back to haunt them as they increase their time on the road. Those long, epic trips can turn into long, painful battles with a stubborn past injury if you’re not careful.
However, back pain shouldn’t keep you from your passion for motorcycle riding. Learn about what may put you more at risk for back pain with increased riding, and how to take preventative measures to keep your time on the bike fun and enjoyable.
Aches And Pains Exasperated By Motorcycle Riding
It’s not uncommon to pick up a few aches and pains over the years. Many times, these seemingly small aches don’t garner too much of our attention and may be viewed as more of an occasional nuisance. However, more frequent motorcycle riding has a way of flaring up pre-existing back injuries or uncovering new pains- and the last thing you want is to aggravate your back!
The following conditions may make you more prone to back pain as a result of your motorcycle riding habit. This is not to say don’t ride, but rather take precautions.
Typically, pinched nerves are felt in the neck and mid-to lower-back areas, and occur when a nerve is compressed (or “pinched”) excessively by the tissue surrounding it, including muscles, tendons, bones and cartilage. Nerves can get pinched from an injury to a surrounding area, and can also occur when there is just too much inflammation in an area of the body.
These compressed areas can be aggravated (read: become more compressed) by long periods of repetitive stress- like a long motorcycle ride on a Saturday afternoon.
Your spine does a lot of work for you, such as providing balance, strength, and mobility. And, between each vertebra of this impressive structure lie little shock-absorbers, called discs. When these discs get compressed or even herniated, they tend to press on nerves within the spine and can cause pain and uncomfortable sensations to radiate in your back, and even down your legs.
Similar to a pinched nerve, an injured disc can get aggravated by even further compression, AKA sitting for long periods of time on a bike seat. In other words, if you have a history of disc injuries, longer rides could reactivate your injury and cause pain, unless the necessary precautions are taken.
Tips to Enjoy Pain-Free Motorcycle Riding
You don’t need to choose between your time on the open road and pain-free life. And, if you fall in the population of people who have experienced some kind of back pain or injury in the past, you’re far from alone- a reported 8 out of 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives.
Luckily, there are a couple of quick, preventative measures that you can take to mitigate these aches and pains that so often flare up from riding. Of course, if you are concerned about riding with a pre-existing back condition, it’s best to consult with a medical professional first. A professional will be able to help you assess what your body can handle without overdoing it.
The following suggestions are great foundational pieces to incorporate into your routine to help yourself enjoy riding as intended- in total pain-free, open-road bliss.
Check And Support Your Posture
When it comes to motorcycle riding, the best posture is a relatively simple one- sitting up straight on your bike with your core engaged. But, we know simple isn’t always easy. The culmination of fatigue from more focused concentration, being exposed to outside weather conditions, and just feeling the road, in general, are all going to factor into your weariness (and posture) over the course of a long ride.
This is why working in an occasional posture check can be so beneficial. It’s quick, can be done at a stoplight or even while actively riding, and can help keep your riding health and safety prioritized.
Periodically take time to do a quick body scan, checking to make sure that your shoulders are back and down, your back is flat, and your core is lightly engaged. It’s not uncommon to find these scans reveal small posture corrections that you weren’t even aware of. As you work these scans into your riding routine, holding this posture will become more and more natural.
Additionally, if you’re new to riding, try increasing the duration and frequency of your trips gradually, to allow your body time to build endurance for sitting. Even though the act of sitting generally doesn’t seem like a “workout,” when you need to hold a specific posture for long periods of time, there is certainly a physical endurance component involved.
Lastly, if you find yourself slouching more, standing up at stoplights, or just feeling weary in general, pull over and take a break. These periodic checks can help you sharpen your mental and physical acuity during a ride, and also help you identify when it may be time to call it quits due to cumulative fatigue.
Stretch It Out
Speaking of the occasional rest stop, use these opportunities as a way to move and stretch your body in different directions besides your riding position. When you’re on a long ride, your posture is locked into one, forward-facing stance. Even while holding proper posture, if you ride long or often enough, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get a bit sore.
Incorporating frequent stretching into your routine can help prevent some of this soreness- and it begins before you even get on the bike. Some back, neck, and hip movements can help prepare your system for longer bouts of supported sitting in one stance. Your stretches needn’t be complex or lengthy. Rather, keep your stretches relatively basic, focused on movement in varying planes of motion.
Pre-ride stretching suggestions:
- For your neck: gently move your head in side to side, forward and back, and slow, circular motions.
- For your mid-back, hips, and hamstrings: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, gently engage your core muscles, and forward bend, while keeping your back straight.
- For your back: do a couple of standing spinal twists. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, place your right hand behind your back, and your left hand on your right hip. Then, gaze over your right shoulder until you feel a light stretch down your back. Hold for a few seconds, and repeat on the opposite side.
While you’re on the road, take advantage of every stop to incorporate some of these movements in as well, using fatigue as your guide. If you notice yourself getting tired, pulling off for a rest stop and spending just five minutes doing some of these basic stretches can help refresh your body.
And finally, once you’re done riding for the day, return to some of those basic pre-riding stretches once again. These take mere minutes and will help you ease into recovery from the road. Trust us- your body will thank you for it later.
Chiropractic Treatment For Riding Fatigue
Should you find yourself needing additional help recovering from the aches and pains of motorcycle riding, chiropractic treatment is a great, conservative treatment option to consider.
Chiropractic care can provide the relief that your body needs after an extended period of riding. Soreness in one area of the body affects so much more than just that one area- and chiropractic care not only addresses the pain points you may be experiencing from riding but also helps give the rest of your body the attention that it also needs to decrease inflammation, relieves pressure, reduces nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body to relax.
Typically, a chiropractic practitioner uses gentle adjustments of the spine, neck, and extremities to help to realign your body, relieve muscle soreness, and decrease pressure, providing real relief and allowing your system to restore proper function. These adjustments directly address any misalignments in your spine, which can help to both prevent back injuries and promote recovery.
Chiropractic sessions can be preventative, restorative, or a part of your healing journey. If your body is struggling with the wear and tear from the miles you spend on your motorcycle, give your chiropractor a call. Your practitioner will be able to support your specific needs by taking a personalized approach to each session and will meet you at your unique starting point.
Ride more comfortably; schedule your chiropractic session today.
Schedule an appointment online or call (949) 751-4000 .
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.