In Part One of this series, we discussed the dangers of overheating, how our bodies naturally mitigate excessively high temperatures, and some methods motorcyclists have traditionally used in pursuit of the increased comfort and safety that come with staying cool. Here, and in Parts Three and Four, you’ll find gear to improve upon those methods; you’ll feel better from head to toe and preserve your performance on hot-weather rides.
Aerostich Silk Scarves
Let’s start at the top. Your brain will probably be the first thing to suffer impairment from overheating. This is really unfortunate, since it’s also the organ you rely upon to evaluate your status and make decisions accordingly. As with alcohol, when you lose mental acuity your self-assessment and judgement are apt to be impaired as part of the package. Hence, people can be slow to recognize heat exhaustion and do something useful about it—like stop riding—for starters!
There are head coverings made of special materials to enhance evaporative cooling (after first being soaked in water), assuming the use of a ventilated helmet. These can feel good initially, but once they’ve dried out, they form a barrier between your head and the helmet’s ventilating channels (which deliver limited circulation on even the best lids), reducing or even blocking what precious little airflow would otherwise reach you. You may be better off just wetting your hair and/or helmet liner, though be careful to avoid getting water on your comms if you have them.
If you’d rather not do that, there’s no need to go to such trouble, since cooling your neck is easier and accomplishes the same thing. Blood passing through on its way to your brain will carry this thermal reduction with it and lower the temperature from inside. This effect is so quick and easy to achieve, all it takes is a large bite of ice cream to overdo it and give yourself a “brain-freeze” headache!
Aerostich offers two 100% natural silk scarves to achieve the cooling without the pain. Silk is a time-honored material with numerous advantages. For example, its fibers are extremely strong, it provides a lot of temperature insulation for its light weight, and it has a wonderfully soft, smooth, slippery—er, silky texture that feels great against your skin, perhaps better than even the most exquisitely tailored and lined motorcycle jacket collars. Silk also happens to hold quite a bit of water and releases moisture gradually, making it an excellent choice when the goal is slow and steady evaporative cooling. Because the densely woven fabrics used by Aerostich have a somewhat water-repellant quality prior to saturation, they’ll resist absorbing water in a light/brief rain and create a useful gaiter at the neckline. When the mercury falls, these same scarves will block drafts entering your jacket collar and keep your neck (and the blood passing through it to your head) nice and warm.
The standard model scarf measures 14”x72” and costs $33, while the “competition” version, which is about twice as thick, measures 10”x60” with a price of $47. Both are available in simple white or black. To don either scarf, fold it in half at the midpoint of its length, drape it around your neck, and pass the loose ends through the loop created by your fold. Pull it snug and tuck the ends down into your jacket. When wet, those ends can be a plus or a minus. If you appreciate the extra evaporative cooling within your jacket and don’t mind having a big wet spot on your shirt, then it’s all good. However, if you plan on taking your gear off before all that moisture has been whisked away, you may not want to look like you spilled a drink on yourself. When traveling, these scarves pack down small and are a cinch to clean in a sink with a little hand soap. They’re best soaked in a bowl or under a spigot, since water initially runs off them when poured from a bottle, but if you bunch the material loosely and create some pockets where water can collect, it will soak in and you can certainly make a bottle work. Once the silk has taken on water, this ceases to be an issue, allowing rewetting without removing the scarf from your neck. Of course, this runs the risk of soaking your shirt, but you might consider that a bonus rather than a drawback.
During hot-weather use, both scarves work well as neck coolers and last 45-75 minutes in high humidity (less time in dry conditions) behind a small fairing that doesn’t block the wind at neck level. The competition model holds more moisture and stays wet longer, and it feels more luxuriously plush when dry. Both feel quite damp and substantial against the skin throughout the process of evaporation, which may or may not be a welcome sensation, depending on rider preference.
Because blood travels through the neck in both directions, a cool neck doesn’t only protect against getting a hot head; it also means the blood flowing down into the rest of your body will be cooler, too. In truly extreme heat, this may not deliver enough of an effect, but in many cases it will be surprisingly adequate for temps in the mid- to upper-90s without additional specialized gear.
Klim Tek Sok
Whereas silk scarves occupy the classic, old-school end of the neck wrap spectrum, Klim’s Tek Sok applies modern textile technology to the same ends. Designed as an alternative to wraps employing special chemicals or polymer crystals to slow and extend the evaporative cooling process, this multi-use tubular garment is made of CoolCore fabric to achieve these goals. Since CoolCore relies upon its intrinsic weave architecture and fiber structure, it won’t lose its effectiveness over time or as a result of numerous uses and cleanings, as can happen with the add-on components of other neckwear. It’s also extremely thin and virtually weightless (dry), unlike wraps containing absorbent crystals, which can feel like beanbags.
Given the Tek Sok’s four-way stretch, flat and flexible seams, and generous cut, it can be worn as not only a neck wrap, but also a headband, a head wrap or a gaiter covering neck, chin, mouth and nose. When its 20” length is bunched in neck wrap form, the pre-soaked fabric delivers controlled evaporative cooling for 30+ minutes and feels light, smooth and soft against the skin. The effect doesn’t last as long as that provided by the silk scarves described above, but it has a pleasantly breezy quality and there are no loose ends to create a wet spot on your chest. When the Tek Sok has rendered all the moisture from its pre-soaking, it’s highly breathable and continues to wick moisture away from the skin and transport it evenly through the fabric, while preventing any chafing from your jacket collar.
Easily washed and miniscule to pack, the Tek Sok is a convenient travel companion and comes in five unique colors. At $21.99, it’s an excellent value and a good choice if you want something extra versatile, quick and effortless to R&R, and equally appropriate for wearing off the bike as on it. Although it’s best for light-duty cooling, the only requirement for extending its performance is a willingness to pause regularly to “recharge” it with a squirt from your water bottle.