A Scientist, a Pillion, a Racer and a Long Distance Rider: On Staying Alert

Image: Sam Marcora

Image: Sam Marcora

According to the Motorcycle Council of NSW, Inc in Australia, the symptoms of fatigue for drivers of enclosed vehicles may differ from a fatigued motorcyclist. It’s important to recognize these signs. 

**Driver Fatigue Symptoms include:
• loss of concentration
• drowsiness, yawning
• slow reactions
• sore or tired eyes
• boredom
• feeling irritable and restless
• making fewer and larger steering corrections
• missing road signs
• having difficulty in staying in the lane
• having microsleeps.

**The symptoms of rider fatigue include:
• joint and muscle stiffness
• pain or weakness in hands and feet
• loss of concentration
• slow or impaired judgment and reactions.

**Excerpts taken from http://roadsafety.mccofnsw.org.au/a/50.html

And the scary thing is that although a rider may feel fully awake, they may actually be fatigued without realizing it, and make a judgement error, resulting in crashing on a curve or an accident while overtaking another vehicle.

Because riding a motorcycle is different than riding a car, in that it is more demanding both mentally and physically, it’s likely you’ll be tired from the physical challenges rather than boredom. 

So how to beat this? Who better to ask than four people who ride motorcycles and have experience in dealing with fatigue: a scientist, a pillion, a racer and a long distance rider.

Guests on this episode: 

Image: Sam Marcora

Image: Sam Marcora

Sam Marcora
A Director of Research at Kent University and a motorcyclist, in 2013 Sam Marcora studied fatigue in motorbike riders on a 3 month ride from London to Beijing and through Central Asia and Tibet.

Image: Christophe Barriere Varju

Image: Christophe Barriere Varju

Christophe Barriere Varju
An endurance rider and a Motocross Champion, Christophe Barrier Varju has ridden in the Dakar Rally several times, the toughest and most dangerous motorsport race in the world. He’s the subject in an award winning film, Dream Racer, about running the Dakar. 

Image: Brian Rix & Shirley Hardy Rix

Image: Brian Rix & Shirley Hardy Rix

Shirley Hardy-Rix
A pillion rider, Shirley, along with her husband Brian Rix, is the author of three books. She has travelled the world two up on a BMW with Brian and they have just completed their third trip and are now planning their fourth.

Image: Nick Sanders

Image: Nick Sanders

Nick Sanders
An adventure motorcyclist and author, Nick Sanders is best known for his extreme motorcycle trips. Nick has ridden around the world 7 times, has motorcycled the length of the Americas 8 times and holds a record for a “double transit from Alaska to Ushuaia and back in 46 days.


Interviewer: Jim Martin | Photos: Sam Marcora | Nick Sanders | Christophe Barriere-Varju | Shirley Hardy-Rix

This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released January 25, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.


Jim (narrate): Well, a few weeks back we did an episode on a fellow named Bob Lilly, and Bob had fallen in love with long distance riding (in particular, The Iron Butt Rally). And, one of the things that we discussed with Bob, was fatigue, and dealing with fatigue as a long distance rider. Because, that's really the main problem with long distance riding, is fatigue. Other than, maybe stopping to fuel your bike. 

After doing that episode, I sort of got to thinking about that whole long distance riding and fatigue. And, it made me think about a friend of mine from many years ago. I got my license for motorcycle riding when I was quite young. And a few years later, my good buddy Greg also got his license, and he began to ride a sport bike. 

About the same time, he moved away. And so, he was a couple hours away. And what he would do is, he would use the sport bike as an interesting and fuel efficient way to zip back and forth between his new home and his old home, to visit his old friends. About a 2 hour ride from one place to the other. 

And basically, the road that was most sensible to take, was the highway (because every other road would just take so long). This highway was a multi-lane highway. Not real developed, but where it went through the developed areas (there was a couple developed areas), it went into, you know, 4 lanes in either direction. But most of it was 2 lanes in either direction with a meridian down the centre. And it’s basically a boring ride. It was a relatively long, straight highway, with few opportunities to stop. None, really, because there were no roadside pullouts, there were no gas stations or coffee shops. If you wanted to stop, you’d just pull over on the side of the road. If you wanted to go to a coffee shop, or needed fuel, you had to actually get off the highway and go find, you know, a gas station or a coffee shop down another road. 

So, one night, he’s on his way home. He’s riding his motorcycle; he fell asleep, and he crashed. He was turning on to the off ramp, and he just rode straight off the road. Now, lucky for Greg- he was okay. I mean, in the big scheme of things. He had a hurt pride, and a badly damaged bike, and bruised and scratched up…but otherwise, he’s really unscathed. And I can still remember him telling me the story, and I ask him, you know, how did it happen. And he said; I fell asleep. I just couldn’t understand. I said to him; I don’t understand how you could fall asleep riding a motorcycle. And I’ll tell ya; the significant of what he said next didn’t really hit me until many years down the road.


Jim (Narrate Cont'd): So my friend Greg had fallen asleep, he crashed his bike, and he was now trying to explain to me how it happened. After telling me he fell asleep, I told him I couldn’t understand how he could do that, and ride a bike. And the significance of what he said next didn’t hit me ’til many years later. He said to me: He didn’t even know he was tired. He said, one minute I was on my bike, and the next I was rolling across a field. He didn’t know he was fatigued until it was too late. And I remember thinking, how is that possible? 

Well, there’s a fair bit of data on motorcycle crashes and fatigue done in Australia. And, one article from the Motorcycle Council of New South Wales deals with fatigue, and the differences between rider fatigue and driver fatigue (that’s one of the things they talk about). And it says that a fatigued driver may drift across the road in a micro sleep, whereas a fatigued rider may be quite alert, but crash on a curve while overtaking, due to an error of judgement. 

They go on to say that it could be that some motorcycle crashes, that are assumed to be due to excessive speed, may in fact be the result of poor judgement and loss of attention due to fatigue. 

Well, that was my friend Greg. He wasn’t aware of the signs of fatigue until it was too late; until he actually fell asleep while he was riding. Another point the article makes is that, often rider fatigue is from physical exhaustion, more likely than boredom (which you would experience in a car). Because, it’s far more physically and mentally demanding riding the motorcycle than it is driving the car. But in the car, you’re more likely to fall asleep from boredom. 

This article form the Motorcycle Council of New South Wales has a list of fatigue symptoms for drivers and riders. And, you’d be surprised at the differences between the two. Oh, and by the way, these lists that I’m reading to you right now- they’re gonna be in our show notes. So you can just go to the website, and look at our show notes, and read through these. And I really advise that you do that. Also, the link to this article is in there. 

It says: A driver may experience drowsiness, yawning, slow reactions, slow or tired eyes, boredom, feeling irritated and restless, making fewer and larger steering corrections, missing roads signs, having difficulty in staying in a lane, and having micro sleeps. Yet, for us motorcyclists, we’re more likely to have symptoms like: joint and muscle stiffness, pain or weakness in the hands and feet, loss of concentration, slow or impaired judgements and reactions. 

That’s really interesting. A while back we spoke with 4 people about how they dealt with fatigue while riding long distances. And today we have that for you again. We’ve got a scientist, a Dakar racer, a multi world record holding long distance rider, and a very well travelled pillion: all together to give you top tips on staying alert and sharp while you ride.

INTERVIEW (Sam Marcora)

Jim (narrate): Well, now we’re gonna start into our list of tips and trick to make your riding a better experience. To make you a better rider, really. And we’re gonna start off with Sam Marcora . Now, Sam is a motorcyclist, but he’s also the director of research at Kent University in the UK. And in 2013, Sam studied fatigue in motorcycle riders, during a 3 month ride from London to Beijing. And he also studied the effects of caffeine on fatigue and on us as motorcycle riders. Now Sam has some great information here. And he’s also got some new information that I’m sure you have not heard anywhere else. A way that you can use caffeine to your benefit that you would not have thought of before.

Jim: Sam, great to have you on the show.

Sam: Thank you, thanks for having me.

Jim: Well, most of us have experienced some form of fatigue when riding our bikes, and we can relate to that feeling. But I wanted to ask you, in particular, what is fatigue, really? Like, what’s happening to our body?

Sam: Well, it depends what you mean by fatigue. There are two main kinds of fatigue that can effect, well anybody, but also motorbike riders. I guess the most important thing for motorbike riders is what we call mental (or cognitive) fatigue. 

So, basically, it’s the effect of prolonged mental activity. And, of course, riding a motorbike- especially off road or in challenging environments, like we often find [ourselves] in, adventure motorcycling, busy traffic with crazy people coming out from everywhere without looking- you have to pay attention to things, and accept control of your bike for prolonged periods of time. 

And that fatigues your brain. And we call that mental (or cognitive) fatigue. And basically, the main negative effect, [there are] two main ones. One is direct effect on how quickly you can recognize stimuli in the environment. For example, like a danger. As I said- you know, a crazy guy coming off the junction without looking- and how quickly you react to that danger. All that stimuli in the environment. So, that could be really the difference between life and death or a crash. So, it’s pretty important. In the context of more social, like when you are dealing with, [for example] if you go out as a group or your wife is on the back or even when you have to deal with the locals or with the border guards, that kind of drive you crazy. 

Another effect of mental fatigue is your ability to control your emotions. When you become (you know, everybody knows this)…when we are tired, we are less able to control our emotions, but also our behaviour. So we may behave in a not appropriate way simply because we are fatigued. So, I think that…the first one is called cold cognition, and the second one in size is called hot cognition (which has more to do with emotions). But obviously both aspects of mental fatigue, you know, can effect your trip. So, I think that it’s very important. 

The other kind of fatigue that can effect adventure motorbike riders (especially the ones that do a lot of off road riding) is, what we call, muscle fatigue. Which is basically the weakening of the muscle induced by prolonged use of those muscles. So, if you stand on your bike for prolonged periods of time you have to balance your bike, and ride your bike using your legs, and also keep your back in the correct position. And obstacles- all these kinds of things. You may actually develop fatigue in those muscles.

Jim: Yeah, especially when your’e riding a lot of dirt sections, you’re standing on your pegs. I think most people who have done that or does that a lot can feel it. That’s sort of fatigue, I think, that’s really easy to relate to. The mental one is kind of a bizarre thing. Because quite often you feel yourself feeling tired, and you pull over, and you think…Well, I’m not tired. As soon as I pull over, I’m awake. So let me ask you; What is it doing to our brain? Like, what’s actually going on with that? Because; if I could understand why my brain gets tired, is there not some sort of way that I can make sure I exercise it so it doesn’t get tired?

Sam: Yeah, I mean…We’re quite limited in what we can actually measure in humans in terms of mental fatigue. And we’re also limited to what we can measure in animal models in terms of cognitive function. So, it’s quite actually a difficult thing to study. But what seems to be the mostly likely culprit, if you like, for mental fatigue is the accumulation of a substance called adenosine.

The brain is made up of neurons, which are the cells that make up the central nervous system. These neurons (you know, we have billions of them in the brain with all the connections), when they are very active, especially if they are active for a prolonged period of time, like, you know like…the neurons, if you like in simple terms, the neurons they are devoted to pay attention to their goal. Put it this way: Would be activated for  prolonged periods of time when you are riding. And when they’re activated for prolonged periods of time, they produce a substance that is called adenosine. And this substance is produced and exported outside the neurone. And then what happens when it accumulates outside the neurone, it can bind back to the neurone. It makes the neurone less active. 

Basically, adenosine [gives] the sense that makes your brain tired/fatigued. So you can actually measure this in neurone cells. The hard part is is there some sort of protective mechanism. So then to avoid your neurons from running out of ATP (which is a molecule that kind of serves to produce energy in any cell, it could in the neurons). So to avoid the complete depletion of this energy within the cell, the cell becomes fatigued, so he's got some sort of a protective mechanism on a cellular level (the problem that has these negative effects on your reaction time, your ability to control behaviour, etc. etc., as I just said). So, adenosine seems to be the key molecule, the key mechanism, for these changes within the brain.

Jim: So to say our brain is fatigued (or mentally fatigued), almost isn't really that descriptive is it, for really what's going on? Because you think of fatigue, and I think in a general sense is that something's getting tired. But in this case, it's being overcome with chemicals. So, there's no way we can actually prepare for that, is there?

Sam: Well, no. There are two things we can do. One, of course, is to…for example in terms of preparation for a trip: if you're not very good, if you're not a confident rider, if you don't have much experience riding, you will have to exert much more mental effort in order to be safe and to ride well, off road and both on the road. So that makes basic riding more difficult. And if riding is more difficult, it requires less automatic reaction, you have to put more attention to what you do. This would be more fatiguing over that same period of time compared to a rider that is more experienced- a lot of actions become automatic.

So, I think it’s obviously good advice to do some (like, you know, most riders do anyway) is to do good training before you go. That will help you become less fatigued, especially at the beginning of the trip. Even if you start without much training, after a while you learn on the road. So, I guess it becomes not so bad. But you know prepare in terms of making yourself a better rider, will help you reduce the fatigue during the expedition/during the trip. However, even experienced riders get fatigued anyway, especially if they ride for prolonged periods of time.

What you can do (which is related to the adenosine mechanism that I was just telling you about), is obviously as I said in the previous episode, is caffeine. What caffeine does…it kind of shuts the door to adenosine. It kind of blocks adenosine from affecting the neurons. It's literally…it kind of binds the receptor in which adenosine usually attaches. So adenosine cannot interact with the neurons, and therefore cannot have the fatiguing effect on the neurone. So obviously caffeine is a very good way to reduce fatigue during the ride.

The same with, if you can, napping. So, when you sleep, what happens is that you kind of reabsorb the adenosine. Actually this is why some people think that sleep is needed. That we accumulate these adenosine during the day because our neurons are active, and then during sleep, we let let this substance (this adenosine) to kind of be reabsorbed and reduce in level. So a nap is also a good way to reduce fatigue. Can I give you something…It sounds kind of contradictory, but I think would be a very, very good tip.

Jim: Sure.

Sam: Because the problem with napping is that, when you wake up, and if you slept only for 20/30 minutes (this is kind of the duration of a nap), it is enough to have a significant positive effect on your cognitive abilities. The problem is that when you wake up (especially if you have to kind of start riding immediately, or very soon after you wake up), you have a different problem which is called sleep inertia. Which is when you are a bit groggy,…you’re not 100 percent because you're still waking up, and you are kind of half asleep/half awake.

So, in order to facilitate or to induce this sleep inertia, which in itself you know can be a bad thing…if you have a nap, and then you go on the bike, you might have [it for] several, it depends on different people, but it can last several minutes. You may actually be in this state of sleep inertia, then you become vulnerable. For example, to having an accident, because you won't be able to react very quickly. So what you can do actually, is to drink. For example, take coffee, they say drink a coffee or a couple of coffees, before the nap. And a lot of people think, Oh my God this is crazy, right. It's kind of counterproductive. Actually it takes about 30 to 60 minutes before the caffeine, when you drink a coffee, before the caffeine reaches the maximum level in your body, in your blood. It takes up to an hour, in most people. So if you take it just before the nap, you won’t be negatively effected. You can still have a nap. And when you wake up, you have the caffeine circulating which will help you to basically get out of the nap very quickly, and get on your bike, and be, you know, as rested and alert as possible. So this is, I think is a good tip, that not many people know about.

Jim: Yeah, that is a great tip. Wow. I would have thought the same thing. I think, if you're going to drink a cup of coffee, you're not going to go to bed, or are not going to go for a quick sleep. But that could be a perfect setup for you.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, you shouldn’t [drink] coffee before going to bed because the plan then is to sleep for 7/8 hours.

Jim: Sure, yeah.

Sam: But if you're taking a nap, [and] you're planning only to… you’re going to set an alarm, that you're gonna wake up after an hour. You don't need a nap longer than an hour, 20 [minutes] to one hour is plenty. And so you will set your alarm [for] 20/30 minutes, 45 minutes. So, the caffeine won't have the time to disturb your nap. But absolutely, if you want to sleep well [at] night, try to avoid caffeine at least for 3 or 4 hours before you go to bed, even more depending on how sensitive you are to coffee.

Jim: This adenosine that forms around our cells, it dissipates when we lessen our brain activity…is that how it works?

Sam: Yes. During sleep.

Jim: So even just when we stop, we get off our motorcycle, we walk around…that helps to dissipate this?

Sam: Yeah, if you are relaxing, and if you’re not concentrating, or thinking too hard, yes. But sleep would be the best way to reduce it, or caffeine to block it. People have a deterioration in cognitive performance usually even before they feel tired. So it's a good thing to kind of prevent it. But, [as I said] if you feel tired, you should definitely do something about it. Because it means your performance is already kind of in the danger zone if you actually feel that you are tired. So, I would definitely do something about it, like a nap, or take some caffeine.

When I'm talking about caffeine, I'm not just talking about you know, it's more coffee. I mean you should have, in order to have a serious effect, you need to have, we say 3 mg per kilo body weight. So, for somebody [who] weighs about 85 kilos (which is I think [about] 200 pounds, which will be the average American man, I guess?), you need the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee. You can have that obviously as a coffee, or you can also have it as pills or chewing gum. There are some interesting chewing gums around. So, you can have caffeine in many different ways, doesn’t really matter which way you get it. I mean, there are some people that don't like coffee. You can get it in pills that don't taste of anything. Just, you know, put them down with some water and eat. Regardless of the form of coffee it would work in the same way.

Jim: Or one of those energy drinks that seem to be so popular with young kids nowadays.

Sam: Yeah, the problem with those…they contain a lot of glucose, and contrary to common belief, actually glucose is not that important for mental fatigue. Of course, if you get really, really low with glucose, that's not normal, you will have some cognitive impairment. But if you have just a normal diet, that's enough to maintain your glucose levels at the normal level. Actually those energy drinks, because there's so much sugar, and kind of a simple sugar that absorbs very quickly. So we have a spike in sugar. But you might actually have less than normal sugar, like an hour later, which will…may actually have a negative effect. So the good thing is to maintain basic sugar level constantly. Neither too high, neither too low. So in a normal diet, it's enough to do that. So if I [was] to take a lot of caffeine, I [would] get it without too much sugar.

Jim: Let me just jump back to what you said just a minute ago, when you were saying that, when you feel tired, you're already past the point. You’re actually, your body has already started exhibiting, although unbeknownst to you, exhibiting signs of at least lessened cognitive function.

Sam: Yeah. If I did measure your reaction time like with the kind of test that I used during my expedition, it’s called a Psychomotor Vigilance test. So you have these random stimuli, you have to respond as quick as possible. Even before you really feel tired I could measure some reduction in reaction time.

Jim: So as far as a motorcyclist goes, if you start feeling tired, it's not time to think: how tired I am? You're already past the point; it's time to get off the road.

Sam: Yes, absolutely. Yes, yes, yes.

Jim: Because I think that's what a lot of people do is, they ride along and think, oh I'm tired. And you know, I’ll wake myself up, change lanes or something like that…but really that's your indicator. Get off the road.

Sam: Yeah, get off the road, get a coffee. And, if you're really getting tired, you may want to take a quick nap, with a cup of coffee before that, or two cups of coffee before that, [and]…off you go. If you know, for example, that you're going to ride for many, many hours or maybe then into the night, you may take the caffeine before you feel tired so that you don't get to that point.

Jim: What's the downside of caffeine? Is there any downside? Because I know when we talked before I was so excited. When we we talked before about it, I thought yes, now caffeine is good for me, and I can walk around with that idea in my head. What's the downside?

Sam: Actually, especially because a lot of adventure motorbike riders are middle aged, and maybe a little bit overweight…There is some good research showing, for example, that not so much caffeine (coffee which is the main form of caffeine for most people)…it's good, for example, to prevent diabetes, to prevent Alzheimers…Actually there is a lot of research going on showing that coffee, even at levels that before people thought was too much, up to 10 cups a day…it actually has no negative effects, and possibly some positive effects on your health. And indeed the guidelines that just came out, for the Dietary Guidelines for Americas, they advised the recommendation for the amount of coffee. They increased it quite a lot.

Jim: 10 cups…That's a lot.

Sam: There are some studies showing that [there isn’t any] increase in [the risk of] disease with even up to 10 cups of coffee a day. I think now the recommended amount is up to four or five cups a day. Easy. But there are some issues, which actually can be important too. First of all, (especially if you are thinking about taking a high dose of caffeine) try it in advance, before you go on the trip. And find basically the dose that gives you the positive effects in terms of fatigue, that doesn’t make you too kind of fidgety and everything else. Because people have different sensitivities, coverage seems to be genetic. So people are genetically different. So some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others.

And the main side effects, if you take excessive amounts…which is actually one of the reasons why athletes take it…again in lay terms, speeds up your nerve transmission speed, if you like. So it makes your neurons (including your neurons that make up the nerves, that go from the spine to your muscles), more excitable basically, more sensitive to excitable commands. So you may develop some sort of mismatch between the motor command (we call it) that your brain sends to your muscle and how quickly the muscles reacts. And you're not used to it, you know? Screwing up your coordination because the muscle will contract quicker than you’re used to. But to be honest these happens only when you have very high doses of caffeine. And especially if when you take it, if you are not already fatigued.

Jim: Sam, what are some recommendations you have for things that we can do, while we're on a ride, to mitigate or handle fatigue?

Sam: If you can make your ride more enjoyable…it’s very interesting, there is a lot of research showing that if what you do is enjoyable…even if it's mentally demanding…it’s less fatiguing than the same level of mental demand, if you do something that you don't enjoy. So one thing could be, if you can, obviously sometimes you can’t, but for example: try to avoid boring motorway miles. If you can get out of the motorway, and do twisties …You may actually think, oh that's more mentally demanding, but because you actually enjoy it, and it's not boring, it’s actually less mentally fatiguing than the motorway boring ride. But if you can…making things more enjoyable. That also means, for example, having proper gear. So, if you are hot and sticky, or too cold,  that will have some direct effects on your brain making you less capable of reacting quickly.

Jim: This seems a little bit like it’s all in our head, excuse the pun but, it seems like… if we're on a boring ride, then this adenosine develops, and isolates or impairs our cell’s abilities to communicate. But if we stimulate it then that improves it. So, I guess it does away with that chemical. But then if we're overstimulated, then it brings that chemical back in. This is a tough one to manage.

Sam: It’s all in your head. But, what’s in your head is your brain. Which just made those neurons. There’s no kind of ghost, or anything. So, actually [even with] the difference between the boring ride and the exciting twisty one, you may actually produce the same level of adenosine. The problem is, the areas that are activated differ somehow. So, when you are in the negative affect, when you are bored, you don't like to do something. The areas (not all of them, but some of the areas) that are activated are different from the brain areas that activate when you do something you enjoy. If you do all these things you know, I think you're going to have a much better and safer ride. And even when people know about these things, they don't do it. I guess, hopefully, after your program,  people will take care of themselves a little bit more.

Jim: So to be clear with this, the only way for our brain to sort of get its rest and rejuvenate itself, is through sleep. That's the real cure for it. But does stopping…you know, if we stop on the side of the road, we decide to go for a walk, or something like that…That gives us some sort of reprieve for the mental fatigue as well.

Sam: Yeah. Yes, yes, yes.

Jim: So, what but overall sleep then? Does the type, or the amount of sleep, that we have on a trip (because you know sometimes you’ll camp in a spot, maybe you won't get a good sleep)…does that affect us during our ride the next day?

Sam: Yeah, absolutely. Getting enough sleep is essential. Even a few hours less than the recommended seven to eight hours a day of sleep may affect your ability both physically, but especially mentally, the day after. So it's essential to have a good night's sleep. And of course, you know, during a trip sometime it’s not possible. But I have some very simple tips. Again, obviously comfort is very important. And people mostly tend to be, most of the time, more on the hot than on the cold side. Actually a relatively cold room, obviously dark and quiet as much as possible, is actually better than a hot one in order to get a good sleep.

Also try (again during [an] expedition it’s not always possible), but try to get into a routine. So, try to go to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time, every day as much as possible. Also, very, very important is to (especially these days with technology) to avoid using, for example [an] iPhone or [an] iPod or even computers, for at least an hour before you go to bed. Because that can screw up your melatonin, and the way your brain kind of sets itself up on the light and dark cycle.

Also avoid caffeine- again depends on the person. So, it’s good to experiment before you go. But, most people try to avoid, [for] at least three or four hours, any caffeine before you go to sleep. Even more if you can. And of course, maybe try not to consume too much water just before you go to bed, because that may wake you up.

Jim: So waking up in the middle of the night, that can make our sleep less effective?

Sam: Well, yes. Because you interrupt the, what we call REM sleep, the most restorative part of your sleep. Of those seven to eight hours, only a few hours are in this state. Let's call it deep sleep, if you like. And that's where your brain kind of really recovers. So, if you wake up in the middle of that, that's going to reduce it or you might just be awake for a few minutes. So, if you wake up in the middle of that, that’s going to…you might just be awake for a few minutes, so you will think, oh that’s not really going to affect my total sleep time, but it will affect your deep sleep time. So it's important; try to avoid waking up in the middle of the night, if you can. 

Jim: You just mentioned seven or eight hours. And my question, I think this is really important is, how many hours do we need, and do we all need the same number of hours for sleep?

Sam: No, no, no. There is variability. Some people may need as little as six and some people need more than eight. Seven to eight is the…most people are in that bracket. Put it this way. If you sleep (and again, depends how much sleep you need)…But if you constantly sleep less than six hours, even if you are one of those that don't need that much sleep, you're going to be affected. Because even if it's kind of (what we call it when we do research) chronic sleep restoration…even if you reduce your sleeping only a few hours every night, the effect becomes culmulative. So, you may really…Your performance might not be impaired that day after, or two days after…but if for a week, [if] you sleep only, say four hours a night, after a few days you will really start to develop problems with your riding and with your ability to react etc. etc…Because sleep restoration has a culmulative effect.

Jim: Sam, thank you very much. Always a pleasure to have you on.

Sam: You're welcome. 

Jim: That was Samuel Marcora. He's the director of research at Kent University in the UK. You can find out more about Sam, probably the easiest way is to drop by our website and look at the show notes, because the link is rather long. Of course you can just look him up on Google. 

INTERVIEW (Nick Sanders)

Jim (narrate): And since we're in the UK already, we may as well stay and talk with Nick Sanders. Because Nick has ridden around the world seven times. He's motorcycled the length of the Americas eight times,  and he holds a record for a double transit from Alaska to Ushuaia and back in 46 days. Nick has to be the world's most recognized long distance rider for motorcycling.

Jim: Nick, great to have you back on Adventure Rider Radio.

Nick: Jim, always a pleasure.

Jim: Well, we're talking about making our rides more enjoyable and safer- not doing record setting trips like you do, because they're a rarity for people. But what we're looking for is, some methods that you've learned over the years and all the riding you've done, that maybe we can apply in our everyday riding to make our ride safer and more fun. What's the first thing that pops into your head when we talk about this?

Nick: Okay, Jim. Well, let’s do top of the head kind of, you know, a shooting from the hip experience. I think first of all, let's look at the body. Let's look at how we treat our bodies. I mean, I'm no saint in this discipline but I like to look at my weight. Weight is very important. And you know, suddenly I see a lot of bikers, and they’re quite overweight, and that's fine, that's the way it is. But we're discussing you know, how they can look at their fatigue and be less fatigued, and therefore less stressed. [They] carry around sometimes several stone [pounds] more than they should do, and harsh though it is to say; if they look at their health, look at their weight a bit…they'll find that they can ride their bikes in a kind of leaner, meaner manner.

I think that health is essential to not stressing the body. The more you stress the body, the tireder you're going to be. It's all connected. So, look at your diet. Just look at your general view of yourself, your body, your perception of how you are in life, and you’ll certainly find you can get on your bike increasingly more efficiently. Efficiency really does lead to a less stressed environment on the bike, and of course therefore, that's going to make you less tired.

Jim: What about bike and equipment then?

Nick: Well, same thing really. Look, at the end of the day, in the way that the body can carry too much weight (which stresses the body and tires the body therefore), so same with the bike. Okay- the big bikes can carry a lot of stuff, but you’ve still got to handle it. You’ve still got to, you know, pull it around the corners or whatever. Depends on what bike you’re on, if you’re on the Harley’s and so forth and you like long straight roads, you know, perhaps not so bad. But when you're on the twisties, and you're in the hills and so forth in the mountains, you've got this great, big centre of gravity on the top of your bike, or on the side of your bike, which is pulling you around and you’ve got to shift and turn and shove, then push. And you know, it's all calories. It all takes time and it all takes effort. And I think, at the end of the day, too much effort equals inefficiency, equals tiredness. So big body, big bike; slim it all down.

Jim: Any other tips you have.

Nick: It's a mental approach, isn't it, really. I think these are two big things. You carry less on your bike, for example, it's like looking at what you don't need. Come on guys. It's a little bit like comfort eating, comfort packing. I've seen it so many times, Jim. You really do have to kind of watch what you pack. You don't need those extra pair of socks even. It's not so much that you’re carrying weight, that's one part of it. But look at what you having to do. Having to unpack at the end of the day, you're having to pack at the beginning of the next day. It's all to do with having too much stuff.

You know there's a bit of a paradox here, if you don't mind my saying, and I'm gonna sound a little controversial here. But at the same time, we bikers like to think that we can cut and run. We can leave the house, leave family and friends. We're on our road, on our adventure and so forth. Taking the minimum. Giving up on all of life’s stuff that we've accumulated. That's what we like to do. And yet, what do you do? You pack your bike to the gunnels. You take stuff you don't need. Three pair of shoes, four pairs of trousers, t-shirt you're never going to take out in the first place. You've got to look at the overall…the overall feel of the whole thing. It's not the weight, it’s the consciousness behind it. Look at when you pack, ask yourself several times, do I really need to take it? And if you don’t, don't take it.

Jim: Nick, thank you very much.

Nick: It's a great pleasure, Jim. Thank you very much indeed.

Jim: That was long distance adventure rider Nick Sanders. And you can find out more about Nick by visiting his website: NickSanders.com


Jim (narrate): Well, we still have a couple of people to talk to. But really what it comes down to with riding the motorcycle, one of the biggest things is, managing your fatigue. Because we get, as Sam Marcora said, we get physically tired and mentally tired. So, some things you can do to help deal with that…One of them is riding better roads. I think Sam had mentioned that as well, about not riding the boring highway. Pick a road that's curvy, pick something interesting. Definitely wearing the proper gear, because I know even a helmet that is loud if you're not wearing earplugs (here’s another one, earplugs)…If you're not wearing earplugs you tend to get mentally fatigued, because you're listening to that buzzing and the whirring of the wind, and that wears you down. So it's another thing.

And all these little things are going to add up to something big in the long run. A lot of people plan their trip. But what you should also be thinking about is planning your stops. So, if you plan your stops, instead of just making that a roadside pull out where you've got a garbage can to stare at, try and plan your stops were it's something interesting going on. Maybe a little hike that you can do, or at least a view, but something that's of interest. Now all these things affect us as motorcycle riders in general. It doesn't matter if you're just riding around on your cruiser, going a short distance, or whether you're going a long distance, or whether you're running a race. And really, when it gets into running races, that's when you have to be really careful with your energy and how you manage fatigue. 

INTERVIEW (Christophe Barriere-Varju)

Jim (narrate): Christophe Barriere-Varju is an endurance rider. He's a motocross champion. He's been in the Dakar Rally four times, in Africa and South America. And the Dakar, as you know, is the toughest, most dangerous motorsport race in the world. Christophe was the subject in the award winning film called Dream Racer and we had him on here quite some time ago talking about that film and his bid at running the Dakar, and what it was like. So we contacted Christophe and asked him if he could share some tips from his riding experience (and racing experience) that would apply to everyday riding.

Jim: Christophe, welcome back to Adventure Rider Radio.

Christophe: Jim, thanks for having me.

Jim: Well, we're talking about making our riding more comfortable…better for everyday riding. And a lot of that is managing fatigue. And I certainly know you have to do it because that's a huge thing in the Dakar, is just the endurance, because it's an endurance race. So what tips do you have for us as far as managing our fatigue, and making riding more enjoyable on an everyday basis?

Christophe: Well, this is the first thing in riding a motorbike, and this is something that not a lot of people actually do and I don't even…during the Dakar, I didn’t see a lot of people doing. Which is, you know, actually something very simple. Which is stretching before you get on a motorbike, and then stretching when you’re finished, to release all that lactic acid inside your muscles. So, that in itself will help fatigue for the next day.

Then you deal into…into how you ride the motorbike. And, you know, the body position and how you actually sit on a bike, how do you stand it up, whether you put the weight on the pegs, whether you…how do you hold the handlebar. And all of this has to deal with achieving a proper balance, which is a position where you do not use any muscles apart from standing up on a motorbike, and standing up in a natural position or sitting down in a natural position, where you do not use any muscle.

And one of the biggest muscle groups that you have in your body is your abs, and your arms are actually controlling how you move the bike underneath you. And you know, it's a lot easier to control a motorbike with your abs than it is to try to hold it really hard with your hands and your arms and your shoulder. And the problem with that is that when you do this you get tired very, very quickly. Not only during the ride, but also, you know, the next day and the following day and so on and so forth.

So the important part is achieving that balance. Now that balance is fine when you sit still, and you stand up still and the bike is not moving, that's pretty straight forward. But when the bike is actually on dirt and going up, going down, hitting rocks from sand, and all of that…that bike is constantly moving underneath you. And the way to achieve that perfect balance, is to preempt every bit of movement that the bike’s going to do, and move ahead of time. So, for example; if you accelerate, the bike wants to go from underneath you- the bike wants to go forward. And people have a tendency to not hold onto the ball while the bike is pulling them, you know, pushing them toward the front. And therefore, you know, you hang on tight with your…with your arms and your hands, and then you start having problems with your hands. So the way to avoid that is that as the bike moves forward, you slightly move your body forward as well to again, not use any muscle in your hand or in your arms. So you can maintain that perfect balance.

The same is true when, for example, if you go down the hill. The bike is hitting the brakes, the bike is slowing down. And then underneath you, and your body wants to go ahead of the bike. And so again you hang onto the bike, and you can use your arms to hold on. Or you can use your legs to hold on to the tank, or you can slightly tilt your toes inwards and have the natural position of natural movement of the legs (actually squeezing the tanks for you so you don't have to actually squeeze the tank using strength in the leg muscle).

So there's a lot of techniques to try to avoid using any muscles while riding the bike. Which then helps in managing fatigue during 7/10/12/14 hours a day ride. And all of that takes a long time to practice. But I guess you have to be aware of what you need to do in order to isolate all the things that you…you have to work on to reduce [fatigue] while riding a bike.

Jim: So, it’s staying loose on the bike. You're not clamped onto the handlebars. You're staying balanced, and loose.

Christophe: That’s right. The handlebars are purely used to, you know, operate the accelerator, and the brake and the clutch. You don't turn. You don't use your strength to turn the handle bar, to hang onto the bike. All of this is done through balance, and the proper position on the motor bike. That way you can maintain a long day of riding in the dirt without being tired. However, you've got to be careful when you get into a rough section full of rocks and holes, you have a tendency to cramp on the back just in case.

And that's where the experience comes in. If you are losing the bike, and you don't have that experience, then you will lose the bike underneath you very quickly. But if you’re experienced in preempting what the bike is going to do, and reacting very quickly, you don't have to cramp on the bike. So it takes years and years practice, but I know the basic stuff on having the perfect position. Moving your body forward, backward, and keeping the balance neutral on the bike is key to everything.

Jim: So, you know if you're doing it right by, when you accelerate, if you're not holding onto the bars and holding yourself up…same as going downhill; if you're not pushing back on the bars and holding yourself up, then you must be getting close to learning how to do that.

Christophe: That's right. Well, one of the tests is you ride sitting down to start with, and you accelerate in 2nd or 3rd gear, and you lift your left hand off your handle bar, maybe five…five or 10 centimetres (just above the handle bar) and watch what your body is doing. That hand should stay just above that handle bar while you accelerate, and brake, accelerate, and break, go up the hill, down the hill…And that hand should not move. And then you realize that, suddenly you are no longer using your arm to hold you on the motorbike, you’re using your abs. Then you repeat that exercise while you're standing up.

And remember during the film Dream Racer, I had an injury on my left arm. I had no more triceps on the left arm, and I was able to ride for four days in sand dunes. And without having the proper technique, there is no way I could have done that because I pretty much did not use my left arm at all for four days. And that's how you practice. You know, you just…don't spend the day just riding, but just try little tricks. Lift your hand up, your left arm, your left hand just above the bars, and accelerate, brake. And that hand should stay above the bar, and not move forward or backward.

The other tip is, once you (if you) enter a section that is a bit rough, people have a tendency to hold their breath because they get scared. They go, you know, like this. And by holding your breath, you block your air intake. And you raise your heartbeat because there is less oxygen getting to your body so the breathing is very…it’s also very key to reducing fatigue on the motor bike. Make sure you breathe, you know, slowly and long deep breaths for, you know, breathing in and breathing out all the time. And try to control your heart rate that way as well.

Jim: Well, I'm sure there's so much more we could talk about but for now; thanks very much, Christophe.

Christophe: Thanks very much, Jim.

Jim: You can find out more about Christophe and the movie Dream Racer by visiting DreamRacer.tv

INTERVIEW (Shirley Hardy-Rix)

Jim (narrate): Well, we haven't quite covered it just yet. We talked about riding, we talked of the things we can do as riders to mitigate fatigue, and make the writing more exciting and keep us alert and enjoyable. But what about the pillion? What about your passenger? The person sitting on the back of your bike? It’s difficult for the pillion as well. And Shirley Hardy-Rix is a pillion with a lot of miles under her belt. She's traveled to many different places in the world on the back of a motorcycle with her husband, Brian. And both Brian and Shirley are also on our ARR Raw episodes. If you haven't heard that already, you’ll want to drop by our website and check that out. It’s a separate show as roundtable discussions. Both Shirley and Brian ride around on their BMW, and they've just completed their third trip, which was into Russia and Mongolia. I thought we needed the perspective of a pillion. So I asked Shirley to come on and talk to us about what she does to keep herself alert, and to fight off fatigue and boredom, on the back of a motorcycle.

Jim: Shirley welcome back to Adventure Rider Radio.

Shirley: Thanks Jim. Good to speak to you again.

Jim: Now, I know you've spent a lot of time riding as a pillion, because that's what you do. You're not a licensed rider. You only ride on the back of Brian's bike. How many miles do you think you've covered as a pillion?

Shirley: Well, we worked out that we've done about 170,000 kilometres outside of Australia, and around Australia…I don't know…lots. Probably the same again, maybe. Or even more than that. So yeah, I've spent a lot of time on the back of the bike- all care, no responsibility.

Jim: I don't know about no responsibility, because I know (I understand it as) you handle the navigation.

Shirley: No, not really. I can't read a map. It's just…to trust me with navigation.

Jim: No, I’m sorry, I got that wrong. No, you didn't handle navigation. You’re supposed to point out obstacles. There was something I thought you were doing on the back.

Shirley: Ah no, I do point out obstacles. And if I'm doing directions, I actually have to tap Brian on the shoulder of the way we should go. Because being a left hander, I tend to point in the left direction and say go right. So he doesn't know which way he has to go. So we have a tap…tap and direct situation set up.

Jim: Well that's that's important to work out. But so, let's start off with because we're dealing with fatigue and motorcycles, and now we're going to talk about fatigue as a pillion. So, clearly you do get tired on the back.

Shirley: Absolutely, I do. We try and go by the rule which probably all people in charge of the vehicle should do…and that's have a break every couple of hours. And get off and just stretch, and walk around, maybe have a drink or something to eat…but just have a little break off the bike. But even…even doing that (and sometimes that's not possible), I can get very tired on the back, and have been known to fall asleep on more than one occasion.

Jim: Okay, so hang on here. First I was going to ask you, you know, what do you do when you get tired? But you've just answered it- you said you actually fall asleep. Now, it’s clearly the design of your bike in particular that allows you to do that, because not every bike you can fall asleep on as a pillion. And I'm not even sure on any bike how safe it would be. What happens when you fall asleep, you just fall forward into Brian?

Shirley: I do actually fall forward, which is good. And I don’t… so I don't sort of fall on either…go either side as if I'm about to fall off the back of the bike. But, when I say asleep, I’m not sound asleep for half an hour. But, I do actually nod off enough. We listen to music on the bike, Jim, and we have a CD of Joe Cocker’s greatest hits…and on one very long trip we played this a few times, and I said to Brian; that CD is just hopeless, because it doesn't have [the song] “Keep Your Hat On”. And he said, yes it does. So, I had actually slept every time that song was on. And I'd never heard it. So that was a concern to me, because I had actually been asleep like three or four minutes on a regular basis.

Jim: I’m not sure I would ever think of Joe Cocker as a stay awake CD.

Shirley: Oh, we sing along. It's a very sad life that we lead. It’s different to other people’s.

Jim: I feel sorry for ya. So, you're falling asleep for a few minutes, and you think that's safe. That's fine with you.

Shirley: Well, because I only, I do lean forward. If I started to lean to either side, it would be a worry. But I actually can't prevent it. I just get that weary. A lot of people find the same thing. If you're in a car, and you're the passenger, and you stop and you have lunch and in the afternoon the sun's coming through the windscreen…it's really hard to stay awake and the pillion will often doze off. And sometimes I think that's what's happening to me. That we've stopped, we've had lunch, I’m in the sun…So I start to doze off. But I've never felt that it was dangerous. It's probably not very good, it’s not a good thing. But I can't help it, that's just…when I get tired, I just doze off and there's not much I can do about it.

Jim: I’m thinking you might want a big piece of velcro on the front of your suit and on the back of Brian’s.

Shirley: Or a big strap, and just strap me to Brian. Like a big safety belt.

Jim: Do you have any methods or tricks that you use so that you at least attempt to not fall asleep, or not get tired?

Shirley: Of course. I stretch my legs. I drop my legs down off the pegs and swing them out quite straight, so I can get the blood flowing to my feet, and just jiggle them around the bit. We often carry jelly lollies (like snakes, and jelly babies, things like that), inside the strap on the back of the camel back. So if I feel I need a sugar fix, I can have that. And I also feed those to Brian when he needs a sugar fix. I can give him from the backpack. If we’re going through a town, Brian will stand up and then when he's stretched, I’ll stand up and stretch my legs that way. And I do talk to myself, but not too loudly, because the intercom system is voice activated. I sing, and again not too loudly because it is voice activated, and we talk to each other through the intercom system if we are on a long and boring road. We'll discuss all sorts of things that we need to deal with when we get to our destination. That helps keep me awake. And sometimes we just need to stop. I just need to get off the bike and stretch, and so does Brian, just to have a break.

Jim: Yeah I think communications are a huge asset for travelling, even if you're not on the same bike. Any other tips you have for us?

Shirley: Look, I think you've just got to be sensible about stopping and having breaks, because we have got the most comfortable bike. And while I need to stretch my legs, I don't get…I don't get knee cramp or…some of the problems that I know if you’re on like, a little sports bike and you’re very cramped…but you just need to get off the bike, and have…even if it's only two or three minutes. We don't need to stop for a long time, but just to stop, get off, stretch. Have a drink of water from the camel bag. Maybe have something to eat, have a chat, get back on the bike, and go. It’s a good thing to do. Because we have a tank that gives us 600 kilometres range, so we don't have to stop every couple of hours to get fuel.

Jim: That's a thing that I hear a lot of people say with smaller tanks, is they say they don't mind it because that gives them the opportunity to stop and stretch their legs while the refuel.

Shirley: Exactly. Exactly. Whereas we just…we can just keep going. And you have to be careful to make sure, even if you feeling really good, you do need to stop. Because you have concentration levels go down, and you just need to know- you know what it's like to have your wits about you all the time on a motorcycle. Because a lot of the car drivers are out there with the intent to make sure your day is a miserable one.

Jim: That's great, Shirley. Thanks very much for your input.

Shirley: No worries, Jim. Talk to you again soon.

Jim: That was a pillion's point of view from Shirley Hardy-Rix. You can find out more about her and Brian's adventures at their website AussiesOverland.com.au


Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin

*Special thanks to our guests: Sam Marcora | Nick Sanders | Christophe Barriere-Varju | Shirley Hardy-Rix

Sam Marcora:  Kent University, UK
Nick Sanders: www.nicksanders.com
Christophe Barriere-Varju: www.dreamracers.tv
Shirley Hardy-Rix: www.aussiesoverland.com.

Music by

Jason Shaw at www.audionautix.com

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