“MOTORCYCLING AND YOUR BLADDER”
By Joe Zimmerman
To pee or not to pee; that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler for the rider to suffer the slings and arrows of bladder pain or take arms against a sea of troubles and relieve thyself while thrust in riding adventures. When nature calls, it calls. How you react to that call, why you react to that call, and what you can do about controlling that call, are all vital issues to your health, safety, and riding experience. Although I’ve doubled a doctor on TV for 7 years on NBC’s television series “ER”, I am not a doctor. So, don’t contact me for prostate medication or urinary tract infection advice. The information herein is for general purposes for fellow long distance riders, gathered through simple research and practical life experience as a biker.
As motorcyclists, most of us probably never think as much about our bladders as we do about our bike’s chain, oil, or tire pressure. Yet, we have to deal with our bladder 95% more than anything related to our ride on a long trip. So, how much do you know about your bladder (its function, location, how it works) considering how important it is while you’re on the road?
Well, for starters, it’s a muscular sac in the pelvis, just above and behind the pubic bone. It’s held in position in the lower abdomen by ligaments which are bonded to other surrounding organs, as well as the pelvic bones. The bladder is lined by layers of muscle tissue that stretch, with the outer most layer (serous membrane) providing protection from the moving friction with other nearby organs around it. That’s right - your bladder moves. It expands and contracts. Its walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine (through the urethra). When it’s empty, the bladder’s physical structure is usually the size and shape of a pear. Women tend to have smaller bladders than men and that’s usually why they might urinate more than the average man.
Our bodies need and use fluids (water) to function efficiently. Water acts as a lubricant to organs, removes waste, regulates body temperature, and aids the body in nutrient absorption. Once our bodies use up all the water it needs to keep us healthy, it produces urine to get rid of the extra water it didn’t need, as well as to remove internal waste. That urine gets stored in the bladder. So, the bladder’s basic job is to store left over fluid that we drink, and get rid of waste.
Now, for the riders who understand how their bike’s gearshift works, and its fuel injector functions, but aren’t familiar with their own bladder system, here’s a quick summary from the beginning (top to bottom). After you pull your bike over at a rest stop, to down a bottle of water, here’s the basic mechanics of that drink’s journey to the bladder. The water goes down your digestive track until it reaches your stomach. Basically down your throat (esophagus), into your stomach (where food is stored and digested). It’s here in your stomach where water absorption starts and enters into your bloodstream.
The amount of water absorbed in the stomach and how fast it’s absorbed depends on how much you’ve eaten. If you drink that bottle on an empty stomach, then there’s a faster rate of absorption compared to drinking that bottle with a full stomach which would slow down the absorption rate (from minutes to possibly hours depending on what you put in the stomach).
Most of the water’s absorption into the bloodstream occurs “after” it passes through the stomach and in the small intestine. Around 20 feet long, the small intestine, absorbs water into your cell membrane and bloodstream and continues (with water) to cells across your body, to keep you hydrated (including perspiring through your skin pores to keep you cool, as sweat helps your body regulate your temperature). The absorption of water through your small intestine also performs other important functions like filtering out waste and toxins when it reaches the kidneys. Your kidneys need enough water to do this job properly, because if you don’t supply it with enough water, well you’re asking for trouble. That trouble could come from anything in the form of kidney stones (other kidney-related diseases) to something as simple as collapsing on the side of the road from mild dehydration (a draining of your energy). Simply put, dehydration happens when you don't have enough water in your body for it to perform its normal functions.
Fortunately, there are ways to know if you’re providing your body with enough water. You have to look at your pee. The color is extremely important. The color and smell of your urine, like checking motor oil in your bike, tells us what’s up. If your pee is dark yellow or orange in color, and smells “ammonia-ish”, that’s usually a sign that you’re not drinking enough. It’s basically saying you’re dehydrated. Urine is essentially odorless if you’re sufficiently hydrated. It doesn't usually have a strong smell, but if you’re dehydrated and your pee gets very concentrated, it can smell like ammonia and appear dark. The fix is usually to just drink more fluids. A pale straw color, almost clear (but not really fully clear) is what you’re looking for. If your pee is perfectly clear, then you're probably drinking too much H20, which can throw off your electrolyte balance which can be harmful. So, if your urine is absolutely clear and you're peeing 18 times a day, then you’re probably drinking too much, and if your pee is dark yellow or orange, then you're probably not drinking enough. Now, if your urine is light-brown (or dark-brown), or tea-colored, then that can be a sign of excess, unusual, or potentially dangerous waste products circulating in your body, or can even be a sign of kidney disease.
To continue the journey of your drink to your bladder, note the bloodstream also carries water to your brain where it delivers hydration to its cells. Without that, people can experience the loss of memory and loss of visual and physical motor skills. Additionally, some of that drinking water traveling inside you also enters into your large intestine which ends up aiding your bowel movements.
Most of the water (carrying the waste particles) forms into urine as it passes through and down the renal tubules of the kidney. But, it’s in your kidneys, that the filtering of toxins takes place removing it from your body. The kidneys remove waste particles from the blood through tiny filtering units called nephrons. As it does this, it also filters out your blood so your blood doesn’t get mixed with your urine as it continues on. After your kidneys use as much water as it needs to do all this above work, the rest of the water, usually a small percentage (of about 20 percent, if you’re an average person), makes it to the bladder after traveling down about 9 inches within two thin tubes called ureters. The bladder in tail, then ends up storing that urine while allowing urination to be controlled by you, to go frequent or infrequent as you need too.
Now, to finalize your drink’s journey, during urination; your bladder muscles squeeze, and two sphincters (valves) open to allow urine to flow out. Your urine exits your bladder into the urethra, which carries the urine out of your body. If it passes through a male, then the urine travels through the urethra further (about 8 inches) to exit, than in women (around 1.5 inches).
In regards to how much fluid your bladder can contain, well, a healthy bladder can hold around 2 cups of urine before it's thought to be full and you feel the need to pee. Normal urine production is around 1.5 liters every 24 hours, so that would give you 9 or 10 hours to completely fill up your 2 cups of bladder urine (we’re talking about 2 ounces per hour), and that’s about as much or as long as you can wait and still be in a safe zone without the possibility of damaging your organs.
Most people urinate between six and eight times a day (in a 24hr period). But, it depends on many factors; If you're taking certain medications, like diuretics for high blood pressure and so forth, but it's not uncommon to go as many as 10-14 times a day either. If you're going more than that, it could simply mean you might be drinking too much fluids, or consuming too much of something like caffeine (which is a diuretic and flushes liquids out of the body).
So, it’s kind of a good policy to just stick to plane water when you’re out on the road riding. It’s what your body wants. Water is not just the major component of our body parts, it’s actually the primary chemical element making up around 60 percent of our body mass. Every cell of your body (tissues, organs) in your body needs it. It allows body cells to grow and replicate and lubricates our joints. Even our brain uses H20 to produce hormones and neurotransmitters (leave that to another article). Water also works as a cushion and shock absorber for our brains and spinal cords. It creates saliva, and keeps mucus membranes moist, and converts food to smaller components. I mean, that bottle of water you’re downing even delivers oxygen throughout your body.
So, drink and urinate and understand what’s going on inside you as much as you understand what’s going on inside your bike. Whether your motorcycle has a 3.7 or 6.8 gallon gas tank, stopping for a “nature call pit-stop” every time you feel the need or fuel up is a highly recommended practice. Whether you need to go or not, there are many reasons relieving your bladder when you can, is the smart way to ride.
As bikers we’re recommended to drink lots of water because underneath all our leathers and gear our bodies are perspiring a lot more than the average person. Evidence of our loss of water isn’t only by our drenched clothes, but also within our helmets as small droplets of water exit our bodies with every breath we exhale onto our visors. This is evident when we fog up our visor screens with our breath. So, we need to regulate our system by staying hydrated more than the average person on the road.
Automobile drivers have the luxury of sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned vehicles to keep themselves cool, we bike riders are out in the elements of nature (Sun, wind, rain, high humidity etc.…). Our bodies are usually covered with layers like protective gear. And take note, some of that protective equipment are made with elastic bands that strap and wrap around our waistlines which cause our need to pee more frequently.
Wearing kidney belts, back protectors etc., which use elastic bands around our waistlines place pressure on our bladders, causes us to want to pee when we may not even have the need too. As well, it can cram and shift all of your lower organs together or apart. Over a long period of time, wearing these kinds of gripping bands can cause damage to you as well as place unnecessary pressure on your abdomen and bladder– which can also cause anything from constipation to heart burn, making normal indigestion difficult. Some women have been known to pass out from simply wearing corsets too tight around their waists, constricting them from getting enough air. So, long term anything tight around your waist isn’t really recommended.
As mentioned, the waist wrap-around protective gear can cause the upper organs to move upwards, while shifting the lower organs downwards, as the pressure causes you to need to pee more often. All of your internal parts (diaphragm, colon, liver, stomach, and small intestines can all be shifted around within your lower body (while and after) wearing these wraps for too long of a period. Hell, it’s possible for your stomach to simply twist around on its own just by sleeping the wrong way. My own father spent hours in surgery getting his stomach “cut” because it was twisted so badly they couldn’t untie it. So facilitating that kind of damage with these wraparounds is not recommended. Note, even tight-fitting pants around the groin area can put additional pressure on the bladder.
So, being a smart rider means gearing up intelligently. There are alternative options to how you wear protective gear. Instead of waistband spinal protectors, purchase pads and protection sewn into the fabric of your jackets or vests.
Want to pee less on that long-distant ride? Avoid strap-on waistbands used for protection. They serve a purpose in motocross, but not advised for long term riding. If you don’t have another protection choice, then just don’t over-tighten.
For a more enjoyable trip, and to ride further without stopping, avoid placing pressure on your bladder. Wearing protective gear that zips into your apparel, like this Alpinestars Track Back Protector Vest, is a good option.
As stated, when you feel the urge to pee, then pee; avoiding a pee-stop to make extra time, or reach a further destination is a bad idea. If you’re a rider who thinks “holding it in” to succumb to laziness or to make that extra 5 miles to save time works for you, rethink that strategy.
If you’re an Iron Butt rider and decide to hold your urine for extremely long periods of time, well listen up, this practice can cause urinary tract infections due to bacteria build-up. Holding it in can actually increase the need to urinate more frequently, and can cause severe pain and lead to a host of serious issues like kidney disease, and in rare cases even risk of your bladder bursting—a condition that can be deadly. Yes, holding it in too long can even cause your bladder to explode (Traumatic Bladder Rupture). As recent as June 23rd 2020 in the news, as this article is being written, a report of a 40 year old man who passed out after an alcoholic drinking session was so inebriated, he unknowingly held his pee for 18 hours and, you guessed it, caused his bladder to explode.
(Below) News Stories: Holding in your pee can be disastrous.
Although that’s an extreme case, regularly holding it in can also simply weaken your bladder as well. Weakening and “decreasing” your bladder’s muscle strength over time could impede your ability to fully empty your bladder out (this condition is called Urinary Incontinence; loss of bladder control). Regularly holding in pee can also cause the bladder to stretch. And, if your bladder stretches regularly, that could make it difficult or impossible one day for your bladder to contract and release pee normally. And, if you have a stretched bladder, extra measures, such as a catheter, may be necessary to help you pee. And no one wants that!
Although your bike can run with a dirty air-filter for a lengthy period of time, it’s not healthy for your pride-and-joy. While delaying nature's call for an hour or two won't pose any threat to your health, it is clear you’re harming your body by holding pee in for too long a period, especially if you do it regularly. So, don’t make it a habit. Just relieve yourself as often as your body needs to when you’re riding long distances. Again, holding it in for a few extra miles isn’t going to kill you, but doing so regularly, well, it isn’t worth it. I mean, would you regularly push your motorcycle to travel 20 extra miles every day with little or no motor oil in it?
Resisting the urge to urinate because of lack of facilities also sets off issues that include exterior problems as well as interior. Holding in your need to urinate could also lead to you speeding (needing to find a rest area), or ride more carelessly because your focus is no longer on the road as much as it is on your bladder. Your enjoyment and safety then becomes jeopardized. And, what if you get stuck in traffic? Or you take a spill? Now, not only are you dealing with road rash and body trauma but a bladder ready to explode.
If you crash and your bladder is full, depending on the blunt shock from the forced impact when you go down, you can badly injure your bladder. People in automobile accidents wearing their seatbelts around their waist have injured their bladders this way.
So, if you gotta go, empty it out. If you can’t find a rest stop, then find a discreet location with vegetation and go at it. Understand that urine is practically sterile when it exits your body. Your urine has a role in the earth's nitrogen cycle. It balances the ecosystem. Urine actually fertilizes soil, helping plants grow. It has the main ingredients in common with mineral fertilizers. Our urine is full of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which plant-life needs to flourish. So don’t get caught up suffering on the open road looking for a gas station to take a leak if you “have” to go.
Now, how much fluid do we need to stay healthy? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has recommendations and charts and statistics, but simply cannot adequately determine this (but they try). They state that the average male needs about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids every 24 hours and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids for the average female. But, for some average people, less than 8 cups a day might be enough too. The factors that influence our fluid needs are numerous (especially as riders). But, simply put, more water for physically active people in hot environments and less water for those who are not - simple. And note, you don't need to rely only on fluids to stay hydrated when you’re riding. What you eat out on the road can also provide significant amounts of water for your body in fruits and vegetables like watermelon and spinach. Although there is so much emphasis in promoting hydration, everyone is different, and everyone’s situation is different.
The goal is to simply stay healthy, not spend half your riding-day in the bathroom because you’re being told to drink mass amounts of water. It's actually possible to drink too much water. When your kidneys can't excrete the excess water you take in, the sodium content of your blood becomes diluted (and hyponatremia could set in: causing nausea, headaches, fatigue and confusion). So, although studies have produced varying recommendations over the years about how much water people should drink, there’s really no simple answer except to say drink as much as you feel you need to drink to stay hydrated. I can’t stress enough that everyone’s body is different. Drinking tons of water may actually be counteractive to your long-distance riding if you have to pee every 30 minutes. As noted, your individual water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are, where you are, the temperature, humidity, etc. No single water intake formula fits everyone. But knowing more about your body's need for fluids will help you estimate just how much water you need to drink each day.
(Below) Staying hydrated while riding long distances is fairly simple when you can use a HYDRATION BLADDER PACK that slips into the back of your apparel, like this one with my Joe Rocket Ballistic Adventure Touring Jacket.
If you want to pee less and keep riding without stopping every half hour, then stay away from diuretics: coffee, sodas, beer, artificial sweeteners, acidic foods and energy drinks when you’re on the road. Energy drinks; Red Bull, Monster Energy etc., are loaded with a host of counter active ingredients (like caffeine and “tons” of sugar) that long-distance riders don’t need. Energy drinks are different from sports drinks in that they generally aren't formulated to replace electrolytes. Sports drinks; Gatorade, Powerade etc., although contain much of the same ingredients as energy drinks, are a little different in that sports drinks help replace electrolytes lost through perspiration and provides that sugar that’s needed for energy during longer bouts of riding. So, for riding countless hours sports drinks do help, but your best bet is usually nature’s own product, water. It’s available everywhere, not too expensive and healthy for you (no calories to boot). Everything else is usually man made, and done so for profit.
But I will confess, I haven’t drank regular pure water in several years. Although your beverage of choice should be water, it doesn’t have to be. My personal choice of fluid intake has been natural (unprocessed) coconut water. Why Coconut water you may ask? Well, besides replacing electrolytes lost through perspiration naturally (unlike sports drinks), coconut water also provides fiber, vitamin C and several minerals. It contains antioxidants that protect our cells, improves blood sugar control, has magnesium, helps prevent kidney stones by reducing crystal and stone formations and helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, with studies also indicating it helps decrease the risk of blood clots from forming in your arteries. But, your source of fluid can also come from drinks like milk, juice, or even herbal teas which are mostly composed with water as well.
So, let’s make our long-distance traveling more enjoyable and safer. Like knowing what the best antifreeze or motor oil works best for our bikes, understanding what fluids work best for our bodies is vital. Society has programmed us to drink based on corporate greed. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol because they have the effect to make you pee even if you don’t need too.
Heed the advice from, Dr. Bradley Gill, a board-certified urologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio who states, “When you drink alcohol, it causes the body to produce more urine than usual, so that can potentially contribute to the bladder being full”.
Fellow bikers, it’s simple… maintain a balance of fluids in your system, not too much, and not too little (just like your bike’s oil). Learn about the different hydration levels of your specific body, which can be identified from the color of your urine (just like checking your bike’s oil). If your urine is almost colorless or very light yellow and you don’t really feel thirsty, then your fluid intake is probably fine. Avoid placing pressure on your bladder if you can. Use back protectors that are attached to your clothing as opposed to the ones that wrap around your lower abdominals that place pressure on your bladder which forces you to want to pee more often. Even sitting in an upright position on your bike will relieve pressure on your bladder, so don’t slouch over your tank-bag which makes things worse. And a little extra tidbit of information; try forcing yourself to pass gas if you need to pee but can’t if your riding, as doing so could relieve pressure on the bladder (from built up gas in your intestines). As for the male riders, if you want to relieve yourself of as much urine as possible and empty out completely, try peeing sitting down and leaning slightly forward while expanding your abdomen, doing so relaxes you lower muscles. And lastly keep yourself warm during your rides as coldness on the open road causes your body temperature to fall which has a tendency to increase your need to pee.
And finally, try not thinking about peeing too much, some people can actually have "bathroom anxiety", the feeling of needing to pee when they know there aren’t any bathrooms around.
In conclusion: As stated earlier, motorcyclists are more likely to know more about their bike’s needs and mechanical functions than their own. Educating oneself on your own body’s needs and functions could go a long, long way, especially if you’re traveling a long, long distance.