Science Just Validated What Motorcyclists Have Always Known
Clint Lawrence, founder of Motorcycle Shippers. Helping give riders more freedom to enjoy the bikes they love. [email protected]
If you ask 100 motorcycle riders how riding makes them feel, I’d be willing to bet that a majority of them describe a “pick me up” or peace of mind they can’t get anywhere else.
Reddit has an entire thread devoted to how riding makes people feel. Brian Steuber, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, describes the rush this way: “My medical prescription is 800-plus pounds of American-made metal and chrome. No drug can compare; no feeling is better. That’s why I ride.” And then there’s Dan Aykroyd, who once said, “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle!”
Maybe it’s the surge of adrenaline or that sheer feeling of freedom. It could be the thrill of hitting the road with your riding buddies—or, if you prefer going it lone wolf, the moments of solitude away from the rest of the world. But no matter how riding makes you feel, the impact of a good ride is unmistakable.
Riders instinctively know that the best cure for a tough day is two wheels and an open road. Still, research about the mental benefits of riding a motorcycle has been surprisingly spotty at best. That is, until earlier this year, when Harley-Davidson America funded a study to explore how riding affects our brains.
After decades of relative radio silence, science is now confirming what riders have known all along: getting on a motorcycle is good for your mood.
A quick rundown of the UCLA-Harley motorcycle study
In the recent University of California, Los Angeles study funded by Harley, researchers recorded the brain activity and hormone levels of more than 50 riders. The scientists tracked brain activity before motorcycles hit the road, mid-ride and afterward—plus while they were driving a car and relaxing. The ride was 22 miles, in normal weather conditions, and all participants rode their own motorcycles.
Here’s what the researchers found: A motorcycle ride decreased the participants’ stress biomarkers by almost 30%. Riding for 20 minutes boosted their heart rates by more than 10% and adrenaline by 27%—similar to the effect of getting light exercise. (Check out this article we wrote on the health benefits of riding a motorcycle, from a stronger core to better stability.)
Meanwhile, the EEG detecting the riders’ brain activity found that the ride did more good than just getting their cortisol under control—though that’s pretty significant to begin with. Changes in brain activity showed that the riders were more alert and less likely to be distracted, similar to what happens when you drink a cup of coffee.
It might feel like a bummer that Harley is planning to use the study to sell more motorcycles.
But if that news gets you down, at least there’s a science-backed remedy for easing your worried mind: going out for a ride.