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  • Writer's picturePhoenix

Motorcycle Head Space

OK, um, interesting!

Call me a geek, but I recently read this research study, released in January 2019, by a team out of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behaviour. Basically they reinforced all that you and I have been saying for years about Motorcycle Riding: the physical & mental benefits.

I'm not here to convince non-riders to ride. These are just the facts, your honor :)

Note: This study was commissioned by Harley Davidson, so, some might argue there are some biases.  Regardless, here are a few tidbits to sink your teeth into:

Riding a Motorcycle decreased stress levels

20 minutes of riding = 20 minutes of light exercise

There is an increase in riders sensory focus (IE Sight, Smell, Sound)

Awareness increased…like drinking a cup of coffee


These conclusions suggest to me that Motorcycle Riding has some seriously positive effects for you and me.  Seriously! 

Another conclusion I draw from this study is that riding a Motorcycle does require physical stamina & mental alertness, especially on extended rides. Which bears the question, do you ride with ear-buds (IE Listening to tunes) or do you ride with the bike-radio on?  If you do, do you find yourself distracted from the task at hand?  Personally, I do without either.  Not solely because of the other drivers/riders, but because I GET MORE FROM THE RIDE when I’m completely focused:  smells, sounds, sights, etc.  But that’s me.  What about you?

Here's a more in-depth look at the findings in this study:


Motorcycling Decreased Stress-Measures, Similar to Light Exercise

MILWAUKEE (January 17, 2019) – Motorcyclists have long championed riding as their main road to stress relief and positive mental health. Today, the results of a neurobiological study conducted by a team of three researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior yielded pioneering scientific evidence revealing the potential mental and physical benefits of riding. Funded by Harley-Davidson, the study found that motorcycling increased metrics of focus and attention, and decreased relative levels of cortisol, a hormonal marker of stress.

Researchers recorded participants’ brain activity and hormone levels before, during, and after motorcycling, driving a car, and resting. While riding a motorcycle, participants experienced increased sensory focus and resilience to distraction. Riding also produced an increase in adrenaline levels and heart rate, as well as a decrease in cortisol metrics – results often associated with light exercise and stress-reduction. 

“Stress levels, especially among young adults, continue to rise, and people are exploring pathways to better their mental and physical health. Until recently, the technology to rigorously measure the impact of activities like motorcycling on the brain didn’t exist,” said Dr. Don Vaughn, the neuroscientist who led the research team. “The brain is an amazingly complex organ and it’s fascinating to rigorously investigate the physical and mental effects riders report.”

Results Highlights:

●Riding a motorcycle decreased hormonal biomarkers of stress by 28% 

●On average, riding a motorcycle for 20 minutes increased participants’ heart rates by 11 percent and adrenaline levels by 27 percent—similar to light exercise   

●The sensory focus was enhanced while riding a motorcycle versus driving a car, an effect also observed in experienced meditators vs non-meditators    

●Changes in study participants’ brain activity while riding suggested an increase in alertness similar to drinking a cup of coffee      

“While scientists have long studied the relationship of brain and hormone responses to attention and stress, doing so in real-life conditions such as these is rare,” explained UCLA Professor and senior team member, Dr. Mark Cohen. “No lab experiment can duplicate the feelings that a motorcyclist would have on the open road.”

“The differences in participants’ neurological and physiological responses between riding and other measured activities were quite pronounced,” continued Dr. Vaughn. “This could be significant for mitigating everyday stresses.”

Research Overview

The research team monitored participants’ electrical brain activity and heart rate, as well as levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. To be presented later this year, the Harley-Davidson funded study, entitled “The mental and physical effects of riding a motorcycle” measured the biological and physiological responses of more than 50 experienced motorcyclists, using mobile EEG technology.

“We’re leveraging the latest technologies as we shift our focus from exclusively motorcycles to growing ridership, so it only made sense to tap technology to explore the impact of riding itself,” said Heather Malenshek, Harley-Davidson’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Brand. “The research findings Dr. Vaughn and his team identified helps explain what our riders have felt for the past 116 years – there’s a vitality and heightened sensory experience that comes from the freedom of riding a motorcycle. We hope their findings inspire the next generation of riders to experience these benefits along with us.”


I welcome your comments & suggestions for future topics.  Please also check out my Social Media Pages…would love to hear about your experiences and your plans for your next ride.

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