Huge MotorMouth thanks go out to Fairleigh Dickinson University MSF RiderCoach Renee Kornbluth! (pictured here on her 2017 Ninja) Renee got me hip to a neurobiological study that Harley-Davidson recently funded. 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. In a nutshell the study found that motorcycling increased metrics of focus
and attention, and decreased relative levels of cortisol, a hormonal marker of stress.
If you ride, you know that it demands a high level of concentration which might seem very stressful to a nonrider. For me, riding a moto produces a calming effect and the intense awareness aspect of it is actually pleasurable. In fact, I would even call it empowering. Exhibiting total vigilance in looking out for “traps” on the road from all directions, produces an almost trance-like state for a rider when they are out there “in the wind”
For the study, 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 a decrease in cortisol metrics – results often associated with light exercise and stress reduction.
“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.”
“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.”
The research team monitored participants’ electrical brain activity and heart rate, as well as levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. To be officially presented later this year, the 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.”
Two fun facts from the study:
1 – Riding a motorcycle decreased hormonal biomarkers of stress by 28%.
2 – Changes in study participants’ brain activity while riding suggested an increase in alertness similar to drinking a cup
Now go throw a leg over and relieve some stress!