It’s official: Riding a motorcycle is good for your health

A new UCLA study shows that two-wheeled therapy is a real thing

Photo: Jesse Bowen

Ask any motorcyclist why they ride and you’ll probably get a range of similar answers: Nothing compares to the feeling of heading out on the open road with the wind in your hair. It’s the ultimate sense of freedom. It’s a way to disconnect from the stress of daily life and achieve peace of mind. I could go on forever, but it all boils down to one simple idea: Riding a motorcycle is a great stress reliever.

And now there’s scientific research to back that up.  

In a new neurobiological study funded by Harley-Davidson, a team of UCLA researchers found that riding a motorcycle decreased hormonal biomarkers of stress by an impressive 28%. Riding also increased alertness, similar to the effect of drinking a cup of coffee.

The scientists at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior recorded the brain activity, heart rate, and hormone levels of more than 50 experienced motorcyclists before, during, and after riding a motorcycle, driving a car, and resting.

“The differences in participants’ neurological and physiological responses between riding and other measured activities were quite pronounced,” said Dr. Don Vaughn, one of the neuroscientists behind the study. “This could be significant for mitigating everyday stresses.”

“THIS COULD BE SIGNIFICANT FOR MITIGATING EVERYDAY STRESSES.”

You may have heard a common biker adage claiming that “You never see a motorcycle parked outside a therapist’s office.” While that sentiment certainly doesn’t help lift any stigmas surrounding mental health, it does imply that riding a motorcycle, for many people, can be therapy in itself.

“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,” said Dr. Mark Cohen, professor at UCLA. “No lab experiment can duplicate the feelings that a motorcyclist would have on the open road.”

If you needed another excuse to ditch that lunch yoga class and head out on a ride instead, there you have it. In the immortal words of ’70s one-hit wonder Sailcat, “We’ll see the world from my Harley… if the chain don’t break.”

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