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New Study Finds Motorcycle Riding Decreases Stress, Increases Focus according to Harley Davidson paid study.

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By Andrew Cherney

You know why you ride. We all do, right? (Cue violins.) It’s that feeling of release, the rush of adrenaline, the social benefits of a group ride, yadda yadda yadda. We all have known since day one that just a couple of minutes on a bike was a surefire way to relieve any pesky stresses that might crop up in the daily grind.

Well, now there’s a study out of UCLA, funded by Harley-Davidson, that officially confirms all those messy thoughts and puts it into bigger, more precise, and scientific context. In short, it seems that riding a scoot gives you some of the same benefits as a workout and decreases cortisol, the nasty hormone that signals stress.

The neurobiological study was produced by a team of researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior who studied a group of healthy experienced riders piloting their own bikes on a predetermined route for 22 miles under normal conditions.

The researchers recorded the riders’ brain activity and hormone levels before, during, and after motorcycling, driving a car, and resting. The research team monitored participants’ electrical brain activity and heart rate, as well as levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol using mobile EEG technology. The results found that when riding, the subjects experienced increased sensory focus and resilience to distraction. Riding also produced an increase in adrenaline levels and heart rate, and a decrease in cortisol levels—the kind of results you often get after a light exercise session, which also is a stress reducer.

The use of that tech was pretty ground-breaking in itself: “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 investigate the physical and mental effects riders report.”

The study also emphasized these key points:

  • Riding a motorcycle decreased hormonal biomarkers of stress by 28 percent
  • 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
  • Sensory focus was enhanced while riding a motorcycle versus driving a car, an effect also observed in experienced meditators versus non-meditators
  • Changes in study participants’ brain activity while riding suggested an increase in alertness similar to drinking a cup of coffee.

The full report, entitled “The Mental and Physical Effects of Riding a Motorcycle,” which measured the biological and physiological responses of more than 50 experienced motorcyclists using mobile EEG technology will be presented later this year, according to Harley.

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Of course, the Milwaukee folks had their own spin on the paper: “We’re leveraging the latest technologies as we shift 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 and brand. “The research findings Dr. Vaughn and his team identified help explain what 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.”

Harley also took the opportunity to gently push its Riding Academy schools for “those who wish to experience the heightened sensory experience of riding first-hand.” H-D Riding Academy introduces interested newbies to motorcycle riding and builds their skills, regardless of experience level. To see what’s near you, search for classes at h-d.com.

It’s what Vaughn’s colleague, UCLA Professor Dr. Mark Cohen, said that hit the nail on the head for us though: “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. No lab experiment can duplicate the feelings that a motorcyclist would have on the open road.”

Amen to that.

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