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The Love of Riding

Why do we do it? It’s dangerous. It can be impractical and uncomfortable. You’re exposed to the weather with no protection, it can cause anxiety or even fear in loved ones and induce loathing from the general public. So tell me, what is it you love about motorcycling again?

We put a post up on Facebook. It asked why you loved motorcycling and the responses ranged from deranged babbling and shaggy dog stories to the inspiring and poetic. Here, you’ll find a selection and some interpretation, with a contentious conclusion.

“It helps clear my head...leave my problems behind. A window of freedom from all the crap.” - Liam

Is riding really a stress reliever? Maybe it depends on your definition of stress and how you best deal with it. Goethe famously said ‘a man can withstand anything but a succession of ordinary days’. The inference being that we need variety and excitement in our lives. Some people’s idea of an escape from the burdens of stress and worry is a holistic massage at a spa centre, accompanied by whale song. Others get more out of summiting a mountain.

There are definitely some of us for whom complete immersion in in an endeavour is the way to forget about other cares. One other thing: I’ve met motorcyclists who lost their joy of riding because it was their job; something they had to do every day. But they all, eventually, rediscovered the passion after time away.

“Me time. A time to enjoy for me, away from the hubby and kids…. being in control of my destiny…a personal dream.” - Anita

We have to acknowledge it: there’s a selfish aspect to riding a motorcycle. Sometimes it goes completely against the wishes of loved ones, even scares them. As an efficient or environmentally-friendly choice of transport it has its limitations. And sometimes we prefer to ride solo, preferring not to share the ride with a pillion or other riders.

But we need to understand that we’re not all made the same. Society is arguably more conformist than it has ever been, it’s just different norms being foisted upon us. Being able to rebel, even in a small way, is important. And, for some of us, choosing to ride is our go-to escape from crushing normality. One that’s available at the push of a button or a swing of the kick starter.

“On a motorcycle I know I'm alive. Even the familiar seems strange and glorious. The air has weight and substance as I push through it and its touch is as intimate as water to a swimmer. I feel the cool wells of air that pool under trees and the warm spokes of the sun that fall through them.” - John

The whole experience of motorcycling has the ability to touch the human soul. From nosing through a grubbily-thumbed copy of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen to the soaring high that comes after a perfect track day session, it transports mind, body and spirit to another plane. And this is what motivates us to improve. The satisfaction that comes with setting the tappets perfectly on an old classic.

The rush that comes with getting a corner just right. Sometimes it’s about being in ‘the zone’. Other times it’s the existential wonder of piloting your bike in a setting or landscape that lifts the heart. We’ve all experienced these things and we all constantly chase them, consciously or unconsciously. In a myriad ways, motorcycling is a transcendent experience, far beyond being an enjoyable method of transport.

“I’ve met some awesome people though riding and we now ride regularly as a group on weekends… I have spoken with perfect strangers, and I have forgotten people I see every day…The feeling of riding a bike is not discriminatory. It doesn’t matter who or what you are. Bikers can come together and not be judged.” - Craig

There’s no denying the camaraderie that riding engenders. Like many pursuits or experiences involving danger, uncommon skills or separation from the herd, riding a motorcycle gives entry to an exclusive club. Among many it’s a key reason for riding. On the other hand there are plenty who accept the membership but are happy to keep themselves to themselves.

Either way, when a fellow rider needs help, others stop to give it. There’s also a largely unstated sense of inclusivity, but not at the expense of suffering fools. Young and old; male, female or however you see yourself; whatever your ethnic origins, religious following or sexual choices, if you love and ride motorcycles you are part of the club: a brother or sister in the fraternity.

“I’ve taken up riding again after a 32-year hiatus due to bowel cancer and it has helped enormously with the physical and mental process…. I have severe emphysema, awaiting a double lung transplant, and my mobility is pretty shot. My Vstrom lets me forget this.” - Paul

I’ll never forget attending a BSB round at Snetterton with a Superstock team and watching the True Heroes Racing Triumph Daytona screaming around Corams. Just a few minutes earlier I’d stood next to Murray Hambro in the paddock as his team, many of them amputees, helped locate his boots on the retaining lugs on his footpegs.

After an IED blew his vehicle 40 feet in the air in Afghanistan, Lance Corporal Hambro became a double amputee. With his Army career over, he chose to go motorcycle racing because, he says, it lifted his spirits. Even in the face of life-changing illness or injury, motorcycling has a special power that draws us in.

So, what are we to conclude about the reasons why we ride? Could it be simple chemistry? After all, our physiological reactions to riding are clearly understood. The excitement and satisfaction of riding are known to release endorphins, which will reduce depression, anxiety and pain, boost self-esteem and the immune response, and regulate or moderate appetite.

Another part of the chemistry is the production of dopamine, ‘the pleasure chemical’. It play a big role in the brain’s reward mechanism and drives motivation. And if you’re really pushing it, adrenaline will kick in. Not only is it a crushingly effective pain suppressor, it’s a reliable precursor to endorphin production.

The truth could be, then, that we are simply junkies. Hooked on the rush of opiate-mimicking chemicals in our bloodstreams, we simply cannot kick the habit. While that might seem a stretch when it comes to the satisfaction of tickling the timing on your old Triumph twin, it is still true.

The satisfaction we derive from the pastime will continue to eke out those positive neurotransmitters. It may even act to stimulate a neurological ‘muscle memory’ that remembers events past, releasing more than might be expected. It’s an insight one of our post contributors put into words:

“One day, when I am old and cannot walk anymore, that bike will be in my garage as a trophy of my memories.”
- David

Or perhaps there’s another explanation. Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, known for his appearances in Nintendo’s Brain Age series of games, looked into it. In partnership with Yamaha Japan and Tohoku University, he found that riding a motorcycle improves cognitive function, by as much as 50%.

And that reveals by far the most pertinent point. It’s less important to know why we ride than to appreciate that, because we ride, we are far smarter than those who don’t.