Riding motorcycles isn’t usually synonymous with the promotion of positive mental health and well-being.
But it should be!
Let me start by saying that I’m not a tree hugger.
Or a vegan.
Although in reality, I secretly wish I had the passion, discipline, and commitment to be both. (I could live without the dreadlocks, though.)
That being said, I do try to maintain a certain level of balance in my life. And a lot of that comes from riding motorcycles, being outside, and surrounding myself with nature.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. A lot of us plan trips to quiet, mountainous regions because we want to open that throttle. We want to let rip.
But riding motorcycles isn’t all about the twisting of that wrist.
We all love the speed, power, and negotiation of those twisty roads. But there comes a time when we feel the need to slow down or stop to smell the roses.
Poor Mental Health Is Becoming Normal
The weirdest thing about mental health issues is that they generally arise out of isolation. But considering we live in a digital age where we’re always connected, how is it that we’re isolated?
Ironically enough, the rate of poor mental health seems to correlate with the increase of social connectivity.
In other words, the more we are sucked into our digital world, the more we feel isolated.
If you look at the statistics, they show that a third of people are unable to switch off from social media.
28% of people become anxious if they disconnect from work emails.
An on top of that, around 20% of people say they feel mentally exhausted because they’re always connected in one form or another.
Mental Health Issues Are Now A Major Concern
Everybody everywhere is now encouraging people to speak out about their mental health – which in itself should be telling us something!
And I’m not just talking about your over-sharing friend on Facebook.
There are many non-profit organisations out there that are flying the flag for mental well-being.
And more than that, there are organisations out there who are creating mental health awareness through riding motorcycles!
Mental Health & Riding Motorcycles: Organisations
Movember is probably one of the biggest and they work tirelessly for the promotion of mental well-being in general.
Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is another one that is doing great work for mental health in the riding community by getting people out riding their motorcycles.
And in light of the recent pandemic, Paul Oxborough has set up Mental Health Motorbike – a non-profit organisation that aims to help people suffering from mental health issues; particularly those heightened by social isolation.
If you want to read more about the mental health and physical benefits of riding motorcycles, check out this post: Motorcycle Travel Is Good For You: 10 Scientifically-Proven Benefits.
But for now, let’s concentrate on the mental health benefits of riding motorcycles – and especially motorcycle touring.
Riding Stimulates A Positive Outlook
Bikers get positive benefits from even the simplest of rides – like riding home from work.
But if we extrapolate that to touring, the benefits of riding motorcycles are immense!
At a molecular level, riding motorcycles releases dopamine and endorphins. And without going too much into the physiology, endorphins are our ‘happy hormones.’
So that massive smile you get every time you twist the throttle? You can thank your happy hormones!
Add to this the fresh air and the stimulation of your senses, and you’ll find that the simple act of being outside does wonders for how you feel.
Riding Motorcycles & Being Outside: Effects On Mental Health
As mentioned above, being outside has been proven time and time again for improving our sense of well-being.
But it’s actually more than that.
For a start, studies have shown that simply being able to see trees gives us a sense of calm.
But when riding motorcycles, you can add to this the feeling of the wind, the smell of rain, the sound of the ocean, and the whole thing stimulates our senses.
And when our senses are stimulated, we become immersed in our surroundings.
So in essence, riding motorcycles becomes a form of meditation that initiates an emotionally calm and stable state of mind.
Finding Some Peace
As mentioned above, we’re all socially connected (in some form or other) all the time.
But when riding motorcycles, we often find ourselves away from the telecommunications masts which means that our smartphones are rendered useless.
When we’re riding motorcycles through the lush, French countryside in lavender season, our senses are stimulated. With no phone signal, we’re cut off from the outside world.
That text message will have to wait. The email from work will have to wait. Instagram comments will have to wait. Facebook friend requests will have to wait.
On top of that, we have no passenger, no radio, and no access to technology. And this allows us to dedicate our full attention to what we’re experiencing.
We are fully absorbed in the task at hand during these situations. And what a perfect situation to be absorbed in!
The lack of social connectivity, the absorption in a single task, the stimulation of our senses, and the release of ‘happy hormones’ all play a part in why we feel so good when riding motorcycles.
Social Benefits On Mental Health When Riding Motorcycles
It’s no secret that we bikers are a tight-knit bunch.
From sharing tables at roadside cafes to silent nods and waves as we pass each other on the road, it’s all a part of this very inclusive two-wheeled society we’re proud to be a part of.
In a time where isolation is driving up the rate of mental health issues, it comes as no surprise that attending social motorcycle events helps fend off feelings of anxiety and other mental health conditions.
And you don’t even have to look that far to reap the benefits of riding motorcycles socially!
A quick browse on the net or on social media will show you thousands of bike events across the country – from large-scale rallies and festivals to local morning ride-outs.
Whichever one you choose to attend, it will almost certainly instill a feeling that you’re not just a cog in a wheel.
Because riding motorcycles puts you in the centre of a family. Our family.
And as the charities and non-profit organisations above will attest to, that family is there for you if you need it.
A Lot To Take In!
Yes, I know I’ve already thrown a lot of information at you.
But let’s face it, mental health is important – and riding motorcycles can alleviate the issue.
So what can we do at a tangible level to instill these feelings of positive well-being whilst riding motorcycles?
In the second half of this post, we’ll look at how simple things such as good hydration and nutrition positively affect our mood. Also, we take into account the importance of rest, sleep, socialising, and finding peace and quiet!
Below are 7 surefire ways to promote positive mental health whilst riding motorcycles and/or touring. Together they make up the foundations of the positive mental and physical effects of riding a motorcycle.
And you’ll be surprised at just how easy they are to achieve!
1. Riding Motorcycle & Mental Health: Hydration
Everyone knows this is important for basic functioning, and everybody knows that riding motorcycles dehydrates you.
But in the excitement of the experience, we’re all guilty of letting this slip.
Firstly, when you get up in the morning, down a glass or two of water. Yes, you might need to stop and pee a little bit more often during your ride. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s just another excuse to find a local coffee shop and have another slice of cake.
Fill up a bottle of water from the hotel and sling it in your top box. Keep this is as your hydration bottle and sip on it throughout the day.
Then, every time you stop for fuel or a coffee, buy and drink a small, 500ml bottle. Bottled water in Europe is dirt cheap (around 0.3 – 0.5 Euro) so there isn’t really any excuse not to.
When it comes to hydration and riding motorcycles, it’s all about small, consistent efforts.
500ml in the morning, plus 2x 500ml bottles when you stop for breaks, plus sipping on your hydration bottle will see you put away a few litres of water throughout the day.
You’ll feel about a thousand times better for it.
2. Eat – Often And A Lot!
It’s funny, isn’t it? We all know how to eat healthily but we all do it wrong on an almost daily basis!
One of the best tips I can give you is to book a hotel that has free breakfast in with the deal. If you get a hotel without breakfast, you’ll end up getting McDonald’s from a service station. Or you’ll buy whatever sugary snacks are closest to the till when you pay for fuel.
Do yourself a favour and get a hotel with breakfast.
Breakfast in Europe is amazing and the choices are endless. Take the opportunity to get some fruit down you. Get good proteins from meats, cheeses, and eggs, and top up on slow-release carbs from porridge and brown bread.
More good news is that European breakfasts often come with cake! So once you’ve got a belly full of goodness, treat yourself to a slice of cake (and maybe a Pain au Chocolat) just for good measure.
With regards to lunch and dinner, pretty much whatever you order in Europe will come with the tastiest salads you’ve ever eaten. (In my experience, Austria and Switzerland are the best at this.)
By all means, enjoy your massive burger and chips. Just make sure you chuck a bowl of salad or greens down with it, too.
3. Rest Days, Riding Motorcycles, And Mental Health
Touring is just as much about the rest days as it is about being on your bike.
If you’re going on a two-week trip, I’d recommend having a day off for every three or four days of riding. There’s no science attached to this recommendation, it’s just what I’ve found works best.
Pretty much everybody leaves home tired on their first day of touring. You’re excited overnight. You’ll worry you’ve forgotten to pack something. You’ll generally just be itching to get going. And because of this, you’re unlikely to sleep well the night before.
Then, of course, it’ll be anywhere up to 12 hours before you get to your first hotel – having not slept, probably not eaten properly, probably dehydrated, and tired from the 400 miles you’ve just ridden.
And that’s just one day! Multiply that over a few days and you’ll see how it starts to take its toll on your mental state and wellbeing.
Riding motorcycles is tiring so look after your mind and body. Have a rest.
And by rest, I mean a day off the bike.
Make sure your hotel on nights three and four is somewhere with lots of things to do. Visit local bars, cafes, and restaurants. Have a cold beer in the afternoon with your healthy lunch and enjoy a glass of the local wine with your wholesome dinner.
Visit the heritage spots or local historic monuments and churches. Immerse yourself in the culture. Take it easy, lounge about, or have a lie-in. Give a bit of peace and respite to your tired and aching body.
4. Sleep Is The Builder Of Positive Moods!
Sleep is absolutely essential for both physical and mental wellness. It’s one of our cornerstones of health.
It goes without saying that you probably won’t sleep as well as usual whilst you’re touring. If you’re moving from hotel to hotel, you’ll be in a different bed each night, making it difficult to settle.
The problem with a lack of sleep is the adverse effect it has on the mind and body. Being over-tired creates the same effects as being drunk. So I don’t need to tell you that this can be catastrophic on a bike.
I find it helps to keep to a routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time. If you have an evening routine at home (for example, shower at night or spend an hour reading before bed), try to implement this routine whilst touring.
One thing that is sure to keep you up is going to bed hungry or thirsty. Stock up on lots of good food and fluids at dinner. Ensure you have snacks in the room just in case. Going to bed hydrated and well-nourished will leave your body wanting for nothing which lets it settle into the sleep it needs. Better sleep equals a better you.
Lastly, take advantage of days off by lying in for an extra hour or going to bed an hour early. Or both. Let your body catch up on a few Zzzzz’s whilst you have the chance and get yourself refreshed for the next three or four days riding.
5. Riding Motorcycles, Mental Health, And Alcohol
I don’t need to say much here. By all means, enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with your dinner. Hell, have two glasses! If you’re in France, Spain, or Portugal, it would actually be rude if you didn’t.
And it’s also scientifically proven that alcohol is good for your health.
But when riding motorcycles, moderation is key.
When you’re already dehydrated, too much alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Especially when you have to ride 300 miles the following day in the scorching heat. Even if you make it to your destination alive, you’ll feel terrible all day and won’t enjoy it anyway.
And that’s not to mention the fines and bans some of the police forces in Europe can impose on you.
It’s just not worth it.
Lastly, from a mental health & well-being aspect, alcohol consumption is best kept in moderation.
6. Time Keeping: Relieve Stress To Maintain Well-Being
You’re probably wondering what I’m banging on about here.
Stress is a toxin and it can mess up your health over time. So trying to avoid it is a good thing. Let’s start with lateness.
Trust me when I say you will be late. For everything.
And even if you’re not late, I can guarantee someone within your party will be.
Someone will break a cable tie. Somebody else will leave their wallet in the room. Someone will lose a bungee. Someone’s bike might not start. Someone will lose their bike key. The list is endless.
The point I’m getting at is to start doing everything a few minutes earlier than you think you need to. Because if you don’t, the whole thing can spiral into a very stressful mess.
If you’re late for breakfast, you’ll be late setting off. So you’ll be late for lunch. Then you’ll miss your check-in slot at the hotel. Then you’ll miss dinner.
It makes for a needlessly stressful day of playing catch up when it could have been a perfectly relaxing day of riding.
7. Riding Motorcycles & Mental Health: Finding Peace
Again, please don’t think I’m turning happy-clappy here. I’m not a Zen master or anything but I’ve come to realise the importance of a bit of peace and serenity over the years.
Like you, I have a stressful life. It’s the same for everybody these days who lives or works in one of Europe’s many towns and cities.
Take a bit of time out in the morning or in the evening to find some solace – some ‘you’ time.
Find somewhere quiet and use the time to let your mind wander and reflect. Not only is the rest good for you physically, but it’s good for mental health, too.
Different people do this in different ways. I’m a lover of nature, so I’m at my happiest when I’m in the mountains or sat on a rock next to a lake.
For you, it might be a walk in a wild forest or simply sitting by the sea.
Try a bit of meditation if the mood takes. It really does create a sense of well-being. If you can find ten minutes in your day to sit alone someplace beautiful, then do it.
Clear your mind and just be.
It’s actually pretty nice!