They’re not practical, they’re dangerous, they’re expensive, they’re risky… there are all sorts of reasons why most people feel motorcycles are not the ideal mode of transport. But fans still continue to ride. So, what’s the secret?
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From Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara’s memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, to American author John Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears, motorcycles have always been associated with cathartic journeys between various emotional states of life. Protagonists in literature and film often jump on a motorbike when they are looking for a way to make sense of their lives, or when dealing with things beyond their control, like loss or death.
But that could be done at home, too, in a comfortable armchair. Why motorcycles?
It could be because of a connection between the vehicle and our idea of ‘peri-personal space’. The human brain thinks of space around us in three ways, according to a December 2020 study published in the Switzerland-based journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. Personal space is related to our body, and extra-personal space is the area around us that we can hear and see. Within the extra-personal space is the reaching space or peri-personal space – the area in which you can reach an object without moving your body.
When we use certain tools, our reaching space expands to include the area that the tool allows us to interact with. In a way, the tool becomes an extension of our own body.
For motorcyclists who reach that ‘flow’ point, the benefits of riding motorbikes are numerous. A study published in March 2021 in the Netherlands-based journal Brain Research, tested people’s brain activity and hormone levels before, during and after motorcycling, driving a car, and resting. They found that those who rode motorbikes saw an increased sensory focus and resilience to distraction, along with a 25 per cent decrease in their stress levels. Riding also increased one’s alertness to a level similar to drinking a cup of coffee.
As is implied in the title of the song Motorcycle Emptiness, by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, that zen state when driving alone on a long, empty road, with the hum of the motorcycle and the blurring landscape around you, may be impractical and risky, but it’s also a form of therapy.