This Is Your Brain on a Motorcycle
Riding a motorcycle every day might actually keep your brain functioning at peak condition, or so says a study conducted by the University of Tokyo. The study demonstrated that riders between the age of 40 and 50 were shown to improve their levels of cognitive functioning, compared to a control group, after riding their motorcycles daily to their workplace for a mere two months.
Scientists believe that the extra concentration needed to successfully operate a motorcycle can contribute to higher general levels of brain function, and it’s that increase in activity that’s surely a contributing factor to the appeal of the motorcycles as transportation. It’s the way a ride on a bike turns the simplest journey into a challenge to the senses that sets the motorcyclist apart from the everyday commuter. While the typical car-owning motorist is just transporting him or her self from point A to point B, the motorcyclist is actually transported into an entirely different state of consciousness .
Riding a motorcycle is all about entrance into an exclusive club where the journey actually is the destination.
Dr Ryuta Kawashima, author of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain, reported the outcome of his study of “The relationship between motorcycle riding and the human mind.”
Kawashima’s experiments involved current riders who currently rode motorcycles on a regular basis (the average age of the riders was 45) and ex-riders who once rode regularly but had not taken a ride for 10 years or more. Kawashima asked the participants to ride on courses in different conditions while he recorded their brain activities. The eight courses included a series of curves, poor road conditions, steep hills, hair-pin turns and a variety of other challenges.
What did he find? After an analysis of the data, Kawashima found that the current riders and ex-riders used their brain in radically different ways. When the current riders rode motorcycles, specific segments of their brains (the right hemisphere of the prefrontal lobe) was activated and riders demonstrated a higher level of concentration.
His next experiment was a test of how making a habit of riding a motorcycle affects the brain.
Trial subjects were otherwise healthy people who had not ridden for 10 years or more. Over the course of a couple of months, those riders used a motorcycle for their daily commute and in other everyday situations while Dr Kawashima and his team studied how their brains and mental health changed.
The upshot was that the use of motorcycles in everyday life improved cognitive faculties, particularly those that relate to memory and spatial reasoning capacity. An added benefit? Participants revealed on questionnaires they filled out at the end of the study that their stress levels had been reduced and their mental state changed for the better.
So why motorcycles? Shouldn’t driving a car should have the same effect as riding a motorcycle?
“There were many studies done on driving cars in the past,” Kawashima said. “A car is a comfortable machine which does not activate our brains. It only happens when going across a railway crossing or when a person jumps in front of us. By using motorcycles more in our life, we can have positive effects on our brains and minds”.
Yamaha participated in a second joint research project on the subject of the relationship between motorcycle riding and brain stimulation with Kawashima Laboratory at the Department of Functional Brain Imaging, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer at Tohoku University.
The project began in September 2009 and ran until December 2010, and the focus of the research was on measurement and analysis of the cause and effect relationship involved in the operation of various types of vehicles and brain stimulation. The study measured changes in such stimulation over time by means of data gathered from a long-term mass survey.
The reason for Yamaha Motor’s participation in this project is pretty obvious and not a little self-serving, but further research into the relationship between motorcycle riding and brain stimulation as it relates to the “Smart Aging Society” will certainly provide some interesting results.
The second research project was divided into two time periods throughout 2009 and 2010 compared differences in the conditions of brain stimulation as they related to the type of vehicle and driving conditions. A second set of tests measuring the changes in brain stimulation over time involved a larger subject group.
Yamaha Motors provided vehicles for the research and made its test tracks and courses available for the study. What the study revealed is that what you’re thinking about while you’re riding – and your experience on the bike – changes the physical structure of your brain.
Author Sharon Begley concurs with Kawashima’s findings. In her tome, Train Your Mind – Change Your Brain, Begley found much the same outcomes.
“The brain devotes more cortical real estate to functions that its owner uses more frequently and shrinks the space devoted to activities rarely performed,” Begley wrote. “That’s why the brains of violinists devote more space to the region that controls the digits of the fingering hand.”
And you may also get some mental and physical benefits from just thinking about going for a ride on your machine.
A 1996 experiment at Harvard Medical School by neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone had volunteers practice a simple five finger exercise on the piano over five days for a couple of hours each day. Pascual-Leone found that the brain space devoted to these finger movements grew and pushed aside areas less used. A separate group of volunteers were asked to simply think about doing the piano exercises during that week as well, and they dedicated the same amount of “practice time.”
Pascual-Leone was somewhat take aback to discover that the region of the brain which controls piano playing finger movement expanded in the same way for volunteers who merely imagined playing the piano.
Along with the obvious benefits of riding motorcycles; like saving money (motorcycle insurance is relatively inexpensive), motorcycles take the edge off the grind of the daily commute, and that appears to make your brain a better place to be…
I road race motorcycles. Like MotoGP but at the local state club level. You can’t race without crashing. Everyone that races, crashes. The fastest guys have usually crashed a lot, finding their limits and pushing it a little more.
I have crashed I think 5 times in the last few years. Yes I would claim to be a bit of an expert on this subject. Far more than some sunday rider on his Harley cadillac edition boat on two wheels.
Loud pipes sound cool. They do not save lives. Helmets do not limit visibility. If a helmet is limiting your visibility you must be wearing it backwards. I do not want you on the road. Anywhere. Ever. Stay at home in your mom’s basement where it is safe, for all of US.
I do NOT think it should be the nanny state telling us we HAVE to wear helmets. I think instead it would be a great way to ensure our future generations are smarter. Let Darwin sort out the stupid ones.
YES wearing a helmet can save your life. I am witness to this more times in one day on any race weekend than any of you sunday ride to church experts would know.
To disagree is exposing your foolishness.
…further more we also are required to wear a hard back protector, gaunlet style gloves, boots, and of course full one piece leathers. Even if it were not REQUIRED, everyone still would.
Never could understand what all the fuss was over one brand or type ride. I love them all but currently own a couple Beemers. Love the Dual Sport, but also love riding the RT. Thing is I also love the sound of a good set of pipes on a HD. Have fond memories of my ol 66 Bonnie, but only so much cash and room so am limited as to how many I can truly enjoy over any given period of time.
Protective stuff? Well as it has so aptly been pointed out, “Dress for the ride or dress for the slide”. Your head may make it through a minor get off but think of all the flesh you leave behind. I love riding without a helmet and in shorts and T shirt, but my choice is to use pretty close to $2K worth of gear each time I ride both on and off road. My choice thank you and it has literally saved my back side more than once.
Who would ever consider the views of a person that claims to be more intelligent than u, yet cannot spell intelligent, guard, or piece correctly? I’m just sayin.
I’m glad to hear about studies that indicate motorcyclist’s brain activity helps them stay mentally sharp. Another bonus for loving to ride, and a good reason to never stop.
I believe in personal choice regarding wearing a helmet. My choice is to wear one. If you have been riding 35+ years without a helmet, and never crashed and banged your head on something, then count your blessings and be thankful, everyday.
Ya know why loud pipes don’t save lives? It’s because nobody hears how loud they are until the bike has already gone by! Those loud pipes face the rear of the bike, not the front where you are more likely to encounter a problem. That stupid quote always makes me laugh.
Very interesting article. Makes me want to ride again. Wish I could still ride. I lost sight in my left eye a year ago thanks to Multiple Sclerosis and haven’t ridden since. Anyone know of a person who has been able to overcome the depth perception issues that come with only having one eye? I’d love to be back on a bike again.
to JC former rider,
One of my oldest friends lost the sight in his left eye at the age of 7. He played varsity basketball in high school, was a running back in college and is still an outstanding tennis player. He has been a motorcycle rider for 40 years, currently riding a Honda RC51 sport bike. All of these activities require great depth perception.
It’s probably easier from an early age, but keep working at it, you CAN adapt to vision with one eye.
Ever wonder why someone riding a Harley looks so pissed off? Ride one and you will see…
Todd, good article!
It is interesting how the comments have digressed to whether a helmet is a safety tool or not. My feeling is ‘to each their own’. You have to live with it, so wear it or not. Your choice. And yes I’m against people pushing their ideals on others, ie. helmet laws. Wear them if you want!
Personally I have seen riders live and die in my years as a paramedic. Some riders without a helmet live when you would think they should have died. Some riders wearing helmets died when you would think they should have lived. I’ve even seen a rider wearing a helmet, fall off his stopped bike and die because of a C-1 C-2 fracture. So if it is your time, time’s up!
The article does point out what I’ve always thought. A rider is more aware of his/her surrondings and plans ahead, usually due to a higher brain activity. Comparing a rider with one that drives a car is like the comparison between a pilot and a car driver. A pilot and rider has to be aware of their surroundings and is concentrating on the situation ahead rather than their present location. Most car drivers are only concerned about their location rather than what’s coming up. (Notice I said MOST, not ALL).
ES- it really doesn’t make much difference if the pipes are loud, color of the bike is safety yellow, or you sing real loud. Others just don’t pay attention to what’s around them. One of my vehicles is a big diesel F250, and people still pull out/walk out in front of me.
Again, good article Todd!
never mind they keep the bugs and rain out of your mouth and eyes…
i do find that sometimes a leather 1-piece can tempt you to ride faster on the street as you feel more secure, ride in jeans and a t-shirt and you notice the difference…easy behaviour to train out though
if it was illegal to wear a helmet, i’d still wear one.
If you actually believe its safer to ride without a helmet, I mean really, really, really believe it, you are so far beyond %$#@! stupid that your mother needs to go back to the schools you attended & demand a refund. Grow up & get something else to rally about.
All the guys on the Moto GP grid wear full face helmets. I would bet a paycheck that each & every one would even if there was no rule requiring it.
If loud pipes save lives, imagine what actually learning to ride would do…
Met more than one “loud pipe” rider who didn’t know the basics of countersteering, proper throttle control, and body anchoring/positioning to maximize available traction.
Helmets saved me more than once, and not just on bikes.
Maybe if the above person bought a real helmet, and not a novelty helmet frequently seen on cruisers to skirt by the law it would actually do something.
How could adding protection hurt? It doesn’t.
Oh, and the vision reduction thing… again, buy a good helmet. Mine doesn’t obscure any of my usable vision, and it is a full face helmet. Heck, the support members around my car windows obscure more.
Don’t want a helmet, fine don’t wear one… one less problem to deal with in the end.
Todd- Nice work!
James (Harley basher)- Get laid!
Hey James!!! Looks like you have a envy streak going.To put it quite
simply, Eat Sheet. Signed – A Proud Harley Owner
I’d bet James has a YES WE CAN bumper sticker on his Prius.
Hugh G Rection made me laugh.
I have ridden mostly off road bikes for nearly 40 years now. At times I would join my friends for a trip down the tarmac just to be sociable. They did not like the stressful environment off pavement.
Over the years I had developed painful arches and toe ligaments. Nothing much helped until I became owner of a 2001 Bourghette street bike. These huge motors are bolted solid in the frame and all the controls are heavy duty and very solidly mounted. Needless to say this thing vibrated and I mean a lot.
However, the vibration was not annoying as was the vibrations I still felt from some of the more refined
and internally balanced 4 and 6 cyl motors from over the pond. After about 2 months on the Bourghette I discovered that the foot peg vibration was actually massaging my aching arches. After 6 months there was no more pain and I could walk as long and fast as I cared to. Acceleration was amazing on this 120hp low rpm beast. The passerbys would also give you a bit of recognition from the quality of the machine and its sound. But I actually have to say the most rewarding part of the ride was having my stride back to normal. So here is physical proof that riding motorcycles can indeed be measurably therapeutic. jws
Wonder if the findings of that article apply to cyclists as well. I would think so.
Comparing a bicycle with a motorcycle…?
I rode a bicycle for many years, and still remember one occasion when a guy got off the road and hit a fence. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and took a good hit on his head. I still don’t understand how that happened, but it happened!
Riding a bicycle is a relatively slow motion activity, it may be very intense because of the effort needed to keep speed over a certain distance, but the bicycle and rider are not going very fast (fast enough to break a bone, though!). At a fast pace on a bicycle you still concentrate more on yourself than on the road, like hydrating and keeping your body and energy.
On a motorcycle, you must concentrate mainly on the road and surroundings, and to a lesser degree on yourself, otherwise it is a call for trouble.
The only time a bicycle ride would require higher skills than normal would be if you ride it on a freeway… and it would definitely be a lot more dangerous because of the difference in speed between you and the rest of vehicles!
I once, was very close to hit an idiot on a moped on a 55 mph highway… where else? in Florida!
I have been riding for several years now, and I have felt from the beginning that riding a motorcycle makes you a better driver on a cage (car) because of the level of attention and how you learn to continuously process information about your surroundings. I believe it makes you think faster and more focused under a variety of circumstances you don’t even think when in a car. In addition, you have no chance of holding a cell phone or eating while riding a bike. The key here, I think, is not going ever above your level of ability, but push it a bit at a time. I would like to see the mandatory motorcycle riding classes somehow adapted to car drivers… it would be less accidents, even if cagers learn just a thing or two.
And for the guy who talks about vibration, it is negligible on a Harley at 70 mph! He may be talking about something he’s doing to himself!
Has to be Bush’s fault ‘ )
Take your helmet hold it about head high and drop it on the pavement. After you have witnessed your helmet bursting open like a raw egg, then tell me how much safer it is to wear a helmet (which btw reduces your field of vision by approximately 30%). Just sayin’
In replay to More inteligent than U!
Take your helmet hold it about head high and drop it on the pavement. After you have witnessed your helmet bursting open like a raw egg, then tell me how much safer it is to wear a helmet (which btw reduces your field of vision by approximately 30%). Just sayin’
Check your statistics before you post something stupid like that. Maybe a $10 helmet would crack open. So if you have a $10 head buy a $10 helmet. I can guarantee you, that the helmets we use will not break open if I hold them high over my head and drop them to the pavement and I am 6′ tall, so they would be dropping from over 8ft high. Twice a helmet has saved my wife from serious head injury. I have ridden with and without a helmet many times. Now I wear a fullface helmet and have found that my vision is not reduced one bit.
It turns out people named James are the dumbest of all, you’ll just have to trust me on that FACT!!!
Loud pipes save lives while helmets just make the ride less comforable.
Fact: When you tangle with a car, truck, or gaurd rail a helmet will not save your life. It will only prolong it letting you suffer for longer and run up an enormous medical bill for your family to have to pay, and then you will die anyway.
Truth is helmet or not; if it is your time to die your dead, if it is not your time to die you will live and often suffer little or no damage.
The thought that a peice of friggin plastic wrapped around your head is going to stop injury show that those who beleive so are all ready brain damaged!!!!!
Clearly you have never been in a serious (or even minor) motorcycle accident. For your sake I hope that continues. Though, if you have never needed a helmet then you probably ride like a grandmother.
My brain, dental work, and face have been saved by “a piece of frigging plastic” a number of times both on and off road. Of course, in your case, you might not be risking much. lol.
Loud pipes do not save lives. Not even close. My bike is not the quietest things in the world and yet pedestrians/cyclists/cars still manage to pull/step out on me on a daily basis as if I weren’t even there. If people aren’t specifically looking/listening for a motorbike then they’ll carry on doing their own thing regardless.
Helmets, on the other hand, help to absorb energy from an impact in the event of a crash. Energy that would otherwise be absorbed by your skull and, subsequently, your brain. A friend of mine had a crash not long ago that would have resulted in his death had it not been for his helmet. As it was he still broke his jaw, but a broken jaw is nothing when you think what could have happened. Obviously, yes, a helmet is going to impair your vision somewhat, but you learn to be a little more vigilent about what’s around you. I’ve always worn a full-face helmet and I’ve never once worried about being able to see – it’s all about awareness, mirrors and blind-spot checks.
Each to their own, obviously. I just think it’s more sensible to take precuations to ensure that if you DO crash then you’re well protected, rather than relying on the assumption that people are going to be paying attention to your loud pipes.
Loud pipes do nothing but annoy people plus they are illegal! Last I knew the noise does not travel in front of the bike warning those ahead of it’s arrival. And constantly revving your loud piped engine at every stop light is even more annoying. If the bike won’t stay running at idle then learn how to tune it properly! Wearing a helmet saved my life. I had a mechanical failure lock up the rear wheel and put me into a skid which ended up tossing me off the bike. I hit a tree head on. Bent my spine and did some lower back damage but without a helmet I would have been dead. I have never understood how anyone can think that another form of protection is not worthwhile. So if someone prefers to ride without a helmet then that is your choice but to even try and say they do no good is a flat out incorrect!
Care to share a link to the research? I cannot find anything linking Ryuta Kawashima to a motorcycle study at the University of Tokyo. I can’t find any reference to this research other than hundreds of website posts which cite or republish the text this article.
Obviously open to the message. Where is the research?
Here’s a link to the announcement of the study http://www.yamaha-motor.co.jp/global/news/2009/03/04/research.html and I have a .pdf of the entire study that I managed to misfile somewhere, but I’ll look that up and forward it to you as well. It was really informative and it lead me to read some more of Kawashima’s stuff.
I would also be interested in more information on the original study. Nice article.
Good article, it’s a shame that, as frequently happens, it has been hijacked by those with irrelevant barrows to push. I would like a copy of the research on motorcycling and brain activity if possible, I have searched the net to no avail, thanks.
Just another routine brush with death!
I have both a BMW & a Harley. I need a Moto Guzzi BAD !
Not wearing a helmet is like your head going 100mph to a wall. No brain.
I’m 59 , been riding since I was 17, great article , as I get older I feel as if I’m not getting as OLD as many of my none riding buddies
Great article – horrible choice of photo.
I guess one out of two ain’t but half bad?
A study funded by Yamaha Motors, eh? Excuse me if I’m a little skeptical of the results.
I thing the above stated fact regarding Harley Davidson afficionados is correct. Scientific evidence has proven thefact that BMW pilots posess the most inteligence, but also its a well documented fact that Moto Guzzi riders have the largest penises.
harley bashers: it’s not a complex. you are, in fact, inferior.
Now it would be interesting to see what makes people buy different types of bikes,
Harley Davidson, BMW, Yamaha or ???? People must have different reasons to be
associated with various bikes and how they fit with them.
Todd – Just found the site. Loved the article and I’m going to look forward to reading more of your articles.
I’ll keep from replying to James as I try to avoid feeding trolls.
Thanks, Exto, you are too kind and I writes ’em so people reads ’em, so I must be on the right track.
I am glad you survived and you are very lucky to be alive. Stay off all bikes and enjoy every single day of your life to the fullest that the Lord allowed you to have.
You said “stay off all bikes” and then you said “enjoy every single day of your life to the fullest” well which is it? Riding my motorcycle and enjoy my life instead of being afraid of it IS living life to the fullest.
Ummm. I think you’ll find his injury was from falling off a ladder, not a motorcycle. So better to stay off a ladder and live life to the fullest – and the best way of doing that is by riding a motorcycle. 🙂 (and a Yamaha, at that).
In 1993 I fell off a ladder and cracked my skull. Had blood coming out of my left ear for 3 days. Luckily I survived and the US Govt. spent oodles of $ getting me back as good as I now am(still can’t work). I was a long time MC rider before the accident. I couldn’t ride a MC for at least 2 years after my injury. I could drive a car but my brain couldn’t handle all the load it takes to ride a MC. Once pre-maturely I tried to ride. Over a block away there was a car coming towards me. I FREAKED OUT !! Stopped attempting to ride. Before the accident what freaked me out was not an issue. Eventually my brain healed enough to be able to ride again.
I read in a MC mag recently that it takes 300% more brain capacity than it does to drive a car. I lived that statement.
Now I’ve ridden over 47 years and feel my brain is still as good as it will ever be. I was told that those that have head concusions like mine end up with Alzheimers. Also read that if you don’t use your brain enough you will get Alzheimers when older. So I tell myself, keep on riding and maybe I won’t get Alzheimers. I am now 68 years old.
On ‘disability’ for 20 years, eh? Nice…
The effect is opposite on a Harley. You even start out dumber than the norm because you bought a Harley, but get even dumber the longer you ride. Science has linked prolonged vibration from the noise to brain damage. Not making this up, this is fact, look it up but the harley bikers being dumb part is a given and you just got to trust me on that.
It would be interesting to compare the brain function of a motorcyclist
with non-riders to find out where the baseline brain function starts. Many non-motorcyclists think we must have some sort of diminished capacity to begin with. In that case riding a motorcycle might bring us up to a normal level of brain function.
Alternatively if we are starting at the same level as “normal” people, we are developing superhuman capabilities.
I wonder if they’ll be passed on to my children?
It turns out that the negative effect is even worse for idiot Harley Basher’s
Your first link is in reference to vibration-induced peripheral vascular dysfunction. I’m sure that with your limited intelligence you are unable to understand that statement. They are referring to hand injury caused by vibration.
Your second link is about loud noises and it’s to just a small part of an article from a group that goes by Research Communications. Hardly a credible source. I’m sure if I wanted to prove that the sky was green and grass is blue, I could find something on the internet to support that statement.
You lost all credibility from the very beginning by your statement “You even start out dumber than the norm because you bought a Harley” It’s obvious that you have a personal vendetta against Harley owners and cannot produce an unbiased fact to support you opinion.
It’s time to put your helmet on and get on the little bus for your ride to school. Don’t lick the windows. By the way, does your mommy know you are on her computer?
In response to Smitty, who responded to idiot James.