Backing Up Science With a ‘Sanity Escape Loop’

Horsetooth Reservoir BMW motorcycle dog carrier
This overlook of Horsetooth Reservoir near the tiny town of Stout (population 47 1/2) is a convenient place to pause about three miles into the trip if I have to adjust my gear or if George needs a nature break. The “dogtote” shown was my original design, since updated. Photos by the author.

When winter comes and your motorcycle is parked in the garage with the cover on, and you have not been on a ride for some time, do you get restless? I know I do. I find myself dreaming of spring and planning long summer rides. I start reviewing packing lists, poring over maps and reorganizing my gear. This helps, but it is not the same as riding. So, I also obsessively watch the weather for the chance to layer up and get in a quick ride. Where I live, I can get out once or twice per week during most of the winter months — ice in the canyon corners permitting. 

When time and weather are limiting factors but I still need to get out and ride, I have a short 40-minute loop I like to do. I call this my Sanity Escape Loop since it allows me to escape to the foothills west of town when I feel winter (or life) closing in. My escape route is only 30 miles or so, but that is often enough for me to relax. The ride takes me into the foothills west of Fort Collins, Colorado, past Horsetooth Reservoir, through Masonville, and along Bobcat Ridge to the outskirts of Loveland, and back along Glade Road. Along the route, there is a roughly 10-mile loop allowing me to circle Bobcat Ridge and Glade Road if 40 minutes is not enough to relax. 

Masonville Colorado
Turning from Larimer County Road 38 to County Road 27, I pass antique farm machinery in Masonville as I head south along Bobcat Ridge.

A recent study funded by Harley-Davidson demonstrates motorcyclists are happier, their brains are more focused and their stress levels are lower after a 20-minute ride. I guess this makes my 40-minute Sanity Escape Loop twice as good! But seriously, this research backs up my belief that riding helps me maintain some semblance of sanity. And, it’s not the only study that’s been done that supports my experience. 

Research published in the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies explored why motorcyclists choose to ride, despite the dangers associated with it. Ten experienced motorcyclists ranging in age from mid-thirties to mid-seventies, with an average riding experience of 18.6 years, participated in this university-approved study. Responses collected in semi-structured interviews were analyzed for common themes.

All participants stated they ride primarily for leisure, because they enjoy it and it makes them feel better. Study participants shared that riding allows them to relax and escape their worries, with many stating that riding lifts their spirits and makes them happy. The participants also shared they are much more focused and aware of their surroundings when motorcycling compared to driving. The study participants credited their experiences riding in complex, dangerous situations, such as heavy commuter traffic, with helping them develop increased focus, situational awareness and road survival skills. These motorcyclists are keenly aware of the dangers posed by motorcycling and yet they choose to do it anyway because they believe the benefits outweigh the risks. Most riders also preferred to ride on less crowded, rural or country roads than in crowded, urban and commuter settings.

Stout, Colorado
Stout, Colorado, has a claimed population of 47…and a half?

Though, if you do commute by motorcycle, you can take solace in the fact that it is helping keep your brain young. Research funded by Yamaha shows riding a motorcycle daily for two months improves several cognitive functions, including processing speed and visuo-spatial attention. These improved cognitive functions are utilized for rapid hazard detection and avoidance, skills that are essential to safe motorcycling. The improvements from daily motorcycle riding were similar to cognitive gains observed with the playing of daily brain training games. Such brain games are often used to help keep the brain young and delay the onset of dementia. 

Exercise science shows riding a motorcycle counts as healthy exercise too. Research shows off-road motorcyclists are more fit than the general public. Riding 2-4 times a week for six weeks increased participants’ aerobic capacity and muscle mass and lowered their blood pressure, blood sugar and body fat. The demonstrated health gains were greater than those usually obtained from walking 2-4 times a week. Wow — motorcycling can help keep your brain young and is healthier for you than walking! Who knew?

Horsetooth Colorado
A nice straight stretch between Horsetooth Mountain Park and Masonville, where I can open up the throttle and relax a little. Though, I need to keep my head on a swivel for wildlife. I have encountered free range cows, deer and turkeys along this stretch.

So, what does this mean? That you need to get out there and ride! You already knew that, but now you have science to back you up! Motorcycling is good for you – both physically and mentally. The physical benefits of motorcycling include increased endurance, increased lung capacity and increased core strength. Mental benefits include decreased stress, decreased anxiety and a younger brain. Overall, motorcycling can make you smarter, stronger, more relaxed and — best of all — happier. Motorcycling can even help you keep dementia at bay. But you cannot be complacent. You need to stay alert so you can continue to improve. You also need to practice and train to refresh your skills and then train and practice some more. 

So, the next time someone worries about you riding a motorcycle, you can tell them not to worry, science proves riding a motorcycling is good for you. Then hand them this article and invite them to take a motorcycle training course with you.

On a lighter note, when I want to further enhance the benefits of motorcycling, I bring along my Australian Cattle Dog, George. He has fun, I have fun and we make lots of people smile. I already know motorcycling is good for me, and I also know that having a dog is good for me – and riding with George proves it! Now go do your sanity ride. I just did mine twice. First on my own, and then with George.

You can find more information about George’s motorcycle travels, the author’s training of George, Opal and Ollie to ride, as well as hints, tips and tricks on training your dog to safely ride your motorcycle at:


  1. I’d love to see the data and details of the study that concluded this: “Riding 2-4 times a week for six weeks increased participants’ aerobic capacity and muscle mass and lowered their blood pressure, blood sugar and body fat.”

  2. Hi Mike – Sorry for the late reply – I did not realize this had already been published. My excuses aside, here is the reference you asked about -> Physiological fitness and health adaptations from purposeful training using off-road vehicles. Jamie Burr, Veronica Jamnik, & Norman Gledhill. European Journal of Applied Physiology (2011), 111, 1841-1850. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-010-1817-8
    Stay safe!


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