Riders are smarter – here’s proof

The Bear - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Every now and then some snippet from the interwebs really hits a nerve with our readers,

and I suddenly get a stack of e-mail referring me to some news that’s pretty much always interesting.

Not like this one, though. This isn’t just interesting – it’s revolutionary… but it’s also something that we’ve all known all along.
The item is an article by Todd Halterman on an American motorcycle insurance site. It’s called “This Is Your Brain on a Motorcycle”. Here it is in full; I couldn’t bring myself to abbreviate it.

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 herself 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 taken 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…

Thanks again to all the people who sent me links or copies of this, and thanks to Tod for writing it!

Peter “The Bear” Thoeming

Boogying with Uncle Sam

The Bear - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I have not seen so much meat...

Since a grateful reader organised a tour of the Riverstone abattoirs for me.

At Fogo de Chao in Minneapolis, feral waiters with huge iron skewers roam the restaurant, eagerly looking for any opportunity to top up the mound of perfectly cooked steaming animal parts on your plate.

Outside it was cold, but in there it was hot, and getting hotter.

Welcome to America. It might look from the economic statistics as if the US economy is on the skids, but somewhere like Fogo de Chao or, for that matter, at the Victory Motorcycles factory in Spirit Lake, Iowa you definitely wouldn’t think so.

The Americans have not lost a bit of the fierce, aggressive drive that has pushed them to where they are – still the leaders of the Free (and just about all the rest of the) World. At the headquarters of Polaris, Victory’s parent company, we were treated to a review of the outstanding performance Polaris has chalked up all over the world. Then we met the Victory development team, a seriously impressive and above all young group of people who are working on stuff that they unfortunately hid while we were there – but I’m betting it will be amazing.

All in all, let me just say: keep an eye on Victory (and the rest of Polaris) and keep an eye on Australian Road Rider and CruiserClassic+Trike, where a few stories about this trip will be appearing.

I’ll try to put together a quick blog about my ride of the Judge, Victory’s new lighter, slimmer fun machine, out in the Californian mountains. I never realised that Palm Springs, Heaven’s Waiting Room, could be so much fun.

 Meanwhile, what’s this on the skewer? Really? I didn’t even know you could eat that part of the animal… just give me a few slices…


Fluorescence – another look

The Bear - Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Interesting note here

From regular reader
and pollie stirrer Peter Hawker

-about the way the French government is making reflective patches on bike clothing mandatory – but only on bigger bikes (which are less often involved in accidents – go figure).

Peter’s mid-range bike was written off after a collision with a P plate driver at night in wet conditions. The driver identified the motorcycle on approach but moved into Peter’s lane anyway when he was less than 10 metres away.
“I was fully geared up in armoured ride gear and only had a dull headache after being back slammed onto the road after the collision,” writes Peter. “The P plater was charged and my safety gear enabled me to continue as if nothing had happened, though I had to ride the buses until insurance was sorted.”
Here’s Peter’s take on the French decision.
I am concerned about what the French pollies have done, especially when it does not encompass all riders of both motorised and manually powered scooters, bicycles and motorcycles, or perhaps even pedestrians for that matter.

All my synthetic ride gear has a lot of silver iridescent piping around many of the seams and is even highly visible inside a room during the day when sunlight strikes it. Some of my jackets even have hidden interwoven iridescent patches that become visible at night when lights shine upon it. My soft luggage also has iridescent patches on it.

I often notice people riding on scooters in particular but also motorcycles with their fluoro vest, but no actual personal protective ride gear and in fact they’re often in shorts and t-shirt with thongs on. Why they wear the brain box is beyond me with nothing inside to protect. Oh that’s right, the law requires it.

I am all for personal choice if people want the false feeling of safety in a fluoro vest, lost among all these people wearing fluoro/dayglo clothing and/or vests on a daily basis. Council worker, courier, truck driver, police officer, ambulance, fireman, traffic controller, construction worker, cleaner, postal officer, first aider, road construction worker, event volunteer… and it seems that the list continues to grow almost monthly.  

The risk in this is the desensitisation of the general public from taking notice of fluoro clothed people as it becomes a general clothing article, instead of a safety awareness tool.

As for police calling for mandatory fluoro personal protective gear… It really amuses me when you rarely ever see a motorcycle police officers riding with a protective jacket on, let alone a fluoro vest (NSW). Usually they’re in short sleeve uniform shirts in summer, seemingly bullet proof. Just another bunch of squids in my eyes.

Fluoro may be fine for some, but rider position is paramount in defensive riding skills and I also notice how the fluoro wearers often place themselves in blind spots.

My old bike was mostly white and rose coloured and my current larger bike is black. Both being 95 models have the headlight hard wired and yet I immediately noticed how my larger bike is given much more respect over my multi coloured mid-size bike, even though it is pearl black.
Peter Hawker

So wear fluoro all you like, but whatever you do: don’t depend on it!

The Bear


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