Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The symptoms can be debilitating, impacting daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. However, emerging research suggests that an unexpected ally might provide relief: the motorcycle. In this Not Silent blog post, we try our best as non-medical and mental health professionals to ascertain a connection between motorcycle riding and mental health, with a focus on the benefits for individuals dealing with PTSD.

Without a doubt, there are those who ride during our annual coast-to-coast ride, The Rolling Barrage, who are living with PTSD, or some form of mental health challenge due to the circumstances of the work encompassed in being in the military, or first responder community.

For many riding a motorcycle is a break away from the everyday experiences and “living” versus maybe just having a life. For every rider, it can be different. The testimonies on our website from various riders and participants may have some mirrored aspects, but they are all generally different from each other.
In this blog we discuss some of aspects of motorcycle riding at the neurobiological level in the very simplest of terms.

Riding Away from Stress
Decreased Stress Hormones:

A groundbreaking neurobiological study published in Brain Research sheds light on the positive effects of motorcycle riding. Researchers monitored brain activity and hormone levels in participants before, during, and after motorcycling, driving a car, and resting. The results were remarkable:
Cortisol Reduction: Riding a motorcycle led to a 25% decrease in hormonal biomarkers associated with stress. Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” plays a significant role in our body’s response to anxiety and trauma.

Adrenaline Boost: Participants experienced increased adrenaline levels and heart rate while riding. These physiological changes are akin to light exercise and stress reduction.

Enhanced Sensory Focus: During motorcycle rides, participants exhibited heightened sensory focus and resilience to distraction. This effect was even observed in experienced meditators, emphasizing the unique mental state induced by riding. Imagine the open road as a form of moving meditation, where the mind attunes to the present moment, leaving behind worries and intrusive thoughts.

What can also be relayed on the topic of “focus” is that The Rolling Barrage has several built in focus mechanisms. Specific dates between riding points. Timings to meet for Safety Briefings. Volunteers who form part of the Safety Teams. Group Leads who are leading particular packets of riders.
Adherence to ride safety rules as well as their immediate surroundings. Weather types such as rain require focus skills. The focus that is needed if a rider has committed to going 1 day on the ride or the entire country.

Real-Life Conditions Matter: Unlike lab experiments, riding a motorcycle provides an authentic experience. The wind against your face, the hum of the engine, and the ever-changing landscape create a sensory symphony that no controlled environment can replicate. As Dr. Mark Cohen, a senior team member, aptly put it, “No lab experiment can duplicate the feelings that a motorcyclist would have on the open road.”

Why Motorcycles Appeal to Veterans with PTSD

Controlling Danger: Military veterans dealing with PTSD often find solace in activities that allow them to regain a sense of control. Riding a motorcycle provides that opportunity to navigate danger deliberately. The focus required to handle a bike distracts from intrusive thoughts, offering a respite from trauma. Even if it may be temporary.

Communities and Connections: For many veterans, motorcycles has become more than a method of transportation; they can become a community. Riding clubs, rallies, and shared experiences creates bonds that combat isolation. Riding events similar to The Rolling Barrage is a perfect example. The camaraderie among riders can develop emotional support, understanding, and a sense of belonging.

We have found that after the annual Rolling Barrage event, on our Rolling Barrage – Facebook page, there is an exchange of stories, photos, and experiences, and then a transition to the excitement and build-up of the following year’s ride to come.

The Rolling Barrage started in 2017, and it was at first meant to be a one-time, one-year event. It is now approaching the 8th year in 2024. Major factors in continuing The Rolling Barrage are for the reasons noted above.

The Therapeutic Roar of the Engine

Motorcycle riding isn’t a cure-all for PTSD, but it offers a unique blend of physical and mental benefits. Whether it’s the wind at your face, the sound of your engine, or many engines, or the camaraderie of fellow riders, motorcycles by all appearances and effects can provide a path toward healing.
So, if you’re battling PTSD, as are many others consider straddling that steel horse and riding coast to coast with The Rolling Barrage, one twist of the throttle at a time.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for informational purposes only. Always consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice regarding mental health conditions.