Before I begin, I must say the words and opinions in this text are solely my own. I have no qualifications in any form of medicine, let alone that which concerns the inner workings of the mind. They are simply a mirror of my thoughts on the subject of mental health, why it is so important, and how motorcycling can impact one’s general well-being.
Since becoming a father a few years ago, I’ve given more thought to what makes me mentally happy than ever before. Mental health is by far the most pressing concern in my life, because what I think generally reflects in how I act, and how I act has a guaranteed effect on those around me.
For me, mental health and motorcycling are inexorably linked. Perhaps it has something to do with the physical activity of riding a motorcycle, as opposed to being in a car, for example. The act of riding a motorcycle is dependent on a link between machine, body and mind—stresses from the motorcycle move onto the body and translate to stresses on the mind, and when the three meet at that glorious intersection, the experience is one of the great joys of nature. Human meets machine, interconnects, and becomes one. It’s a beautiful thing.
Perhaps I’m being a little philosophical for this column, which usually is dependent on things that annoy me. After all, there’s no news like bad news and bad news generally (but not always) come from one person’s opinion.
I’m acutely aware of the professional position I am in. Working for Cycle News is (or it should be) every motorcycle nut’s dream. I live in the candy store, and the responsibility of such a title on my business card is something I take incredibly seriously.
Yes, I ride the latest bikes and meet the fastest riders and occasionally ride some cool races, but the fact that I’m here has more to do with my own mental health than any review I may write.
Put simply, motorcycles give me the same level of joy I get when I see my little boy after a week away on a bike launch. For better or worse, I am an absolute motorcycle addict. Motorcycles have given me a friendship group, given my family a legacy, given me a purpose. Yet, as good as they are, they can be a burnout.
The point where I really fell in love with motorcycles, and when I realized they were so important to my mental well-being, came in 2012, about 27 years after I started riding. At the time, I was the road test editor and sports editor at Australian Motorcycle News—the most prestigious title in the Land Down Under. I’d wanted to work at AMCN from about the time I could read, and being the main editor of the two of the most important parts of the magazine was nothing less than a dream come true.
It was also a terrible pain in the ass.
I was smashing out 70-hour work weeks, writing two features a week plus God knows how many little sports stories, glued to my desk as my love of motorcycles slowly became a bore. I was on the verge of quitting at the start of 2012, when I read some of the stories a recently departed editor, Ken Wootton, wrote on touring through Europe. The joy in his words, the sheer thrill he conveyed about wandering through a foreign land on his own with a motorcycle was something I had to experience for myself.
Clearly, Kenny (as we called him) was a mentally happy man, at least that was the impression I got from him, but I thought a couple of weeks on my own in Europe on a bike might do me some good.
So, one Monday, while in the middle of another AMCN deadline, I booked my flights to the UK, organized a BMW R 1200 GS, and two months later I was headed north to Scotland. I won’t crap on about the details of the trip, suffice to say it was the single best thing I have done for my own mental well-being and better than any therapy session could provide.
That trip made me realize how important just riding a motorcycle—never mind testing, racing, or teaching—is to my sanity. I wrote an article at the end of it, mainly because I wanted a record of what I actually saw over the two weeks, but that was beside the point.
When I came back, I was rejuvenated. I felt like a new man, to the point that I quit my job at AMCN and started my own adventure/touring magazine, one which was about as successful as the Hindenburg’s final landing—which is a story for another time.
Regardless, the permanent link between riding and what thoughts bash left and right between the squish in my head had been made. Don’t get me wrong: when I was about to become a dad, I was scared shitless, and some thoughts that permeated on solitary rides do not bear repeating in these pages.
But they were honest thoughts, ones that perhaps I wouldn’t have admitted to myself had I not been in the therapist’s lounge of a comfy Arai Corsair-X and a grip in each hand.
I’ll leave you in this episode of “Lowside” with some advice I am wholly unqualified to give. The next time you need to get your thoughts in order, go for a ride. Riding a motorcycle, especially the ability to actually ride one, is one of the great gifts of humanity. Ride somewhere new, do a charity ride, or, like me, go to the other side of the world and ride just for the hell of it.
The only thing you’ll regret is not doing it, and hopefully, your mental health will be all the more virile as a result. CN