Winter Riding

By Diane Ortiz – President and founder of the Big Apple Motorcycle School.

Physical and Mental Conditioning

During the winter months Mother Nature teases us with bright sun and clear, blue skies that look like a day in May. That is, until you venture outside and face the reality of weather in the northeast this time of year – frigid temps, icy roadways and early darkness. What’s a rider to do?

Some motorcyclists head south to warmer climes to ride, but that’s not possible for most of us. Jobs, family and other responsibilities keep us from following the snowbirds. Some riders, notably regular commuters, don’t mind the winter weather and have outfitted their bikes for the cold and wear heated or other seasonably appropriate gear. If you are like the majority of riders who wait until the Spring to ride regularly, think about using this time as an opportunity to start on a regimen to improve your body and your mind for the upcoming riding season. Here are some tips to keep you sharp, in shape and “in the game”.


Motorcycling may be a skill of the “eyes and mind”, as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) says in their literature, but it also involves physical endurance, coordination and core strength. Unless you are a professional athlete, even small lifestyle changes can improve all of the above. Stay active and vow to spend at least one hour less a day watching TV and go out for a walk instead. If it’s too snowy or icy outside, go to the local mall and walk. If you belong to a gym, that great – but it doesn’t help unless you actually go there and do something!  When your core muscles are strong, you are able to use them to stay “centered” on the bike while riding, putting less strain on other parts of the body, especially the neck and shoulders.

Anxiety, stress and panic are feelings to be avoided, especially when riding a motorcycle. Exercise can help in that area as well. In findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Dr. Elizabeth Gould, director of the Gould Lab at Princeton, wrote a paper that determined through research on mice that the hippocampus of runners is vastly different from that of sedentary animals. The hippocampus is a portion of the brain known to be involved in thinking and emotional responses. Of course, as we all know, mice are not men or women. But, Dr. Gould says, other studies “show that physical exercise reduces anxiety in humans,” suggesting that similar remodeling takes place in the brains of people who work out. “I think it’s not a huge stretch,” she concludes, “to suggest that the hippocampi of active people might be less susceptible to certain undesirable aspects of stress than those of sedentary people.”

In an Australian Government study [Transport Safety Bureau Road Safety Report on Psychological and social factors influencing motorcycle rider intentions and behavior]], two types of behavior were identified as being particularly essential to rider safety. The first was the necessity of being able to handle the motorcycle proficiently and skillfully. The second related to the need for riders to maintain a high level of concentration while riding and to stay aware of the changing road environment. Stress was a factor in both areas as a negative influence to the ability of a rider to handle the motorcycle proficiently and to maintain focus. Physical and mental conditioning can help reduce anxiety, which reduces stress and helps you avoid panic. It will help you be a better rider and maybe even lower your blood pressure the next time someone violates your right of way whether you’re on your bike or in your car.

Ride Safe!