Hopping back on a bike after the longest gap ever in my riding career revealed some interesting things. First, the old adage is true, your mind never really forgets. It took about half an hour to shake off the rust and smooth out my inputs, but the knowledge of riding a motorcycle was intact. My body on the other hand, well, that was a different story.
The first bike I rode, after the complete lockdown was lifted, was a big BMW 850 GS. It was a typical, 15-hour-long shoot day, and although there was no particularly strenuous high-speed or off- road riding, my body was absolutely knackered by the end of it. With every single muscle sore for the next two days and no more bikes to ride in the immediate future, I had the rare opportunity to sit in one place and ponder on why motorcycle riding is such a workout. What I came up with could be distilled down to the lack of three things – a backrest, a belt and some glass.
Going back to when I used to test cars at my old job, we’d have similarly long and tiring shoot days. However, while my mind would be exhausted from all the concentration, the body was never as affected. And that brings me back to the aforementioned three things. A car seat supports you under acceleration, and a well bolstered one will even protect you in a snug embrace against aggressive cornering forces. Meanwhile, the seatbelt deals with most of the braking forces, while the windscreen shields you from the potent and incessant force of the wind.
On a motorcycle, you are your own seatback, seatbelt and (in most cases) windscreen. This has big implications because riding exposes you to some surprisingly strong forces, even if you aren’t actively dancing around your bike while striving to establish yourself as the local Rossi/Toby Price. Every time you accelerate, hundreds of muscles in your body are at work to hold you in place. Those same muscles must engage even harder when you squeeze the brakes, and the poor things get no respite at cruising speeds, because there’s constant wind to be fought off.
Factor in how irritatingly stop-start our traffic tends to be and your workout gets all the more intense. It’s something we don’t think about, but next time you’re out riding, pay attention and you’ll discover that right from your neck to your toes, every muscle you know (and many you don’t) will be hard at work.
Of course, this is relative to how violently your motorcycle can gain and shed speed, as well as how enthusiastic your right wrist is. A calm Royal Enfield rider might not fully understand what I’m on about, but all you banzai sport and ADV riders will get it. Bottom line: the fact that riding motorcycles contributes to your fitness is just another reason to love it.