Off the Rag

Mental Health and the Motorcycle

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In the wake of recent celebrity suicides, this seems like a good time to talk about the motorcycle and mental states. This isn’t really a secret, but I have clinical depression and anxiety and I have been on medication for it since November 2016.

Mental illness is a serious issue in the modern world, and I know I’m not alone in my struggles with it. Unlike other chronic illnesses like diabetes and Crohn’s Disease, mental illness tends to elicit a more dismissive attitude from others, though ignoring it can often prove just as fatal.

Depression for me is this deep, dark inability to love and like myself. It was so deep and so dark that it never even occurred to me that I just genuinely didn’t have any love or appreciation for myself until one day (post-medication), I did. I also just assumed that everyone was like me – because that’s the human condition I guess. I would get the warm fuzzies for other people, dogs, books, all kinds of things. But I never once had a positive warm emotion toward myself.

Anxiety for me is a brain that won’t shut up. My brain is constantly going and going and going and taking these crazy turns and trying to absorb and anticipate literally everything.

These two things together is like being the odd couple within your own self. One piece of me won’t ever stop or shut up, and the other piece of me completely despises everything about me. It’s this almost constant feeling of Go-Go-Go-Look-Look-Look-Shut Up-Shut Up-Shut Up.

Lucky for me, the first medication I tried on the advice of my primary care doctor offered me incredible relief. With the guidance of a psychiatrist, I’ve adjusted my medication levels to a place that is working and we check in to keep it working. But before that, I was trying to live like that with just occasional therapy (with mixed results).

So – what does this have to do with motorcycles? WELL, LET ME TELL YOU.

Something about being on the bike shuts up everything – with and without medication. I have to be so present in what I’m doing that I feel at peace with myself. My anxious brain is busy watching traffic and carefully anticipating the road. My depressed brain is too absorbed in the activity to dwell on anything but the ride, and the adrenaline shocks it out of its self-loathing. It’s this pure, meditative experience where I can just BE.

This is what brings me back to the bike again and again. It’s something I know will relax me when I’m feeling frantic. It’s something I know will perk me up when I’m feeling low. It’s something I know will bring me self-confidence when I doubt myself. I commute by bike because I know it will be moments of peace and the beginning and end of my day – regardless of what comes before and after it. I know I can get off the bike and feel refreshed, free from my messy brain for as long as my ride is.

Even on medication, I still experience depressive episodes periodically. I’m lucky to have a strong network of support and people I know I can turn to when my world feels to dark. If you or someone you know is suffering, I urge you to reach out to one of the myriad organizations dedicated to helping people cope with the deepest and darkest moments of this illness.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Katie is somewhat obsessed with dogs and motorcycles - she has 3 of each. She rides a 2017 Triumph T-120 most days, and has a 1972 Triumph T-120 and a 1975 Honda CB360 to keep her busy on the weekends. She also has a deep love for vintage vans, mostly her 1967 Dodge A100.


  1. I am a psychiatrist and a motorcyclist (currently riding a Bonneville T120, as well).
    I heartily endorse your piece on riding and mental health. For me, like you, I find that riding forces one to empty the mind of all the clutter which preoccupies our waking (and sometime our sleeping) hours.
    This is not for everybody of course, and if I find that I am too distracted, and trying to solve problems while riding, I usually turn around and head home, before I end up killing myself.
    I also loved your piece about your great grandmother!

  2. Fernando

    I had a motorcycle accident 5 years ago on 8/4/2013. A careless driver ran a stop sign and there I was. was in a coma for about 2 weeks, broke or shattered my R clavicle, broke my hand, broke idk how many ribs, bit my tongue off and later it was stitched back in…… suffered a TBI that im still dealing with now. I think I spent about 4-6 months over all in the Hospital after the accident and out of work for about a year. got sent home and everytime I heard the sounds of the pipes from the bikes going by I cried and was depressed cuz that’s what I wanted to do, ride and ride.
    so, against everybody’s wishes a year and a half later after I got full control of my legs and I was able to walk and all. I went for the mandatory road test for driving a car and of course I got another Bike as soon as I passed the road test.
    Im happy to say that im back to my Biker self again! and it is true what you say on your blog, when one is riding one is soo calmed and at peace. its just God, you, the wind and the Bike. no space in the brain for anything that causes anxiety or depression…….. as opposed to when im driving the car. driving the car ive had anxiety attacks, PTSD moments, etc etc etc…….but not on my baby blue Kawasaki VN900 with Cobra pipes.
    just wanted to share some of my story as I saw it fit for the Blog. thanks for sharing your thoughts on here.
    have a safe ride!

  3. Where to start. I love the article. I’ve suffered in silence with depression for over 30 years. I say silence as what you say about “One piece of me won’t ever stop or shut up, and the other piece of me completely despises everything about me” is such an accurate description of how I feel. Yet I’ve never really talked about it until recently. The straw that broke the camel’s back wasn’t something big, but it burst the dam holding back everything I’d built up and contained over 30 years. Attempted suicides, what is often termed General Anxiety Disorder, relationship breakdowns I let happen as that was the ‘easiest thing’ and stopped me inflicting myself on others. So what has this got to do with your article? I’ve come to recognise in the last 6 weeks I have a real problem, bug it’s not an impossible task:
    I need help to fix myself and it’s a long journey.
    I have a more friends who genuinely understand and have unknown to me fought a similar fight, although not everyone is the same.
    My amazing wife has realised I’m sick and not just an ar$ehole!
    My son’s 7 & 9 need me and are also a great source of strength.
    Medication is not bad – so many people have the view there’s something wrong with long term meds for anxiety and depression.
    You need headspace (which medication can help with) to do Cognative behavioural therapy, it’s not the self healing miracle many general practitioners suggest.
    Mindfulness and other techniques also help, but you’ve got to be able to relax first.
    So this is the reason I’m writing this. I got my motorcycle license over 22 years ago. I gave up riding about 8 years ago. I test drove a motorcycle 5 months ago and felt almost euphoric after just 90 minutes riding around the Scottish countryside. It took my recent breakdown to make me realise I need that. Whilst many will think getting back on a motorcycle is crazy, it’s perhaps one of the most sane things I have done in years. I have a new 2018 Honda Rebel CMX500 (don’t groan) and I live it. I don’t ride sad or anxious, but when I do ride it forces me to focus on the moment (a key component of Mindfulness) and it gives me such a positive charge I feel more able to deal with all the other aspects of treating my condition.
    Thanks for your honesty and it’s been amazing to read about how others have had similar experiences.
    Ride Happy! Ride Safe!

  4. I was at a party with a group of people who were horrified by the fact I ride a motorcycle. I got the usual questions: “Isn’t it dangerous?” (No, the people in cars not paying attention are dangerous.) “Aren’t you afraid?” (No, but I’m constantly aware and cautious.) “What do you like about it?” — My response — I like that I have to be completely connected to the experience. When I come to a stop, I have to put my foot down or I fall over. When it gets cold, I get cold. When the heat ramps up, I feel it. I’m not completely insulated from life and disconnecting from everything while traveling. I am always aware how vulnerable I am. And this level of concentration blocks out the random thoughts that diminish my life, but are all too prevalent when driving a car. A psychologist among the guests termed my experience “mindfulness.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that is a great description.

    I feel better when I arrive at my office, and am less tired when I get home when I commute on two wheels, whether by Harley Road King or Kona Sutra touring bicycle. I don’t know if there is anything that can compare with riding through the Colorado Rockies on a mid-summer day when farmers are harvesting alfalfa and the smell is overwhelming and the temperature changes with the altitude, and you get into the rhythm of swaying through the switch backs on the mountain passes. within a day, you can be on the plains in southeast Colorado, heading for Kansas, with the smells and heat and roads changing with every mile. And you see people and wildlife and other vehicles differently. Riding a motorcycle might not supplant therapy, but it is a great temporary solution.