Health these days is becoming more of an aberration than a norm compared to what it was in our simpler and more physical past. And its definition is complicated; with outward physical appearance becoming its prime measure from amongst a million possible others. If you ‘look’ slim and fit – you must be fit. True. Actually no. Formally, truly good health is a two element state that you are able to eat anything that you want to or like to without ill effect and that you are able to indulge in any kind of physical activity that you want to or need to and be able to do it.
Eat sweats without you blood sugar levels rising, salty pickles without your blood pressure hitting the ceiling, fried foods without indigestion or fear of gaining weight etc and you’re healthy. And on the physical level, climb 10 floors to your flat, run a few kilometer with your teenage son, ascend a mountain just to sit in the shade of a tree on top etc and you’re healthy. Your physical shape is a consequence of health, not its precursor.
So where does riding a motorcycle pop into all this? Everywhere actually. Motorcycling demands health even though this might not really be obvious. The engine and the brakes do all the work, don’t they? They do but not everything. The engine provides you motive power and the brakes help you cut speed and stop. In between the two you need to control the motorcycle that’s where you come in. Control means using brain and brawn. Together. And that demands fitness. Being fit allows you to work your muscle longer before fatigue sets in. And this delayed fatigue also allows your brain to focus more on the riding than on the bodies’ discomfort.
Emotional stress, increased oxygen demand from the brain, the sheer use of some muscle groups in the neck, abdomen, thighs arms and shoulders, handling hot weather and the usually maniac traffic conditions in Thailand all put together generate a huge demand for oxygen. Both from the muscles and the brain. Physical fitness results in aerobic fitness, meaning our lungs can quickly oxygenate our blood which in turn helps our brain and muscles perform well.
In motorcycling, excess weight is not welcome anywhere, either on you or on your machine. A heavier you will raise the combined center of gravity of you and the motorcycle, making controlling the combination difficult. The excess weight also reduces acceleration and increases braking distance. Weight shifts require greater effort from body muscles tiring them out quicker. And greater weight on arms means loaded muscles which in turn mean less precision in steering inputs. The increased heart rate also uses up oxygen quicker, maybe faster than the heart/lung combo can replace it and so fatigue sets in fast.
So lighten up quickly but don’t just stop at ‘looking’ fitter. Get on a cardio-pulmonary routine to increase your body’s aerobic efficiency i.e. reduce the rate at which it consumes oxygen and increase the rate at which it can absorb it. Calculate your heart rate target zone (220 minus your age), buy a heart rate monitor and start working out to keep your heart rate at around 70 to 80% of your target heart rate for a 30 minute workout. So for a 30 year old for example, the target heart rate is 190 bpm and he/she needs to work out so that the pulse is between 133 – 150 beats a minute. If you’re overweight or above 45 years of age, you’ll be better off training for at least 45 minutes at 60 to 70% of your target heart rate.
Use your monitor to ensure you’re in your zone. If you’re not breathing hard and working up a sweat, you’re not working hard enough. Get into, running, static cycling, the rowing machine, swimming – anything that keeps you involved and committed. Take note that if your resting pulse, taken in the morning before getting out of bed is trending down, you’re getting fitter.
A physically fitter you will necessarily be a mentally fitter you too. And anything that takes away excess fatigue from motorcycling not just makes it more fun but also a lot safer. Make fitness a life-long habit. Unleash that athlete we all harbor within and become a better motorcycle rider in the bargain.