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Motorcycle Therapy and Safety for Veterans and Active Military


Access to the great outdoors through open roads, desert highways, and riding in community with people can bring healing and therapeutic benefits to motorcyclists. For those that serve or have served in the military, the feelings of adrenaline, adventure, and camaraderie can provide stress relief, socialization, and solutions for physical and mental health. The benefits associated with motorcycling make the hobby a popular pastime for military personnel. This guide offers an analysis of benefits as well as an introduction, important information, and resources to discovering and accessing motorcycle therapy.

Benefits of Motorcycles to Veterans and Active Military Members

In a study funded by Harley Davidson and conducted by Dr. Don Vaughn and UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, riding motorcycles improved metrics of focus and decreased stress biomarkers. The results of the study highlighted:

  • Increased metrics of focus and attention.
  • Decreased levels of the stress marker hormone cortisol and other DHEA stress markers.
  • Increase in alertness in brain activity from riding, similar to the effect of drinking a cup of coffee.
  • A 20-minute ride increased participant heart rates by 11%, and increased adrenaline by 27%.
  • Sensory focus was enhanced while riding with an increase in resilience to distraction.

The notable changes in heart rate, increased focus, attention, and adrenaline, along with the decrease in cortisol and DHEA markers are similar to changes often associated with exercise and stress-reduction activities. Alongside these physiological and hormonal benefits, many motorcyclists and active or veteran military personnel find this hobby to be therapeutic for veteran PTSD symptoms, as well as a bonding and cathartic experience for veterans returning to civilian life.

Outdoor activities can help veterans overcome PTSD. Outdoor activities can impact stress management by alleviating feelings of pressure and mental stress and increasing life satisfaction, mindfulness, and feelings of happiness and fulfillment. Adrenaline can make positive impacts on physical and emotional wellbeing via feelings of excitement, heightened senses, easier respiration, blocking pain, and increasing the immune system. By combining outdoor and high-adrenaline activities in a hobby such as motorcycling, riders can experience the benefits of both in addition to benefits specific to motorcycle riding, such as:

  • Increased knee, kneck, leg, and core strength.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity.
  • Increased calorie burning.

Types of Motorcycles

There are many types of motorcycles, each built with a specific focus or a specific riding style in mind. It is important to consider the types of riding you will do (on- or off-road, with a passenger or solo) to determine the best bike for you. Consider the following.

Different types of Motorcycles
12 Different types of Motorcycles (not including Electric)
  • Standard Motorcycles: Standard bikes are somewhat universal in function for touring and commuting. The handlebars typically sit at a neutral riding position, with an average seat height. Standard bikes are a great choice for new riders, as well as riders of all skill levels.
  • Cruiser Bikes: Cruiser bikes typically have a lower seat height, with a leaned back riding position. They are good for all skill levels and are most comfortable for commuting and weekend riding.
  • Electric Motorcycles: Electric motorcycles come in various models. These bikes are becoming more popular as the power output ranges increase. Electric bikes are a good choice for the eco-friendly minded or those that like to be on the frontline of innovation.
  • Sport Bikes: Sport bikes typically have a taller seat and are meant to be ridden in a forward-leaning position. These bikes are typically for intermediate or advanced riders, as they are built for aerodynamics and speed for track riding, fast riding, or weekend riding.
  • Naked Bikes: Naked motorcycles are typically considered sportbikes, but are built with more comfort and ergonomics. While they are meant to be ridden in the forward-leaning position they are more comfortable for daily riding as opposed to track riding.
  • Touring Motorcycles: Touring bikes have wider seats at an average height made for comfort. The large front fairing protects the rider from the elements, and there is usually more storage room for personal items. These bikes are good for riding for extended periods, but are ideal for more intermediate or advanced riders due to their weight and size.
  • Sport Touring Bikes: Sport touring bikes have an average to taller seat that supports an upright or neutral riding position. These bikes are all-purpose, but may be more ideal for intermediate or advanced riders due to their size and weight.
  • Dual-Sport Bikes: Dual-sport bikes are built to accommodate on-road and some off-road riding. The seat tends to be taller in height to support an upright riding position. These bikes are good for all skill levels.
  • Off-road Motorcycles: Off-road motorcycles, more commonly known as dirt bikes are built with all-terrain tires and a long suspension. These bikes are not made for commuting or riding on the road, but for exploring terrain and off-road activities.
  • Supermoto Bikes: Supermoto bikes are off-road dirt bikes with a modified build including street wheels, tires, suspension, and brakes.
  • Adventure Bikes: Adventure motorcycles are off-road motorcycles that are built for easy off-roading and long-distance travel.
  • Scooter: Scooters are a good choice for new riders and riders of all skill levels. They are made for commuting purposes and should not be taken on the highway. The lowered seat is comfortable and supports a neutral riding position.
  • Moped: Mopeds are a good choice for new riders and riders of all skill levels. They are made for commuting purposes and should not be taken on the highway. The lowered seat and footrest make for a comfortable neutral riding position. Mopeds may be available as hybrids, or electric powered.

What Type of Motorcycle Is Right for You?

Motorcycles are not “one size fits all.” It is important to select a bike that meets your needs when it comes to comfort, stability, and feel. An ill-fitting motorcycle can be dangerous, as the rider may not be able to balance or control the bike. While you may be able to adjust the suspension or seat to accommodate height, there are a few things to consider when selecting a bike.

  • Does the bike suit your height, strength, and weight? It is important to select a bike that you can balance and control.
  • Which type of bike matches your skill level as a rider? Many beginners start on lighter vehicles as they are easier to learn on, balance, and control. As riders gain more experience they can always trade up to heavier or bigger bikes.
  • What riding position is most comfortable for you? Different styles of bikes typically use different riding positions. For example, a cruiser is built for an upright and comfortable riding position for long rides, while a sports bike is meant to be ridden in a forward-leaning position for speed and aerodynamics.
  • Where/how do you intend to use your bike? Define the attributes you need in a bike. Will you ride with a passenger? Do you intend to ride on or off-road? Will you use your bike for daily commutes or for longer rides? Will you join a bike club, and do they have bike restrictions or preferences? Use the answers of these questions to guide you.

There are many sources for information and advice regarding motorcycles and selecting the right motorcycle for you. The following options are available for further research:

Online Motorcycle Magazines:

Manufacturer websites:

Dealerships: Going to a physical dealership might help you figure out what bike fits you best. The floor staff should be able to provide insight, answer questions, and provide further information. It can also be helpful to try out a few different bikes at a dealership to get a feel for which riding position, size, weight, or type of bike would be most comfortable.

Other motorcycle riders: It can be helpful to find local groups and associations or other motorcycle riders to help guide you in the decision making process. This may include looking for local associations using riding club indexes such as:

Online forums can also be a good place to seek information from a larger group.

What Else Do I Need to Get Started in Motorcycling?

Participating in motorcycle riding as a hobby includes more than simply purchasing a motorcycle. You may also need to consider licensure and purchasing proper protective wear and equipment to ride legally, and safely.

Motorcycle License

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regulations may vary by state to state, but every state does require licensure. In many states, you may be required to have a motorcycle permit or a motorcycle endorsement on a regular license before receiving full licensure. Motorcycle laws often include

Motorcycle specific insurance:

  • Motorcycle registration, which requires a title, proof of insurance, a permit, endorsement, or license, and proof of passing an emissions test.
  • Helmet laws. Just as some states have seatbelt laws, some states also require helmets for cyclists to ride legally.
  • Many states require basic riding courses to accompany a permit or license. Further details can be found under the section “Safety Training Courses” in this guide.

State by state licensure information and local state traffic laws specific to motorcycles can be found in the motorcycle manual provided by the DMV.

Motorcycle Gear and Ramp
Having a Motorcycle Ramp, Personal Protective Equipment, and License will get you started

Personal Protective Equipment

Motorcycle safety should be a major concern to new motorcycle hobbyists. Alongside selecting a motorcycle, new cyclists should consider motorcycle-specific personal protective equipment (PPE). It is important to research all PPE before purchase to ensure that the brands and equipment are reliable.

  • Helmets. Some states have motorcycle helmet laws. States without universal helmet laws had 10 times as many motorcyclist fatalities than states without helmet laws in 2017. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%, and reduce the risk of death by 42%. It is important to choose the right motorcycle helmet based on the size and shape of your head, the style and safety feature associated with the type of riding you plan to do, and the safety rating. Motorcycle helmets should have the DOT safety rating located on the back outside of the helmet. The DOT safety rating ensures that the helmet meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218. Some helmets, known as “novelty helmets” are available for purchase which may have fake DOT labels. It is important to ensure that your helmet comes from a reputable brand and is truly DOT certified.
  • Face and eye protection. Face and eye protection may include a face shield attached to a helmet or shatterproof goggles. Protective face and eyewear shields riders from stones kicked up by the tires of other vehicles, insects, and wind. Some face shields and goggles are tinted to avoid eye fatigue for long rides during the day.
  • Heavy-duty jackets and pants. Heavy-duty jackets, pants, and riding suits can protect riders from adverse weather conditions. Protective wear can also prevent or reduce injury in the case of an accident. The protective wear should accommodate the specific riding posture used. When purchasing protective wear, beginner cyclists should consider the typical weather and wind in which they will ride, as well as consider selecting highly visible colors.
  • Gloves. Full finger gloves can help prevent abrasions, cuts, and bruises in the event of a crash. Additionally, they can help to prevent blisters and burns resulting from heat, cold, and wind. It is important to ensure that gloves are not too loose or too tight, as this can hinder the operation and control of the motorcycle.
  • Boots. PPE footwear should rise above the ankle to protect against burns from hot exhaust pipes or impacts from road debris. Consider selecting footwear with oil-resistant rubber-based soles that can provide a strong grip on the pavement, and keep feet secured on footpads.
  • Rain suits. Cold and wet weather can decrease the ability of a rider to stay alert and aware. Motorcycle rain suits are often available to wear over clothes or other protective gear and can be selected in a range of bright colors to increase the visibility of the rider on the road.
  • Equipment to safely load and unload your vehicle. It is important to consider safe loading ramps and transportation equipment for your motorcycle. Many off-road motorcycle enthusiasts must transport their motorcycle to a designated riding area. It is important to use safe and stable motorcycle loading ramps and secure motorcycle carriers when transporting vehicles to designated riding areas.

Motorcycle Safety Resources for Veterans

Motorcyclists and their passengers are more vulnerable to traffic accidents, hazards of weather, and road conditions than drivers in enclosed vehicles. Though fatalities from motorcycle crashes have slowly declined it is important to understand the risks associated with both street and off-road riding.

Many states require safety courses. Safety courses can provide helpful and relevant information and safety training that can prepare you for the road and the challenges you may face. Veterans may have specific challenges to overcome in driving in civilian life, such as driving with PTSD, accessibility issues from physical injuries sustained from service, and driving-related anxiety. Safety training can help veterans to navigate and master issues that stem from service. There are various resources available; some free, or at low cost.

Motorcycle weaving around cones
Weaving around cones during Motorcycle Safety Training Courses

Safety Training Courses

There are many organizations that hold training courses. Some provide safety information through an e-course, and some provide hands-on training.

  • Basic Rider Course. A blend of classroom and 14 hands-on riding exercises to develop safe riding techniques. Courses vary depending on location, and some motorcycle distributors and brand-sponsored clubs have reimbursement programs for the tuition.
  • Basic E-course. An interactive three-hour session that provides information and an introduction for anyone interested in riding a motorcycle. The course cost is $19.99 and can be taken as an informative stand-alone exercise, or as the introduction to the Basic Rider Course listed above.
  • Harley Davidson New Rider Course. The Riding Academy of Harley Davidson is a dealership specific class that incorporates classroom and riding experience. Some states excuse certified graduates of the class from taking the motorcycle operator skills test through the DMV. Class fees vary by location.
  • Safety Center Incorporated Motorcycle Training. Classes are held both virtually as well as physically in California. Training courses exist at different tiers associated with experience, a training course, an intermediate course, and an advanced course. The cost is dependent on the class. Students must be at least 15-and-a-half years old to participate in the courses.
  • SafetyServe Motorcycle Safety Online Course. The Official National Safety Council Defensive Driving Course for Motorcycle Safety offers an online safety course with state-of-the-art animation and vital information for safe motorcycle riding. The course is move-at-your-own-pace and costs $24.95.
  • MCrider Online Motorcycle Training. MCrider produces weekly training or safety videos every week. Videos are available for free, but membership provides access to a field guide and a discussion forum.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Motorcycle Safety. The NHTSA offers free resources and information regarding motorcycle and highway safety. Free resources include how to identify unsafe motorcycle helmets, motorcycle safety advocacy plans, and documents that discuss motorcycle laws.

Many states offer a list of available local training classes. This is especially common for states where training is mandatory for licensure. Check with your local DMV or search for state pages that have resources for local training, such as the Military Safety Resources.

There are many military-specific training courses available for active service members or veterans.

  • CMC Safety Division Marine Corps motorcycle training. There are multiple levels of training including the Basic Rider Course (BRC), Experienced Rider Course (ERC), SportBike Rider Course (MSRC), Advanced Rider Track Days (ARTD).
  • ESAMS Navy Motorcycle Rider Training Program. This training program is offered at no cost to all military and DON civilian personal seeking on-base driving privileges, as well as civilian personnel, dependents, and retired members of DoD.
  • Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Motorcycle Training. There are two levels of motorcycle training offered by the Navy. Level One is a 16-hour basic riding course that is mandatory for all active duty who plan to operate a motorcycle vehicle. Level Two is a follow-up course for rider experience and bike types.
  • Army Traffic Safety Training Program Motorcycle Training. This training program is offered for Army personnel. More information can be gained by contacting your Garrison Safety Office.
  • National Guard Motorcycle Safety. The Army National Guard provides briefings, presentations, and a motorcycle school program to develop skills and techniques for motorcycle riding.
  • The United States Coast Guard Training Reimbursement. The United States Coast Guard offers a motorcycle training reimbursement through Human Resources. Members pay fees and attend classes and then file a claim for reimbursement of funds. Reimbursement is capped at $350 and must be filed no later than September 15.
  • Air Force Safety Center Motorcycle Safety Training. This training program is focused on Air Force riders. There are different courses for different skill requirements. Each progressive course builds on the course matter of the previous level.
Motorcycle weaving around cones
Applying Repair and Maintenance to a Motorcycle

Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance Resources

Motorcycle repair and maintenance can be challenging and complex. Reviewing all documentation and the manual that comes with your vehicle can help outline the best practices for maintenance. While there may be novice work that can be performed by an amateur, seeking guidance from a dealership, organization, or repair shop might be crucial in certain circumstances. Repairs can be costly, but some insurance and warranties may cover specific types of wear, tear, and repair. The following resources can help motorcycle owners understand maintenance needs for their vehicles, as well as some useful do-it-yourself repair tips. It is important to note that all DIY mechanical work should be performed in safe environments utilizing the proper tools and powersport ramps to ensure the stability and safety of both person and vehicle.

  • Combat Bike Saver. This non-profit organization is designed for veterans to work with and learn from other veterans about motorcycle and hot rod therapy. The organization is at no cost to the veteran, and provides an opportunity for vets to learn, teach, build things, and bond.
  • Free Motorcycle Manuals. If you have lost your manual or purchased a bike without one, you can oftentimes find copies of the manual for free online.
  • The Mechanic Doctor. The Mechanic Doctor offers resources and information for mechanics of all levels. This includes an introductory or beginner level understanding of how a bike works, and what types of maintenance need to be performed at certain frequencies.
  • Motorcycle Maintenance Checklist. This checklist includes notations that describe levels of service and inspection, such as if a task can be completed at home or if it should be done by an authorized dealer or qualified mechanic.
  • Motorcycle Servicing and Repairs. This list of resources offers a variety of topics including step-by-step instructions with photos and videos. Topics covered include changing batteries, replacing fork seals, performing oil changes, how to balance a tire, general maintenance, and more.
Group of Patriots riding in a group for parade
Group of Veterans and Patriots riding in a group

Additional Motorcyclist Resources

In addition to the resources provided above, there are veteran- and active-military-focused non-profits that offer membership programs, fundraising, organize group and charity rides, do community service, and offer custom modifications to veterans.

Active Military and Veteran Motorcycle Nonprofit Groups

There are various non-profit organizations that offer free information, membership, and services to vets in regards to motorcycle riding, repair, community, and maintenance.

  • Vet MotorSports. Qualified participants include active military or veterans. The organization seeks to provide experiences to active military and veterans that include racing cars, working on motorcycles, and participatory events at race tracks.
  • Patriot Guard. The Patriot Guard Riders is a non-profit organization and collective of riders across the US. The group organizes to attend funeral services of fallen soldiers as invited guests of the family.
  • Vehicles For Veterans. Vehicles for Veterans is a non-profit organization that collects donated vehicles and provides them to disabled veterans and families.
  • The Motorcycle Relief Project. The motorcycle relief project is a non-profit that organizes structured and professionally-lead dual-sport motorcycle adventures. The mission of these excursions is to decompress and connect with like-minded peers, to gain new perspectives, and to build skills and relationships.
  • Foundation 14. Foundation 14 offers custom modifications for the Ride-to-Ride program, fundraisers, and community service projects that all coordinate to find ways to get veterans on the road.
  • Motorcycle Missions. Motorcycle Missions is a non-profit organization that uplifts and provides access to motorcycle therapy for veterans and first responders with PTSD. The organization offers services that include building, riding, and welding.
  • The Veterans Charity Ride. The Veterans Charity Ride is a non-profit organization that uses motorcycle therapy and other holistic programs to provide services for injured veterans. The organization provides Indian Motorcycles, custom-built Champion Sidecars, and Trikes for a backroad ride through scenic places in the U.S.

National Military Motorcycle Clubs and Associations

Military motorcycle clubs have a history of military tradition, first organized by veteran troops returning from combat to facilitate and adventure.

  • The Veteran Enhancement Project. The VEP offers projects, events, education, and information for veterans wishing to participate in motorcycle therapy. The programs include vocational rehabilitation and employment, on-the-job apprenticeships, and training programs catered to veteran service members.
  • The US. military Vets National Motorcycle Club. This non-profit organization is catered to qualified male military veterans as an opportunity to establish relationships with fellow veterans.
  • The American Legion. The American Legion Riders chapters do charitable work and raise funding for children’s hospitals, schools, veterans’ homes, severely wounded service members, and scholarships. Active military experience or veteran status is not required.
  • Armed Forces Motorcycle Club. The armed forces motorcycle club is the second-oldest all-military motorcycle club in the U.S. Only individuals with active military status or veteran status are eligible for membership.
  • Warrior Brotherhood Veterans Motorcycle Club. The Warrior Brothers Veterans Motorcycle Club hosts events and fundraisers to provide assistance to veterans and families of veterans in need.
  • Roughnecks Motorcycle Club. The Roughnecks Motorcycle Club is a gathering of active and retired law enforcement, military, and public safety personnel. The goal of the club is to generate camaraderie between the group members as well as garner enthusiasm for riding motorcycles. The club also raises funds for selected charities.
  • Gods of War Motorcycle Club. The GOWMC is a military motorcycle club for Commonwealth and Allied country service personnel and supporters, regardless of gender, color, or ethnicity.

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