Why is “Freedom” Such a Big Deal to Bikers?

8 reasons why a long distance motorcycle road trip is the cure for what ails you.

The history of motorcycling is dominated by a single word that has been used, again and again, to try and define exactly what is so fulfilling about riding.

This word, spray painted in 20-foot high letters over everything else, is FREEDOM.

But what does that really mean? Is it just about being as loud and brash as you want to be? Or is it tied to some deeper intangible thing?

For the last eight years, a big part of my life has been taking really long motorcycle trips around the Great Lakes - some might call these the very essence of "freedom". I never knew exactly where I was going to go each day, where I was going to sleep, eat and gas up. These open-ended voyages have a profound effect on your mind, spirit, and body—one that is almost universally positive and life-affirming. 

What’s so special about the freedom of long rides? What makes it such a positive force in the life of riders? Let me try and put my finger on it...

1. They clear your mind

From the moment you leave your driveway, loaded with gear, supplies, and optimism, your mind leaves behind all of the crush of daily worries. No matter that the oven is still on, emails and phone calls need to be answered, and the yard needs to be cut—on your bike, all of this stuff gets left behind. Only the truly important things remain: breathing, surviving, and enjoying being alive.

2. They restore a sense of possibility

On the life-changing 2,300 kilometre/1450 mile-Ride Lake Superior Route

During every ride—no matter how long or short—you’re faced with a series of simple choices, each of which can radically alter your day in a low-consequence, high-reward way. The worst that can happen is you find a dead end, and you turn around and go back. But no matter what, the choice is yours. You can take a slow day, stopping for long meals, check out natural wonders, or you can try and put on as many miles as you can. Do you want to turn around and go home? Or do you want to throw away the map and follow the wind? The choice is yours, and perhaps most importantly, you’re free of the sense of obligation to an arbitrary timetable.

3. They engage all your senses

Somewhere on Northeastern Ontario's Lake Temiskaming Loop Tour

While you’re on your bike, you feel things no one in a car can ever feel. Temperature drops, humidity changes, the scent of the forest after rainfall. You feel the g-forces as your ride through a tight corner, the push of the wind all around you. While you can get some of the same feelings, there’s nothing else really like riding a motorcycle to engage all senses at once. You become one with the road.

But what makes a long trip different is the amount of time spent truly living outside. Your skin changes colour and texture from exposure to the sun and wind. Your breathing becomes easier from the fresh air. This only really happens when you’re outside all day long for days at a time. Don’t discount how profound this is—there are plenty of studies that tell us how important being outside is to our general health.

4. They make you focus on the present

Cruising through the fall colours in Ontario's Explorers' Edge region

Riding is a lot like learning to play an instrument—at first, it can appear technically complex, but soon it becomes organic. Part of your muscle memory—as simple as walking, talking, or breathing. As soon as control of the machine blends into your automatic reflexes, your mind moves into a state of “flow” where you’re processing and acting at the same time. No more overthinking, doubting, weighing options—you’re purely present in the moment, and it’s a great feeling. It takes time to shake off the nagging, self-doubting part of your brain, but the actions of shifting through the gears, timing acceleration to clutch, leaning in and out of curves, and maneuvering at slow speeds—all these take you out of your head and move you into the now, and it all happens when you ride, rest, and repeat regularly.

5. They reconnect you with nature

Waking up at the Wolf Den Hostel & Nature Retreat in Algonquin Park

Sure, you can take a quick day trip out of the city, and you’re likely to put the freeways and superhighways behind you, catch some rolling farmer’s fields, and a glimpse of that endless horizon. But you always know that before long you’re going to have to turn around and fight your way back into the fray, past tractor trailers, stop-and-go traffic, all just to get back to the daily grind. But when you wake up in a town of less than 1,500 people, hundreds of miles from home, your connection to nature is much deeper and more tangible, especially when you’re surrounded by it the second you walk out the door. Reconnecting with nature on long road trips changes your perspective on what is, and isn’t, important in life, and how simple and uncomplicated the best parts of life can be.

6. They open your mind

Making friends while riding the routes of Ontario's Highlands

No matter who you are, it’s easy to get comfortable with our own worldview and to stop challenging your own thoughts and assumptions. Travel is essential to disposing of these fixed and inflexible spots in our own psyche, and long distance travel puts space—literally—between you and those places. It’s easier to consider how different life is in different parts of the world, even if it’s on the same continent. You see and experience things that would never happen in your day-to-day life, and when you’re already in a more connected, happier place, your mind opens to new ideas, people, and experiences. 

7. They put you “in your body”

If you have a high-stress life—family, work, fitness, friends—it’s likely that you spend a lot of time in your head, interpreting situations and people and deciding how to think, act, and behave. And this can be draining. But doing something physical and engaging that doesn’t require a ton of active thinking can connect your mind back to your body, and that’s important. The physical demands of riding and being outside mean that you have to pay attention to what your body tells you, and it can be very rewarding.

8. They connect you with new people

Riders on the Ferry to the riding playground that is Northern Ontario's Manitoulin Island

Perhaps the most important part of getting out of your comfort zone is all the people you’ll meet. From the gas station attendants in the middle of nowhere to the hotel reception in big cities, to fellow riders at rest stops along the road—you’ll find that on the road, people are always interested in who you are and where you’re going. This forces you not only to be... well... more interesting, but also to ask about them and their lives as well. And there’s very little attachment. I’ve always found it incredible how deep and meaningful (or just fun and funny) conversations at the side of the road can be. 

When riders talk about the "freedom" of being on a bike, they can mean a lot of different things: the vague sense that bikes and bike trips restore the feeling of freedom to life, that the whole world is open to you and you can go wherever you want, and that possibilities are endless. That you're no longer tied to the inflexible day to day world of your regular life and you can be someone completely new—a different, better, more open version of yourself. 

We lump this complex series of feelings together into one easy-to-say word that perfectly encapsulates them all, without the frills, and definitely with fewer words.

If you’re in the freedom club, you know exactly what other riders mean when they say it. 

And if you’re not—well, hopefully, I’ve convinced you to join up.

About Mike Jacobs

Mike is an avid Northern traveller, having spent years traversing its backroads, and visiting its remote lodges and fun cities by car, RV, motorcycle, and boat. There's always something new to discover in the North and Mike never shies away from the next great adventure. Mike is the chairman of the board for the Tourism Technology Company.

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