Mental health and motorbikes: UK baton relay planned to get bikers talking about mental wellbeing

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A biker has set up a non-profit organisation to help people struggling with mental health, especially issues heightened by social isolation. Paul Oxborough’s mission is to help people in need, particularly those who struggle to find people to talk to about their problems, and as part of this he’s organising a biking baton relay for 2021.

"Sometimes society conditions you to not ask for help and you really struggle talking to someone," says Paul. "We’re trying to break the stigma around talking and once we’ve done that, people will get the support they need." 

Paul helped establish Mental Health Motorbike earlier this year, having had experience as a youth and community worker. Paul’s been a biker for 34 years, so he knows the strength of the biking community and now he is hoping to harness that to set up a network of motorcycle-friendly mental health first-aiders.

Paul Oxborough

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By attending organised biking events, as well as providing an online peer support network to riders on Facebook, the MHM team have already recruited more than 20 volunteer ambassadors and are actively looking for people to come onboard with the effort.

The aim of the relay is to recruit at least 250 new mental health first-aiders in biking, with the ride starting in Salford and seeing the baton passed through every city in the UK by riders.

Lasting around 3000 miles and Covid-19 permitting, the event is set to be launched just before Christmas and is being organised by Mental Health Motorbike – a group set-up with the aim of getting riders to talk more openly about their struggles.

Paul added: "When you look at the demographic of bikers, you can’t sort of say: ‘a biker is...’ You’ve got men, women, your learner bikers, your round the world bikers, rufty-tufty bearded bikers, but everybody at some stage in their life will face difficulties."


Harley-Davidson UK shares bikers' insights how biking can help with mental health

A short series of six videos produced by Harley-Davidson UK highlight how riding a motorbike can help with mental wellbeing. Watch them all here: 

"Riding changed my life" - Army veteran Andy Brown says bikes helped him beat PTSD

First published on 17 July, 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

Andy Brown on his BMW R1200ST

"I had a very bad 2019," says Andy Brown, a 48-year-old ex-soldier from Devon. The post-traumatic stress disorder he’d been dulling for 20 years with a succession of high-adrenalin jobs (bomb disposal, anti-terrorism, rapid response), suddenly hit home.

"I was very poorly for a year. I lost my job, my career and nearly lost my life because of mental illness. I lost all faith in myself – if you can’t trust your brain, how can you go on? But in January I wanted to get back on a bike so I used some of my pension money to pay for a [nine-day] Rapid Training course. I’d always wanted to do something like that.

"Doing the course was life-changing – it not only improved my riding, but gave me confidence in myself too. It made me realise that my brain does work and can process information at high speed, and that I can learn and develop quickly."

Plus, the mere fact that Adam was out on a bike (he has a BMW R1200ST) helped. "The bike demands your attention – you have to focus on the here and now. It’s a kind of mindfulness, especially if you’re trying to ride well, because you have to concentrate.

Andy Brown on a tour of duty in Iraq

"And there’s the exhilaration, and you feel free because you’re out on your own with nothing to worry about except your bike. The bike keeps me connected to the outside world in a way a car doesn’t.

"I did two days of the course just before lockdown, then had to wait until June to complete it. I was worried I’d forget what I’d learned. Lockdown has been tough for people with mental health issues because we haven’t been able to access our usual support but it was such a great feeling getting back on the bike afterwards – I hadn’t forgotten as much as I thought I would during the enforced lay-off!

"My plan now is to go out and practice my riding skills regularly, then I’ve got a trackday lined up in September and me and some mates want to go touring round Ireland, and then maybe round the First World War battlefields. I would say that getting back on a bike has changed my life… for the better."

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Dan Sutherland

By Dan Sutherland

Senior Writer (motorcycling), sportsbike nut, currently riding a FireBlade