On a warm Saturday morning, the parking lot of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chelmsford to the roar of motorbikes, arriving for the Blessing of the bikes.
Rev. Brian Mahoney — pastor of the Holy Cross Collaborative and an avid motorcyclist—led the meeting in prayer, sprinkling the bikes with holy water before setting off.
The event was organized by the Cristo Rey chapter of the Catholic Ministry of Motorcycles Bearers of the Crosswith participants bringing food pantry donations.
The ministry provides faith-based services, including assistance for the homeless, those struggling with food insecurity, and those struggling with substance dependency.
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“This is new and we hope to do it as an annual event,” said coordinator Deacon Peter Richardson of All Saints Parish at Haverhill and the Ministry of Motorcycles. “Hopefully, it will be an annual event. When we do events like this, there is a spiritual service like this. It’s about praying and blessing for safety.”
Motorcyclists have long extolled the value of camaraderie, as well as the exhilaration of riding. But some also find a meditative aspect and even report some mental health benefits.
Richardson said: “I know I speak for many cyclists when I say that going for a bike ride clears my head and improves my mood.”
Way Out of the Dark: A Cyclist’s Cancer Journey
For James Keeley, 65, of Worcester, a lifelong love of motorcycles turned out to be a blessing in his battle with brain cancer.
“My dad was a very smart guy,” he said. “When he was 13 years old, he gave me a motorcycle. That changed my life.”
In 2017, Keeley underwent exploratory brain surgery after tumors were detected on MRI scans.
“They were cancer and they gave me until December 2020 to live,” Keeley said.
Keeley underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, battling fear, depression and despair.
“And this is where I started setting small goals to help me stay strong,” Keeley said. “I started with the goal of riding my Harley to my last radiation treatment, which I did, with my wife Lisa following in her SUV.”
Keeley said she hasn’t experienced any tumor growth since 2017. She started seeing a psychiatrist who specializes in terminal illness.
“She helped me by showing me that I could still contribute to my family and my world,” Keeley said. “And she helps me focus on my achievements and not my failures.”
Keeley was on a list of financial professionals scheduled to read “Top 10 Counter Pickup Lines”.
Keeley also maintains a Facebook page, my biker friendin which he talks about his motorcycle adventures and his fight against brain cancer.
“I was pretty depressed. I was thinking about getting out,” Keeley said. “But finally, talking to a psychiatrist changed my life in that way, and I’m glad. If I hadn’t taken care of myself, I wouldn’t be here with my granddaughter.”
Keeley said: “Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. You go to the doctor or the dentist for a tooth. Why wouldn’t you go get help with your mental health?”
body, soul, brain
Meditation and road trips have found a crossroads in popular culture.
The late Robert Pirsig’s 1974 book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,” is a fictionalized account of Pirsig’s 1968 motorcycle trip from Minnesota to Northern California with his son, Chris.
The late Neil Peart, the drummer for the Canadian rock band Rush, articulated his motorcycle journeys to overcome his grief after the deaths of his wife and daughter, in the book “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.”
Recently, the phenomenon has attracted scientific interest.
In February 2021, scientific journal, brain researchpublished the article, “Modulation of attention and stress with arousal: the mental and physical effects of motorcycle riding.”
The article was based on a 2019 study conducted by researchers att Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLAwhich received financing from the motorcycle manufacturer, harley-davidsonand recruited motorcycle readers as subjects.
In the article’s abstract, the researchers explained that the study’s findings suggest better processing of information from the senses and visual attention.
The combined results of the study suggest that bicycling can
- increase focus,
- increases the brain’s passive control of changes in the sensory environment
- alter the response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, a hormonal response to stress.
‘All my senses are active’
the motorcycle safety foundationa nonprofit organization sponsored by several motorcycle manufacturers, offers a motorcycle education and training curriculum that is used in 46 states, including Massachusetts.
“There’s actually a very meditative aspect of riding a bike, especially for me,” said Yu of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
Yu said, “It’s easier on a bike, because you’re singularly focused on one thing. All my senses are active, because I’m smelling different scents along the way: grass clippings, cow poop, or sweet hay.”
Yu added, “It’s not just a passive travel activity. You’re actively traveling all the time. It actually makes me feel more alive.”