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York researchers put dirt bike theory to the test

York researchers put dirt bike theory to the test

John Batasar is taking part in a groundbreaking York University study to determine the health and fitness effects of off-road motorcycle & all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, reported The Globe and Mail July 2.

The York research is the first comprehensive fitness probe of recreational off-roaders. The final phase of the three-year, three-part study is still under way but many participants report results that match preliminary findings from an earlier phase, suggesting trail riding requires physical exertion levels on par with running or calisthenics, wrote the Globe.

“When I brush my teeth I can now see my bicep pop,” says Sulan Ramdeen, a 23-year-old student who’s riding a dirt bike four days a week for the study. She runs for 30 to 40 minutes four or five times a week but says, “I feel more tired at the end of a ride” than a run.

“Balancing on an off-road vehicle is like sitting on a stability ball,” says Jamie Burr, a kinesiologist and exercise physiologist in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, who is conducting the research as part of his PhD. “Controlling the handlebars – especially through the whoops – is like doing bench press and seated rows or upright rows. Standing up and down would be like squats or deep knee bends. Standing on the pegs is like doing toe raises.”

The impact isn’t only on the body, participants say. “I’ve never been happier,” says Lauren Tannenbaum, 20, who’s riding a bike four days a week.

Burr has the 60 riders in the study divided into two groups, half on motorcycles, half on ATVs. Most are York kinesiology students but they range in age from 18 to 64 and include a Pilates instructor, an unemployed maintenance worker and a retired systems analyst. To qualify, they had to be new to riding and not exceptionally athletic.

Enthusiasts and advocates hope the results will legitimize the activity, which is often dismissed as reckless thrill seeking and equated with hooliganism, wrote the Globe. It was an inquiry and support from the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders (OFTR) that got Burr started on the research. The final phase is financed in part by the Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle (COHV) Distributors Council.

Burr says both organizations are taking a hands-off approach with the study. The results will be vetted by an independent panel of academics and peer-reviewed before publication. Groups such as the COHV and the OFTR would like to use the study to make off-roading eligible for the $500 federal Children’s Fitness Tax Credit. Favourable results might also help counter those who want motorized vehicles banned from the few trails that allow them.