Outride Shares 2022 Summit Recap of Cycling's Impacts on Brain Activity

Nov 16, 2022 at 16:51
by Outride  
Outride Summit 2022
2022 Outride Summit

Press Release: Outride

This year marks 10 years since Outride (formerly The Specialized Foundation) launched a school pilot program to examine how bicycling impacts our brain activity, and how that ultimately impacts attention, focus, and school performance. Since then – Outride and its partners have made incredible strides, with over 50,000 students going through Outride’s school and community programs each year. The results of this work were shared at the 2022 Outride Summit, which brought together an array of leaders and incredible talent from across industries and highlighted what Outride has believed all along: that cycling lights up the brain, and the benefits are far-reaching; cycling can assist in empowering youth and communities to push through the mental health crisis we are currently facing.

Mike Sinyard shares why Outride’s mission is so important to him. Photo by Adam Miranda

Our summit kicked off with a brief history of Outride, followed by a statement by Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized Bicycle Components and co-founder of Outride. Mike shared what inspired him to launch this initiative in 2012, and how continued advancements in research and technology demonstrate the incredible benefits of cycling on our physical and mental health, motivating him to continue to support Outride to help get more youth riding across the country. The key message: “It’s not about Specialized.” It’s about sharing the power of bikes to light up the brain – no matter what bike they’re riding.

Allan Reiss, M.D. of Stanford University, presents ground-breaking research focused on assessing brain activity WHILE riding outside in nature.

Allan Reiss, M.D. of Stanford University shared research findings that use mobile brain imaging to capture what’s happening in our brains while we ride. Dr. Reiss summarized the existing research on why bicycling and physical activity have benefits for the brain, stating that exercises like bicycling utilize a combination of “spatial orientation, navigation, body awareness, memory, motor control, balance and coordination, and executive function, which are important for improving and sustaining brain health.” Ultimately, bicycling and physical activity help to “increase your ability to make new [brain] cells, and increase the ability to make connections between those cells,” said Dr. Reiss.

Outride 2022
Image courtesy BrExFit Lab at Stanford University

Middle school Physical Education teacher Ryan McKinney, M.Ed., presented research carried out at his school that found “the kids that went outside to ride bikes before their math and reading classes learned more, behaved better, and paid more attention.” Research carried out by Fletcher Dementyev and Dr. Sean Wilson of Loma Linda University found that students who participated in the Riding for Focus school bicycling program experienced a general increase in psychosocial well-being, with the results being particularly impactful for female students.

Outride 2022
Photo courtesy BrExFit Lab at Stanford University

Tasha Tinagero, Outride’s Marketing and Partnerships manager, closed out the session with a panel of Outride Ambassadors, featuring Olympians Haley Batten and Christopher Blevins, 11-time World Champion Dr. Meg Fisher, National Champion Josie Fouts, and industry-leading media expert and podcast host Christopher Stricklen. “The amount of connection that the bike brought me to communities… to other people, and then to myself became foundational for me at an early age and I think it’s the greatest gift I’ve had in my life,” said Blevins. The panelists shared their journeys with the bike, and why they have chosen Outride to partner with to inspire, engage, and increase access to cycling for the next generation.

Outride 2022
Demo at the summit.

The Summit consisted of over 25 presentations and workshops. We believe these are the key themes that emerged throughout the summit:

1. Cycling and physical activity have incredible benefits not just for the body, but also for the brain. Even a short ride has brain-boosting benefits.

2. School cycling programs can be beneficial not only for student well-being, but also academic success, and for increasing motivation to continue to be active outside of school.

3. Youth-focused community-based cycling organizations are an important part of creating a larger community cycling ecosystem. Programming by such organizations can help foster a sense of belonging, build self-esteem, and help youth become stronger advocates for their community.

4. When creating programs and initiatives for young people, it’s important to provide them with a voice and a seat at the decision-making table. The bike industry can actively create opportunities for them to become more involved and more connected.

5. Creating larger pathways of engagement for young people to continue riding from childhood into adulthood is key for supporting long-term participation. This will require strong collaborations and partnerships between organizations, as it is a much larger undertaking than any of us could take on alone!

6. Women role models and coaches are imperative to the success of young girls feeling seen and represented. When focusing on increasing participation by young women and girls, particularly from low-income and marginalized communities, it is critical to be an active listener, taking their lead and being responsive to their needs.

7. Many schools and communities do not have easy access to safe places to ride. Organizations such as Transportation Alternatives and Safe Routes Partnership are helping to create safer streets for young people, and have developed insightful toolkits to help you get started in your community.

8. Building trust and showing up need to be at the core of this work. Focus on more than just giving out bikes. Work with communities to identify what’s needed to support ridership: safe places to ride, quality programming, staff support, mentorship, or even general community aid, as the barriers to participation are not always what you think they are.

bigquotesThe Outride Summit created a space for researchers, practitioners, and community leaders to share relevant data, research, and work by some incredible programs around the country and the world. Through the Summit, we have seen and heard about the transformative power of the bike to change not only our brains, but our lives. We hope to have equipped attendees with more knowledge, data, and connections to advance youth and community well-being through cycling in their communities and around the world.Esther Walker, Outride Research Program Manager and lead Summit organizer


  • 120 0
 Cycling is excellent for brain function, thus proving that Pinkbike commenters don't actually ride their bicycles.
  • 1 0
 Lol, well said!
  • 2 0
 After hitting it hard a few times as a courier, I’ve been commented more then usual.
  • 12 2
 Let’s put it this way, cycling has certainly affected the brain activity of the comments section here. Big thanks to everyone down here rubbing those couple remaining neurons together, hoping for a spark.
  • 10 0
 I would like to see more programs at the elementary school level. Lots on safe routes to school this year!
  • 1 1
 strange white vans are for shuttling to the top of a downhill. if you're offered a ride at the top of a hill, it means stay away because it's probably a roadie shuttle
  • 6 0
 I am hoping there will be a study on MTB as a treatment for PTSD. There are a lot of people out there, myself included that claim that riding MTB has helped their mental health. Everyone here could probably vouch that a good ride leaves you feeling mentally refreshed.
  • 3 0
 Professionally/academically I know a bit about this as I've worked in the area for years and have a related PhD and can say it's a little complicated but I agree. First a risk I've seen- many of the impacts of traumatic stress exposure increase arousal and can leave people chasing that increased arousal in a way that could be dangerous and not really helpful. MTB certainly provides access to risk for those wanting to push it. However, the thing I found for myself was that it can also force you into a "Flow" state, or close to it, in a way that can be very regulating and calming. I was diagnosed OCD as a little kid and spent a lot of my early years with a bit of a tormented brain that wouldn't stop spinning- the arousal there bares some similarities to hyper-aroused PTSD brain. I discovered downhill mountain biking in my later teens. For me it was the only place I could step outside of the spinning in my brain. When I was riding I wasn't stuck in a tiny mental box or going over patterns endlessly... I was just riding. A trail that takes attention and skill forces you out of your head and into your body... which was hugely therapeutic for me. Over time I learned to find that calm off the bike also but biking was one of the first times I could just let go of what was happening in my brain. I've heard similar accounts for people struggling with traumatic stress related re-experiencing and hyper-arousal. Not to mention the usual benefits of burning energy in natural sunlight like strengthened sleep rhythms, more sleep pressure, better sleep, better production/absorption of serotonin, dopamine etc., increased likelyhood of meaningful social interaction (especially for men who have higher risk for 'loneliness' and connect easier through shared engagement in parallels activity) etc...
  • 2 0
 @snl1200: I know basically nothing about the subject but I do listen Andrew Huberman's podcast and there was an episode where his guest was talking about EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). When I heard how the eyes scanning the surroundings while the person is thinking about a traumatic experience somehow allows the person to process the thoughts without the fight or flight reaction kicking in made me think of mulling over stressful life events while on a technical climb produced the same thing for me. I could work it out in my mind without getting emotional (for me usually frustration and anger). I dont do big xc rides often but when I am stressed out and life is beating me down there is nothing that helps me deal with it in a more productive way.

I am not an xc guy by any means though, and my regular riding offers great benefit too, the mental clarity and the increase in focus for roughly 3 hours are great (which I think is more what this study from Outride was focusing on)
  • 2 0
 @ripridesbikes: Totally- I would guess same mechanism where the activity is providing enough stimulation and requiring enough attention that it acts as a "limbic distraction." There is a lot of research looking at what it is about EMDR that is most helpful and it really is just a mix of old therapies (like CBT etc.) but applied with some form of limbic distraction (tapping, eye movement, pulsing bilateral sounds etc.) to halt that cascading of Trauma responses. I think it's also why men tend to talk through things while engaged in activities like biking or skiing etc. I've had some of my most meaningful and vulnerable conversations with friends over the years while engaged in parallel sport and I think it is because men aren't really provided with a lot of socially safe models to express vulnerable emotion and sport, like biking, can peel back some of our defense mechanisms. It's a blessing a curse as many a time I have been on a long climb or skinning up a mountain in the winter with a friend and they start a sentence like "Hey Sean- you've worked with like couples who fight a lot right?..." or "So- yeah- with your work I've been meaning to talk to you about some stuff going on for me..." Always happy to be there for a friend but it always comes up during sport where I am often just trying to get away from the stuff I see working with Children and Youth who have experienced trauma or are at risk for suicide...
  • 7 1
 oh boy, the benefits are being published?

This is old news with new tests, but surely will benefit groups of riders focusing on new protected bike lanes instead of just one more car lane.
  • 8 1
 Exactly. None of this is news. In fact, it’s all pretty much common sense — doesn’t really need a study at all. But before activist groups can jump into action and raise funds, they need “scientific evidence” to support their cause. So they fund these studies—and this is the amazing part—get the results they’re looking for.

In this case, I don’t have much of a problem with it. As I said, it’s pretty obvious we as a society (in the US, anyway), could reap many benefits from being more cycling-friendly. I just think the whole pay-to-play process of these studies is kind of funny. The Ford Motor Company is probably doing a counter study right now touting the health benefits of an extra lane for Ford Automobiles.
  • 1 0
 they doing the more bike lanes thing in your city too huh?
  • 3 0
 Agree.....When creating programs and initiatives for young people, it’s important to provide them with a voice and a seat at the decision-making table. The bike industry can actively create opportunities for them to become more involved and more connected.
  • 7 0
 Finally! Science proves my BMX background is legit and beneficial.
  • 2 0
 > When focusing on increasing participation by young women and girls, particularly from low-income and marginalized communities, it is critical to be an active listener, taking their lead and being responsive to their needs.
Well, and what the bike community needs are affordable, simple bikes that work!
  • 3 0
 Emphasis on the "that work"part. Affordable bikes for the most part are absolute junk that cant hold up under normal use, its hard to believe even legal to sell of them with how dangerously bad they can be.

Reliable, simple and affordable is exactly what is needed. Unfortunately, there are very few options that fit the criteria.
  • 5 0
 Sweet, maybe my next bike can be covered by medical.
  • 4 0
 I like all of this. Maybe my wife will now believe me when I say riding my bike is good for me
  • 1 0
 I guess there are other factors at play too. For eg, the routes taken? Or the type of terrain etc. I usually feel q bored if the route is similar (ie around neighbourhood). Then again, still good to know about this.
  • 2 0
 Awesome, I can’t imagine how terrible my already bad attention span would be w/o MTB lol
  • 2 0
 I thought impacts on brain function would be dampened by MIPS?
  • 1 0
 unless you get a TBI, in which case, it's pretty god damn bad for you brain activity.
  • 1 0
 When you step off the bike and start winning rally car races... isn't that proof enough?
  • 2 0
 BrExFit made me smile
  • 1 0
 i read “outside” and almost didnt click!
  • 1 0
 I feel woozzee
  • 1 1
 Is this for real?
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