Riding a motorbike is not exercise. The gym is exercise. Running is exercise. Swimming is exercise. Isn't it?

Any trail rider will tell you how much they sweat on a tough day out on the trails. New riders often call it a day early as the experience can be so physically draining. But if you've never been on a bike, how would you know?

Devon TRF member Dr Sean Combs has been on a mission to apply a little science to the art of trail riding and has published a ground breaking report, 'The Health Benefits of Trail Riding'. We caught up with him to find out how it came to together and why trail riding is a key part of the governments strategy to keep us active and fit for longer.

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Dr Sean Comber and his high tech tech heart rate monitor

 

TRF:

Hi Sean. Or is it Dr Comber? I feel that it should be Dr Comber for this interview. Perhaps we could start by a little background on yourself. What are you a Doctor of and where does trail riding fit in?

Dr Comber:

I’m an environmental chemist by trade, with an interest in the sources and fate of chemicals in the water environment. I schoolboy scrambled as a lad but never got into road bikes. In 2008 I went to a stag do at Wheeldon Farm Devon, realised that Andy Savory and I used to ride at the same schoolboy events and after 25 years off a bike, jumped on a RM250 Suzuki and fell right back in love with bikes. Having green laned in a Landy Disco for a year of so, my brother in common law Mac persuaded me to pass my test, so got a Honda XL125, passed test, bought Serow, joined Loddon Vale TRF in 2009 and the rest is history – I was chair there for a couple of years, moved home to my beloved Devon, joined TRF and am now slowly working my way thru the 1000+ lanes we have here and am now Chair of Devon TRF!

TRF:

Trail riding is about exploring and enjoying the countryside on a motor vehicle. That can't possibly be classed as exercise, can it?

Dr Comber:

For someone of my age, getting my kit on is a form of exercise! It is easy to think if you are not running or cycling that you are not exercising, but there are plenty of occasions when out on the bike and having paddled through a gloopy muddy lane or tackled a steep technical rocky lane that I’ve noticed (as I’m sure everyone has) they I’m sweating, heart pounding, arms pumping, all things classified as exercise in my books!

TRF:

Your publication, 'The Health Benefits of Trail Riding' goes into quite some detail about how the body is affected by time on the trails. How did you collect your data? What decisions did you make to ensure it was scientifically sound?

 
 

Dr Comber:

I am passionate about protecting and expanding our rights rights regarding riding in our beautiful countryside, I have set out to show trail riding as a sustainable pursuit from a social/health, economic and environmental point of view. I have assessed the economics and with the backing of Devon TRF, invested in a heart monitor to show the degree of exercise we gain by trail riding. They are readily available, accurate and are used by runners and athletes to monitor their levels of exercise. By getting volunteers to wear the monitor when out, I can track the lanes they ride with the associated GPS and work out the calories burnt and levels of exercise based on government recommendations. I’ve built into the experimental design replication (worn by some riders more than once) a large number of ride outs on differing terrain by riders of differing experience and age. I’m therefore confident in the data generated.

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It's official. Time spent on the bike is good for you!

TRF:

Were there any finding that surprised you?

Dr Comber:

Government recommendations are related to the percentage of heart rate based on a theoretical maximum rate. I was surprised by the average rate across a ride being in the moderate range, and even riding between lanes the heart is significantly above rest beats per minute.

The fact you can achieve your allotted weekly exercise in 3.5 hours of trail riding is for me impressive.

TRF:

I'm guessing that if you were surprised, then it's fair to say that non-academic audiences may be even more surprised. Do you think this report sheds a new light on the value of trail riding to the UK?

Dr Comber:

From a TRF point of view the average age is mid 50’s. That is a vulnerable age regarding getting sufficient exercise and if not careful leads to a sedentary life and the illnesses that entails – as well as burden on the NHS. Trail riding is a sustainable pastime, benefits the economy, and gets people out into the countryside.

The mental benefits of fresh air, camaraderie, balance, core strength, are all added value above simply heart rate. For a government keen to get people active, to provide open access to the countryside, then I hope this research contributes in some small way to allowing future generations of trail riders enjoy the green roads and to open up other opportunities for us to extend our network of trails.

TRF:

So, clearly we should all be out enjoying our riding more. Thanks Sean.