Anytime I learn something new, it affects my life in different and often better ways than I expect. Recently, while riding my new bike, I realized that I was experiencing many unexpected benefits of bike riding.
My earliest cycling adventure began when I was about 2 ½. My mom was going to the grocery store and refused to take me with her. As she drove off, I jumped on my tricycle and took off in hot pursuit down the street, pedaling as fast as I could.
Fortunately, my dad, who was home recovering from an accident, hobbled down the street after me, caught and brought me home. The yard was fenced in shortly after (but that’s another post!).
Later, as a young girl, my parents gave me the most beautiful bike in the world. Seriously, I can remember the awe its perfection inspired. It was white with a red sparkly banana seat and the requisite high handlebars. My grade-school self rode the wheels off that candy apple ticket to freedom.
My friends and I had many adventures on our bikes over the years. In high school, I had a more grown up bike that I used to get around town, until my driver’s license relegated it to a dark corner of the garage.
Then marriage and motherhood came, and I never owned another bike until, quite unexpectedly, I was given a bike for my birthday.
Now, I’m learning to ride again, in the 4th largest city in the country, no less. It’s way different than riding around a tiny town in West Virginia! However, the experience of learning to ride as a grown up on a modern machine is, surprisingly, teaching me many lessons about life.
As much, as I would love to find a place to ride where there is nothing else around me, that just isn’t going to happen. That’s not the way cycling works. There are always about a gazillion things to focus on: cars, road conditions, people, dogs, and other bikes.
Even though I’ve only been riding a short time, I’ve learned cycling lessons that are actually helping me in life. I never expected that! Learning to ride in a city, sometimes with other riders, and longer distances, is making me a more confident and stronger woman. Physically of course, but quite unexpectedly, mentally as well.
10 Unexpected Benefits of Bike Riding
Learning to Take My Lane
Often while riding, I will hug the side of the road. However, there are times when you have to “take your lane.” This means getting in the middle of a traffic lane and taking up the space that otherwise a car would. There are legitimate reasons to do this. Sometimes it is more dangerous to ride along parked cars with the chance someone will throw open a car door. Or, the roadway edge is too hazardous to ride alongside moving cars. Or, when I need to turn left and need to get out there to do so.
When called for, it feels powerful to own a lane. I promise, I don’t do it with a line of cars behind me—I’m not seeking that much power. But it’s a good feeling to take up space in this world and prioritize my safety.
In life too, it’s important to take your lane. You and I have just as much right to take out place there safely as anyone else!
Making My Presence Known
While riding on bike paths, there are always pedestrians, walkers and joggers who are doing their own things. Many are unaware of my approach. To prevent them from inadvertently moving in front of me and either of us getting hurt, I like to make them aware of my presence.
This is accomplished by ringing my bike bell and saying out loud, “Passing on your left.”
Letting people know of my existence doesn’t come easily to me. I’ve always been quiet and hated drawing attention to myself. Yet, as a person making a living in the world, I have to make my presence known whether it comes naturally or not.
Just the practice of making people aware of me boosts my confidence. When I first got the bell, I felt so self-conscious that I would barely ring it, much less call anything out. Now it’s no big deal—it’s good for everyone—and I do it with gusto.
Improving My Balance
For the most part, I can maintain my balance when I’m riding with both hands on the bars while looking forward. However, reaching for a drink of water, or turning to look behind me, throws my balance off and I wobble.
Yet, at times I need to do one or the other of these things. So, I work at improving my balance while riding, and trying smaller movements, strengthening my core, balance and confidence.
Improving my balance makes me a better and safer cyclist. I feel calmer when I can take a drink or check traffic without fearing that I’ll fall over. Instead of avoiding actions that are good for you, it’s better to practice and learn to do them more securely.
Using Breaks to Improve Performance
It’s okay to take breaks. A few weeks ago I was riding, got really hot and started to feel sick. Quitting wasn’t an option, since I was a good distance from home. Instead, I took a break in the shade. I sat and sipped water until I felt better and ready to ride again. What surprised me was that the break saved that ride.
By taking a break, I was able to recover and feel well enough to finish. Even though I didn’t feel super strong riding home, when I did get home, I felt like a champ, because I had finished. The act of finishing something is powerful. Without taking a break though, I would have continued to feel sick and probably would have had to have someone come pick me and my bike up.
Pushing Through My Boundaries and Comfort Zones
One of the ways, I push myself to reach cycling goals is to set a distance and ride to it. Once I get to that point, I have no choice but to ride the same distance to get home. This really forces me to honor my goal for that day.
I use common sense about the distance and I don’t use up all my energy on the ride out. Yet, I definitely push myself to go a little farther than seems comfortable, for longer than before.
This makes me commit to a ride! It enables me to go further from one ride to the next.
In life, I continually have to push myself out of my comfort zone. I can tell you this: when you begin pushing those limits and discovering what you are truly capable of, you will be amazed at yourself and at the things that begin to happen in your life.
Not Worrying About Looking Weird
One of the reasons that I resisted cycling for a while was that I didn’t want to wear the cycling gear. I hated the tight clothes, the padded shorts, and even having to wear a helmet. I used that as a reason to not even consider cycling!
However, when I was given the birthday bike, I had to go out for a short ride.
I only went a couple of miles, but, oh my, everything hurt: my butt, my hands, and my shoulders.
By the next ride, I had my helmet, my funny looking shorts, and gloves. And on that ride, I went from 3 miles to 14, without pain. I get why people wear the things they do when they ride. They don’t care what others think about their appearance, because they know they will not only be more comfortable, but they will achieve more too.
Having the right gear, no matter how weird you think it looks at first, makes all the difference!
Using More of My Power
In total honesty, I am not yet there. I haven’t graduated to clip-in pedals. I am aware they exist and look forward to using them for the following reason: when you are fastened to the pedals you can be more efficient, because you are not only pushing down but also pulling up. All of your muscles are engaged.
When you engage all of your muscles, you have more power and can go further and faster. When the power is there, why use only half of it?
Yet, often we don’t and here’s the reason: it can be unfamiliar and perhaps even a little scary. To pedal in complete circles, I will have to be firmly connected to the pedals (my power), but, failing to clip out when stopped will cause me to fall over.
I have been told that almost everyone does it at least once while learning. Yikes! Yet, at some point, I will take that risk, and the likely bump that will accompany it. Because after that, my rides will be counted, not by single miles but by the tens of them.
Focusing on Where I Want to Go
This is one of the most important things I’ve learned while learning to cycle. You have to keep your eyes on where you want to go, not on what you want to avoid. The quickest way to land in a pothole or collide with pole is to stare at it. It’s essential to keep your eyes on the clear patch of road which is your path ahead.
Your bike goes where you look and so does your life. Keep your eyes on your desired destinations, not on what you seek to avoid. Of course, you’ll be aware of the hazards around you, just don’t make them your primary focus, or that is where you’ll end up.
Sharing the Road
There are so many vehicles and people on the road. It’s easy to think that it’s all about yourself. However, it isn’t. It’s about how all of us can get where we want to safely and in good spirits.
Mentally, I have to accept this and share not my but our road. This means with the people who are going slower, faster, erratically, or in big groups. They all have a right to be there, and riding in their midst increases my skills as a cyclist.
My job is to keep myself safe and do no harm to others as I go where I need to get.
Enjoying the Ride
Let’s face it, once you do the loop, you pack up and go home. In cycling, it’s ALL about the ride. Cycling isn’t about any particular destination; it’s about riding better, stronger, collaborating, and perfecting the various skills that make for an exhilarating ride.
Cyclists often ride in groups because they can go further, faster and safer when they are working together. Often they choose familiar routes that are in rural locations. It’s a chance to enjoy some nice scenery and the company of friends, while also getting great exercise and fresh air.
10 Unexpected Benefits of Bike Riding
It has really surprised me how much, and how quickly, learning to cycle has taught me about life. Intimidated about riding, I really had to push myself into this activity. But discovering the benefits of bike riding has been a source of pleasure and growth.
Fortunately, the more I ride, the more confident I become, which is spilling over into my every day life. That’s exciting to me, beyond just improving as a cyclist. Each time I go out I feel stronger and more self-assured, which provides a sense of speed and freedom I can’t get any other way.
Learning to cycle has had a significant impact on me, and I’ll always be grateful to the person who sensed that my new bike would be the gift that would not stop giving.
And that’s how it’s rolling in my Think Big Life!
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I'm a former counselor, career services leader, and college advisor. Now I coach and write at My Think Big Life promoting health and personal growth.