My love story with cycling and bikes has been a long-winded one, full of twists and turns, fears, obliviousness and day-dreams. I vaguely remember trying to learn how to ride a bike when I was little on a couple of occasions, but to no avail. While I was able to cycle supported by two additional wheels attached to my bike, I did not trust myself to ride without them. I did not understand the centripetal laws of physics that make two wheels in a straight line balance themselves as they catch speed.
To me, riding a bicycle is the primary example of “the first step is the hardest one” or “beginnings are always hard”. Pedalling through the first few wheel turns to enable the bike to catch speed and overcoming that initial sense of imbalance is the hardest part. Telling myself I just need to face my fears and stay calm. I am not going to fall, I just need to power through and go faster, while trying to maintain control was the biggest exercise of mental work that I had to do on myself. It took a lot of courage to educate myself and calm my mind that I would be able to set the wheels in motion and just enjoy a smooth ride.
So for 26 years of my life I perceived cycling as a dangerous activity that could get myself injured and so I disregarded it an enjoyable pastime. Then, I heard someone at work saying “I had a great time off enjoying long bike rides on country roads” and this painted an idyllic picture in my mind. I thought to myself: “I wish I could do that…”.
All my cycling attempts in the first 26 years of my life had failed. I still remember trying to cycle in the park on my partner’s bike, and then in America when I actually needed to be able to cycle in order to do my job. However, in each of these two occasions, the bike, I was given was too big for me, so I didn’t feel confident to just start cycling. In my defense, I nearly learnt how to cycle in America when a very patient colleague of mine helped me to take the bike for a spin.
I relate so much to the Friends episode where Phoebe learns how to ride a bike. Just like Phoebe, I couldn’t ride a bike until my mid-to-late twenties. I was actually 26 in the Dominican Republic, when a bike excursion to the market was organised and, out of a whim, I jumped at the opportunity of learning how to cycle. It felt like such a risky adventure, cycling out to the village with a group of experienced riders while on holiday. I took a bit of time out before the cycle commenced to learn how to cycle, going up and down the narrow path, outside the road out to the village.
I owe to my partner the first few cycle loops I managed to do outside on the road separating our resort from the rest of the village. He patiently held the end of my seat and was there bedside me to give me the peace of mind that if I lose balance he would help me to avoid a dramatic fall. To my surprise, I managed to overcome my initial fear quickly and the ride to the market was a smooth one.
Why do I find cycling such a gloriously good activity?
1. A sustainable sport that doesn’t exhaust me
Cycling comes with all the benefits of cardiovascular exercise (increased fitness, improved joint mobility, strengthened bones, decreased body fat levels), but also brings with it all the other benefits of any type of regular exercise, such as disease prevention, stress management, release of endorphins, improved posture and coordination.
However, what’s truly amazing for me is that cycling is the only endurance sport that I can do for hours on end without feeling exhausted. Also, I don’t ache after cycling, which is great because it means I can do it again the next day and still enjoy it. Moreover, to me, cycling is the only cardio sport that I can do whilst listening to audio books or podcasts, which is something that I cannot do while running. For me, running requires more focus than spoken words would be engaging.
2. Good way to connect with nature
The beauty of cycling is that it allows one to explore vast parts of nature and reach places that one wouldn’t get to by waking and definitely not by driving. Here, I’m referring to long country roads, wineries, forest land. When you walk you can’t go that far and when you drive you can’t access the hidden gems of nature. But when you cycle, you can cover a lot of ground and tap into the most varied and interesting landscapes.
3. Create a bohemian appearance
There is poetry in riding a bike. Bikes carry with them stories, pictures, adventures, memories. A village or town with parked bikes here and there feels like such an artistic place to me.
To me, bikes confer that laid-back sense of leisure, exploration of going places and seeing the world around you. It instantly brings a sense of relaxation and life enjoyment to me. Add flowers on the basket of a parked bike and my heart melts away.
4. They take the café affair to new heights
I love seeing bikes parked outside of cafes. They bring in a sublime sense of leisure and beautiful living. I’ve only recently become aware of the cycling-cafe culture, whereby specialist bike spots like Look Mum No Hands and Rapha Cycle create a community of cyclists around them. As I’ve delightfully experienced during my week-long cycling trip in France, that coffee and cake tastes so much better once you have finished a long bike ride.
5. Combine free commute with exercise and save time
When you ride your bike to work your commute becomes free. You don’t have to spend any money on an annual season pass and what’s best, is that you save time as well. You can set off whenever you want to go to work, you don’t have to waste time waiting for the train or the tube to come, which, to me, is the biggest downtime, as you can’t start doing any work or relax in that time.
6. Helps to reduce pollution and protect the environment
Bikes don’t produce any exhaust or harmful emissions, so riding them instead of driving or using public transport is the easiest thing you can do to protect the world you live in and ensure those around you can enjoy it as well.
7. Can be inexpensive
Bike prices have a very broad spectrum, and can range from tens to hundreds of pounds, depending on the specs, the aesthetics of the model, year of manufacture etc.
8. Good return on investment
Compared to cars or public transport rates in London, bikes are relatively cheap. However, even if you end up splurging on a bike, it can still generate a good return on your investment if you use it frequently over many years. Unlike cars, bikes are relatively low maintenance. They don’t need any fuel to run and you don’t need to pay road tax for them or take them for the annual servicing checks.
9. You can park almost anywhere for free
Without being obstructive, bikes can be parked anywhere and for free, which makes your journeys limitless. Parking is often a major limiting factor when travelling by car, which is why travelling by bike is so much more convenient.
10. Great way to socialise, bond and build relationships
To me, cycling is like bonding without words. I love cycling with my partner and my sister – it makes me feel closer to them even if we don’t speak much as we cycle.
As the majority of us (myself included now) can cycle effortlessly and for a long time, cycling is a good way to engage with the people you want to build stronger bonds with. Say you want to reconnect with old friends or acquaintances, but you are somewhat worried that the encounter might seem a bit unnatural after a lot of time has passed and you’ve lost touch with one another. Cycling is a good way to make you feel closer to each other and provides you with an experience that you can enjoy together.