Thursday, November 03, 2011

an ode to my bike, except it's not an ode

It turns out I rather like riding my bike, something I have discovered just this year. Prior to that Frank and I may have pedalled around a few nice bike tracks a couple of times each summer. Thirteen years ago I hired a bike and cycled around Dingle Peninsular, County Kerry, in the rain. I was left with a pilonidal abscess which ensured I never really forgot the experience. Further back, in the dark recesses of my memory, I have recollections of riding to school and locking my bike up near the monkey bars with a chain coated in transparent orange plastic, before wobbling around in an effort to dodge magpies intent on gouging my eyes out as I headed home.

It's a mixed bag of memories that's for sure! What makes me love cycling so much now?

At the risk of waxing lyrical, let me count the ways:
  1. It's a great way to get into shape. Stomach fat literally melts away and thighs slim down with a pleasing, toned effect.
  2. Don't just get into shape, get fit! I push myself far harder on a bike, get more puffed and sweat a lot more than I ever do walking. That seems like a good thing to me... my body pushing the boundaries and going further than it has before.
  3. I can walk the environmental talk - or ride it. I grow weary with paying lip service to being kind to the planet when often I'm not living it. Riding the bike is a practical way of treading lightly and living sustainably. It also qualifies me to wear this t-shirt.
  4. Cycling gives me a huge emotional kick... and not just because I feel all noble about doing the right thing to the earth! After riding the bike I feel exhilarated, invigorated, fit, healthy, buff, joyful, alive. What an endorphin rush. It's fantastic, and the feeling flows over into the next day.
  5. Sense of achievement or what?! I ride up Henry Street (big hill) to work. (Perhaps I should rephrase that - sometimes I ride up Henry Street, other times I walk) I time myself in both directions and shave off the odd minute or two here and there. I get myself around town under my own steam and I might be tired at the end of the day, but I'm pretty proud of that achievement.
  6. I've noticed a reduction in general aches and pains, particularly in one of my knees. Initially it's a bit sore, but after a few weeks of riding the pain is diminished and I can go further and longer without noticing it. I think my other twinges here and there all fade away too, but I've never kept a diary of the aches, so who really knows!
  7. Great skin! Of course I pick the best photos for my profile pictures, so you might not know my skin is not the clearest. Bane of my life sort of stuff, but something about sweating lots seems to flush it all out and my skin becomes smoother, softer and more supple, with noticeably less age lines. Hahaha, tricked you. That was really an ad for an anti-aging wrinkle cream. (Seriously, my skin is better when I cycle)
Have I convinced you all to ditch your car and ride a bike at least one day a week yet? No? Let me keep trying then.

One of those things about riding the bike to work is you have to ride home. There's no car to jump into. Tired? Grumpy? Want to collapse into a chair? Too bad. Get on your bike and get going. Maybe that sounds like a negative of cycling, but I've found it very motivating. I often catch myself doing the whole silly 'reward' thing. 'Oh, you didn't eat a chocolate all day? Have a chocolate now for being so good.' Or 'You stayed off the internet for an hour just now, go buy yourself a new pair of shoes.' The more I slip into that kind of thinking, the more cosy and comfortable life becomes.

I think I'd reached the point of not really wanting to do anything hard or challenging or demanding. But then I had to get home. The more I had to ride home at the end of the day, the more disciplined I found myself becoming in other areas of my life, as if the positive feedback from cycling helped me to face other difficulties with a more positive attitude and just get on with it. What a boon!

Nicholas Carr, in his book 'The Shallows. How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember" (Atlantic Books, 2010), describes the way maps and then clocks changed the way humans saw themselves. For example, the clock ushered in the concept of time spent, wasted or lost. People were able to personally measure time and productivity and individualism began their ascendancy. In the same manner, the way we write, read and manipulate information changes the way our mind works. Carr states that 'a medium or other tool transmits into the minds and culture of its users.' We are, in effect, controlled by our tools as much as we control them. Carr says this in the context of how the internet is changing the way we think, but as I read his work, I couldn't help connecting his ideas with my experience on the bike.

Yes, I'm fitter, healthier, happier, but more than that, my way of viewing the world has changed, and I have also changed. In a sense, riding the bike has helped stretch and shape my character in unexpected positive ways. Going back to the sense of achievement mentioned above, the personal growth I've gained through cycling has given more into that positive feedback mechanism of feeling good about myself. I like it when I stick at the difficult tasks. I'm motivated to do other things I don't want to but need to. Heck, I've even cleaned out the bathroom and the kitchen drawers in the last two weeks!

Seriously, you can't beat riding a bike. Or maybe you can... my house mate loves jogging. Jogging just isn't my thing. So if cycling isn't your thing (you don't have to wear lycra!), go for a jog. Anything that pushes you to the next level. It is so worth it!



At 6:17 pm, November 04, 2011, Blogger Cherie said...


Cecily, Carr's book is a marvel. As you know, I'm reading it, too. So interesting. Food for thought. Thanks for recommending it.

Like you, I am finding that my recently increased enthusiasm for my outdoor pursuits (kayaking, tennis, bicycling mostly) have changed the way I think, too. Also, like you, I find that I am more inclined to do hard things in other areas of life. Is it the improved fitness? Or budding self-confidence? Or the way I think, as Carr suggests? Maybe all of the above. Whatever it is, it's good.

It's a whole new outlook for me that is coloring all of my life AND happily it's rubbing off on my family members.

One of my favorite quotes is: He who reforms himself does much toward reforming others. It's true! You are proof of that.

I'm so glad you are doing NaBloPoMo. I look forward to each post. (No pressure or anything. ;)


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