Cycling has enormous physical benefits. In a one-hour ride, you can work on strength and endurance, aerobic capacity, balance, and, depending on how many car doors you managed to dodge, agility.
When we cycle in natural areas, we also reap benefits to the soul. Self-propelled speed makes us feel closer to nature. We become philosophical and ponder the universal questions: “Is that what really fresh air smells like?” or “Has that view always been there?” Perhaps, “If I’m on only two wheels, why am I not in the ditch?”
The first time I managed enough velocity for the gyroscopic effect to kick in, I felt I’d broken free of the chains of gravity. The wind was in my face, and I felt taller as the scenery zipped past me. I began to think of the rotation of the earth, the dog snapping at my ankles, and whether I had a plan for dismount.
Good for the Brain…
Many people equate more contemplative activities with philosophical development; napping under apple trees and fly-fishing come to mind. Cycling involves physical exercise. Recent research shows that exercising can increase brainpower by prompting brain cells to multiply, strengthening their connections, and boosting their resilience against damage and disease, especially in older adults. A study published in 2005 reports on older Italian cyclists who, despite their ages, maintain extraordinary activity levels. The study explores “the physical and mental health effects of intensive exercise in older people…and the cultural and social features that support and promote bicycling in Italy.”
…and the Soul
This exercise-generated brainpower is conducive to philosophy and the soul. Cycling in nature provides the sensory impetus. The smells of the area may awaken long-lost memories that can add fuel to thought. Sounds of bugs, birds, and large hairy woodland creatures (whoa!) spark the development of more thought. On a bicycle you can experience every pothole on the trail and the resulting mud and water splashing up your back. On a trail there is a cacophony of sensory input to spark those new brain cells. Riding on a trail, you can think. Thinking is like an adventure holiday.
Try this helmet on, and get on this mountain bike. You’re on your own, so start thinking. I can hear your thoughts.
You’re thinking about how the low gear really flattens out the hill. Now you’re thinking about the Stone Age and wondering whether you can fashion a stone tool that will help extract the chain from between the sprocket and the wheel.
An Hour of Bicycling…
Body weight: 154 lbs (70 kg)
Speed: 12-13.9 mph (19-22 kph) –moderate effort
Calories burned: 560
New thoughts generated: infinite