The most famous cycling cliché — It’s just like riding a bike — applies to more than you might imagine. Think about it: The ups and downs, the perseverance, the coasting, the good days and bad — in fact, it turns out life itself may be just like riding a bike. Which means biking can hold countless life lessons, like these:
The scary but true fact is riding a bike means you’re in for a crash at some point, whether it’s a silly spill because you couldn’t unclip your bike shoe before losing momentum or something more serious, like a crash with another cyclist or bad fall after hitting a wet patch on the pavement. Life tosses us the same lemons that sometimes knock us down and show us what we’re made of when we get up and keep going.
Maybe it’s conquering the most punishing hill in your town you do everything to avoid or an especially gnarly trail you know will be grueling, but when you’re a cyclist, there are so many times it will feel too daunting to keep riding. Just like there will be plenty of times over the course of your life that bring you to your knees and prompt you to contemplate not getting up.
Any cyclist will tell you that oftentimes the sweetest moments on a ride are the ones where you find yourself riding through a field of wildflowers or letting your mind wander on a stunningly beautiful open road. Those moments are almost always even sweeter when they aren’t part of the most straightforward route.
If you really want to get existential about things, the fact is life is going to throw at you what it will — without you having any real control over what happens. Just like you ride with a windbreaker or rain jacket stuffed into your cycling shirt if the weather report calls for anything but warm, clear skies, being prepared for the unpleasant stuff that’s bound to pop up in your life (hello, health insurance and a posse of friends and family you can rely on) is just plain smart.
You know that feeling of freedom you get when you’re barely working and thoroughly enjoying your ride? Yeah, you’ll feel that same happiness during a bout at work that feels easier than usual or when you’re in the groove with your partner or kids. Enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
There’s a reason you haul yourself up and over mountain passes or hit mountain trails that feel just a bit over your skill level: Challenges show you what you can do — and what’s still out of reach.
Yes, you can put your head down, plug in your favorite music or podcast, and hammer out 50 miles without smiling. Sometimes, life requires a steadfast focus on where you need to go, too. But if you only focus on that end goal, you’re guaranteed to deny yourself the little (and big) joys undoubtedly waiting for you along the way.
Remembering this helps you keep everything in perspective.
When it comes to biking, you need both. When you think about it, the same is true for life: The happiest among us know how to work and play, be silly and serious and keep moving through it all.
Sure, you could tell yourself you can’t hang for 100 miles and will never be able to score your dream job. Or, you could build your mileage or make career moves that slowly but surely help you charge toward your goal. Sell yourself short on what you’re potentially capable of and you don’t even have a shot.
The fact is, there will be some feats that may not be reachable now — or possibly ever — and recognizing that can not only help you stay safe but also happier.
You’ll go on group rides where you get dropped. There are things your friends will buy (like, say, that $10,000 bike) that will make you unbelievably envious. Knowing this can help you appreciate what you can do and what you do have — and maybe even inspire you to work harder to push your limits farther. (See lesson number 13.)
It’s all too easy to slip into an M.O., whether on the bike or in life. Take the same route. Ride at the same pace. Stay in the same job. Don’t ask for the big raise. But what might happen if you try to keep up with a posse of cyclists who are better than you? What might your manager’s answer be if you asked for a salary commensurate with what the best employees at your company are making? No matter the answer, one thing is certain: You won’t know until you try.
Some days, you’re going to get off your bike elated — feeling nothing but happiness about your beloved cycling hobby and your healthy body that enables you to ride. Other days, you’re going to feel dejected — hate your bike, bored with your usual route and cursing that hamstring injury preventing you from charging as hard as you’d like. The more you’re able to embrace both of these scenarios (and all of the more neutral experiences in between), the better you’ll be able to weather the range of experiences you’ll undoubtedly encounter in life.
Think back to when you first started riding and how scared (and sore!) you likely were at times. As you kept riding, those trails and roads probably felt a lot less daunting, and time spent in the saddle conditioned your sit bones. The same is true for most things you do in life. Remembering there will likely be challenges when you try something new — and practicing that new thing will undoubtedly help — can make everything feel easier.
Think of your last really challenging ride. Then, think of the long, hot shower or yoga class or soak in a hot tub you took after that challenging ride. That felt blissful, didn’t it? There is a place for hammering — for pushing yourself to the max, both on the bike and in life. But damn, you’d better unwind after you do.
Maybe you’ve finally made it to the top of that technical mountain trail or kept pace with your fastest friend. Or, perhaps you’ve achieved a smaller (yet every bit as mighty) victory, like getting back on your bike after a fall. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. Cycling can be hard. Life can be, too. Which means that when you feel like you’re winning, go ahead and revel in that feeling. You earned it.