It’s hard to describe exactly how or even exactly when, but bikes saved me.
They pulled me out of a dark spot and they reconnected me with old friends and helped me find new ones. The weird thing is that this sentiment is so common amongst riders that it barely rates a mention other than a nodding agreement if it ever comes up.
Consider that – that thought is so common amongst riders but often glossed over. Weird.
Bikes saved me and if you ride, probably saved you too. I’ve had so many incidental conversations with close friends and riding acquaintances and this concept of riding as a therapy for pretty much every possible upset of the soul or body but it’s just taken for granted. That’s how it is. Matter of fact.
I’m guessing you’re not likely to be reading this story if you’re not a rider. If you aren’t – please grab any bike and start riding it. If you ride enough and push past the initial discomfort, it’ll do the same thing to you. Don’t wait to have enough money to buy a beautiful italian racer, just grab a bike, and then ride it.
Not long after I started to ride mountain bikes, and somewhere between sweating and swearing and falling out of my cleats, I gave up and started running my bike up the hill so I wasn’t holding up my friends who were (and still are to this day) helping me to learn how to ride better. I had that hot flush of embarrassment and anger with myself for not being able to do what everyone else seemed to be handling fine …
“I’m fat and slow.”
“Don’t worry about it Nat, you’re not fat and slow, you’re doing fine and everyone has to learn.”
My brother and his girlfriend would reply each time. Again and again. Gentle encouragement and simple repetition.
“Keep your weight shifted forward. Spin even circles. Look where you’re going. Doing great! Just keep spinning. Just keep spinning.”
It took so much reassurance – too much really, exactly like that to help me realise that I needed to hang on and persist. Carrying on and complaining to veteran riders only used up more energy.
“Just keep spinning.”
This is the mantra for mountain bikers. This reframed my expectations of what I could expect on the bike and stopped me from beating myself up so much when I couldn’t nail a switchback. Just keep spinning.
Here’s why I think bikes will save you: riding them helps relocate the war in your head – I’m not good enough / I’m too fat / I can’t do this” to be a war in your body – My legs are giving in, but if I can’t get this today, I’ll get it next week … It forces you to be in the moment, concentrating on pushing yourself, there’s no room for worrying about other people, the stuff that’s stressing you at home or at work, it’s just you and the bike.
It’s no longer about I’m not good enough, it’s about if I really want this, then just keep spinning.
Suddenly when I couldn’t ride it, it wasn’t the end of the world, I just got back on when I could, and kept plugging away. Every now and again I started to see improvement and I could see that riding that little hard bit was possible. It just takes practice and time. Nothing else. Nothing superhuman, just practice and time.
And this is why it saved me. I’ve started to realise that everyone is learning all the time, in every aspect of their lives. I’d gone through a horrendous few months personally, and I was on that hill falling over again and again at work, at home – everywhere. I took the approach of the bike and I realised I can’t do everything and I can’t please everyone. But I can goddamn stick with it and I can practice until things get easier.
It freed me from worrying if I’m shit (I’m not, but I’m not hot-shit either) and from being concerned about what other people think – I ride for me and and I ride to enjoy myself. That’s it.
It teaches you to accept your limitations (it’s either that, or you can constantly seethe at your lack of ability) and to enjoy the moment.
I hope that’s as profound to you as it is to me. Riding calms, centres and relaxes. It does the exact same thing for so many of my friends too.
Bikes saved me, and maybe you too.
With thanks and gratitude to those who have ridden with me, and shared their time and patience to show me the way.