Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part One

balance-balance-motivational-1310443928I’ve been riding a bike since May 2012. Not very long. I love it, though, and I’ve found that no matter what is going on in my life, it’s all made better by time in the saddle. There is a sign on a bike trail in Fort Collins, Colorado, that my daughter pointed out to me when we went riding a couple of months ago. It reads “Let it all go.” That’s so true. In the saddle, I can let it all go and just focus on the ride.

I’ve learned a few things while on the bike, and I think they apply to so-called “real life.” Let me say right here that these are my own lessons learned. They may not apply to everyone, and they may not be true for every cyclist. Here’s a few in no particular order.

1. Any ride is better than no ride. Sometimes my mind will trick me that I don’t have enough time in one single chunk to do something. “I can’t write–I only have 20 minutes.” Biking has taught me the fallacy of that. Only 20 minutes? No problem. I can still get a very short three-mile ride in. While that isn’t much, any ride is better than no ride. And writing two paragraphs is better than not writing at all. Grab what you can when you can.

This also applies to exercise. Riding a bike is great exercise. And while you may at times feel that you can’t spend enough time to make it worthwhile, or that you don’t go fast enough nor far enough, remember this: you are lapping everyone who is sitting on the couch.

2. When confronted with the choice to go uphill or down, choose uphill. I’m all about options, and generally speaking, the more options you have, the better. If you choose to go downhill, you have eliminated the easy option, basically leaving you with no options. If you choose uphill, you can always change your mind if you really need to. Going uphill has a lot of benefits. The first, of course, is that eventually, you’ll go down the other side, wind rushing through your hair, joy flooding your exhilarated body. Second, the view is better from the top. You can look back at the hill you’ve just climbed, the accomplishment you have achieved, the challenge you have conquered and say, “Wow, I did that!”

In child development, if the parent does everything for the child, the child never achieves a sense of accomplishment and learns instead to be helpless and dependent. We develop self-esteem and self-confidence only by conquering the difficult. Choose uphill. Say yes to the challenge.

3. When going uphill, go small. This goes along with the one above. If you’ve chosen to go uphill, there are going to be times that you are sure you won’t be able to make it. That’s especially true in life. Some challenges feel unconquerable. In that case, it’s best to look at the short distances. As the joke goes–how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t look at the whole hill; focus instead on the few yards in front of you. Look ahead a little ways and pick a target. On one hill that I used to regularly ride, I would pick my target and give myself permission to turn around when I reached that target. I never turned around. I always without fail picked another target and kept going.

I read an article recently by Kimberly Turner about resolutions for writing, and she made this point. Looking at the big picture is necessary so you know where you’re going, but looking at it too long can be overwhelming. Get the big picture, the big hill, in mind and then make smaller goals. Instead of saying, “I’m going to write that novel this year,” break it down and say, “I’m going to write chapter one this week.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 25 pounds this year,” say “I’m going to eat healthy today,” and “I’m going to lose two pounds this month.”

4. Keep moving. Life is movement. It pushes forward, struggles, surges, creeps. It is never still. Growth is movement. To stop moving is to become stagnant, to die. To ride a bike is movement. You can’t ride a bike and be still at the same time. If in life you feel you are stuck, move. If you are depressed, move. If you are uncertain which path to take, take one. MOVE. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Nothing lasts forever. If you are going through bad times, they will not last. Keep moving.

I wish I could say that you will not fall off your bike if you keep moving. You no doubt will take a spill at some point while biking. But it is a certainty that you will fall off if you don’t move at all.

I live in Colorado, where I can look out my window at any given moment and see the mountains. And they are beautiful, majestic, breathtaking. But my heart longs to be on the beach with its ceaseless movement. Life is movement. Growth is movement. Learning is movement. Biking is movement.

5. It’s all about you. When I first started riding, I would approach this one hill and kill myself trying to maintain my speed. It took a lot of the joy out of hitting that hill, because I just couldn’t ride it as fast as what I thought I should. I have riding friends, and I was judging myself–a fledgling rider–on their distances and speeds.

Sometimes in life people will judge you based on their own standards. Sometimes you will judge yourself based on how they live their lives. But the truth is, no one sits in your saddle but you. No one resides in your skin but you. No one rides your path but you. That’s right–it’s all about you. Shinedown has a song called “What a Shame.” The first line of the chorus is “What a shame, what a shame to judge a life that you can’t change.”

Don’t let anyone else’s judgment change who you are–either when you’re riding or in life. We in the church are famous for doing that to others, judging them without knowing their lives, motivations, choices, challenges as if we had the right. I will write more about that in a future blog post.

6. Announce yourself. While it is all about you, recognize that you are part of a community. When you are on a bike and are approaching a pedestrian, you are supposed to announce yourself. “On your left.” This keeps them from unwittingly stepping out in front of you and hurting themselves, you and your bike. So it is in life. Announce yourself. This doesn’t mean that when you walk into a party you have to throw your arms open wide and belt out “Here I am! Embrace me!” It means say hello. It means reach out to someone else. Greet people. Smile. As a pastor at my old church used to say, “Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load.”

I don’t just announce myself to the pedestrians on the bike path. I have a bell on my bike and I love ringing it. It’s a happy sound, and God knows we could use more happy sounds in this often sorrowful world. I ring the bell at other bikers. It’s a recognition that we are in a special community, that we both know the joys of pedal pumping. I saw a little girl one time and I know the joy on her face matched my own, and when I rang my bell and she rang hers in return, I felt like I’d met a sister, even though 40-plus years separated us.

There’s the first set. One final story–not because it fits in any particular category, but because it makes me happy when I remember it.

Squirrels are always something to watch out for. They’re fast, they’re unpredictable, and they always think they can beat you. Not long ago, I was riding on the street (sometimes I like to avoid the bike paths because I can build up better speed that way–no pedestrians to worry about), when a squirrel darted in front of me. I braked and it got by me. But there was an accelerating SUV on the other side, and I was pretty sure the squirrel would be flattened roadkill in no time. But if the driver didn’t see the squirrel, he no doubt saw my look of horror and my shoulders scrunched up by my ears in preparation of impending squirrel doom, and he braked. The squirrel made it safely to the tree on the other side of the road, and as the driver passed me, he gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up.

Community, a simple shared moment, happens even in unlikely circumstances.

Until my next bike post, wear your helmet, look both ways, settle in the saddle, and ride on.

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3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part One

  1. Great post! Keeping your eyes on the immediate thing in front of you is difficult, but necessary to reach your goals. Plus, the journey is just as important as the destination.

  2. There are many activities we enjoy which can be related to life and being a cyclist myself I enjoy the connections you made. I lean toward longer distances and every time I reach another goal I feel the exhilaration that comes with success. The last two years I have ridden for the We Promise foundation and made the fifty mile stretch on both rides. This last year I wanted to make the century ride but just couldn’t get the training time in to prepare.

    Preparation is another part of the experience. Each time I ride I prepare myself physically by wearing the proper attire and mentally. The mental preparation is often the hardest because, though I know I will feel good when the ride is over, I also know there will be some pain along the trip; legs tire and want to stop, hands ache and my butt hurts. The same is true when we look at a lofty or hard to reach goal; there will be pain in the accomplishment but the result is worth the pain, the end result is what motivates us. If that goal is only superficial we will start and stop, hesitate, even turn away from it. If it is worthwhile to us we will find a way to make it work, the goal is the motivator.

  3. This was such a fantastic read for the first of the year! I probably bought my first road bike when you first starting riding and gone through what you thought. I’ve been in hiatus for a while due to some life changing events, but will make an attempt to ride more this year. Thanks for the great read and look forward to more of your posts. Keep the rubber side down and have safe rides!

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