In praise of slow cycling – Inspired by a reader

Do you ever watch a Tour de France stage and find yourself feeling sorry for the riders? There they are, nose to stem, pedalling their hearts out to chase the wheel in front whilst all around them sunflowers are blooming, children are waving and the full glory of the French countryside is unrolling all around them. Seems a waste of a good bike ride doesn’t it?

Cycling advice is often about going faster, going further, getting fitter but with our fast-paced lives already filled with pressure why make cycling yet another source of stress. Wonderful things can happen when you slow down.

Exploring

‘Got to dash, I need to be somewhere’ – how often do you end a conversation like that? On a bike you don’t need to be anywhere at all. Setting yourself free to make up your own route as you go along, instead of rushing off to your next destination, is an incredibly liberating feeling. If a turning piques your interest, you can simply turn your wheels in that direction and find out where it leads. If you are focused on your speed it is hard to absorb the scenery, the smells and sounds around you. When you slow down and look around you’ll see things, even on familiar roads, which you haven’t noticed before. Instead of judging your ride by distance travelled or average speed its value is in the experience and the places you have seen.

Mindful cycling

Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word, it is the practice of being totally in the moment, a form of meditation, but it doesn’t mean being still. Cycling is a great way to experience mindfulness and another associated state called ‘flow’.

Flow is a state achieved when the activity you are doing perfectly matches your skill level. If an activity is too easy you may become bored, if it is too hard you may feel anxious but in the sweet spot when you rise up to meet every challenge successfully you can achieve a state of flow – where your body and mind work together as one and you are not consciously thinking, simply doing and being. It makes for the perfect bike ride.

Talking it out

Conversations that take place on a bike ride follow their own natural ebb and flow, mimicking the landscape, pausing on hills and resuming on the flat, silence forming as you single out or simply get lost in your own thoughts and the scenery. Whether it is the rhythm of the wheels, the side-by-side nature of cycling or the abundant coffee stops, many people feel relaxed and open talking and riding. You don’t have to look each other in the eye and you can accelerate ahead or quietly drop back if you need some silence. Bike rides create long stop-start free-ranging ruminations, from the lightest of observations to the deepest of inner thoughts. Chatting-pace rides are where friendships are formed and deepened; they are the ones you remember.