When I started cycling to work a few years ago, I was really nervous. Even though huge bike lanes line the roads, I was still anxious to ride with traffic. I’ve seen the news and have had friends who cycle so I know that it can be dangerous. My husband had his foot nearly taken off when he was bike messenger in London. A cab driver hit him and his foot got caught in the cage of his pedal, forcing his body to go one way and his foot to go another. Although the doctors told him he wouldn’t walk again, he managed to recover (his propensity to stubbornness came in handy), but he still has the marks on his leg from where the bolts were that held his leg together for nearly a year.
While I’ve had my share of close calls, cycling has had a positive impact on me and has made me a more confident person. Here are five of the benefits I’ve noticed:
1. It’s made me more assertive. Although I’ve always been a bit of a honey badger, cycling has made me more assertive than I was. When the bike lane ends, cyclists have to jockey for position in regular traffic. This means being seen, and taking the lane when called for (which is allowed by law, motorists. Just a friendly reminder.). If you hesitate, you could end up on someone’s hood. That’s why you have to move with confidence and with the flow of traffic.
In life, it’s made me more apt to call ‘bullshit’ when necessary. No one is going to look out for you except you, so you have to make yourself heard.
2. I make better decisions. In the same vein, road cycling forces you to think quickly and decisively. Whether you’re merging with traffic or you need to overtake slower, and sometimes less predictable, cyclists, you have to be able to quickly assess the situation and find the safest option. A few weeks ago I was taking my lunchtime ride when a woman in a fancy sedan cut me off to get onto the highway. I had to think fast and turn with her as she passed me to ensure that I didn’t T-bone the side of her car.
The ability to make quick decisions translates to my daily life as well. Instead of mulling over things, I’m able to better assess situations quickly and make a move.
3. I’m able to focus on the present. In cycling, you have to stay present and focus on what you’re doing or you get hurt. Focusing on the present allows you to deal with the pain of long rides, swerve to avoid a giant pothole in your path and deal with a flat or blowout.
As a result, I’m also better able to focus on the task at hand at work and at home. Instead of getting wrapped up in what will happen (which just paralyzes me and prevents me from acting), I can focus on getting done what needs to be done now.
4. It’s boosted my creativity. On the road, you have to find solutions around traffic, bad road conditions, bad drivers, other twats in spandex, etc. Sometimes the best solution isn’t the most direct one. The same is true in life. Problems come at you pretty quickly; to deal with them, you have to think outside of the box.
5. Perseverance! The first 20 miles are easy; from there it gets progressively difficult until you’ve hit mile 70 and you have to pull off to the side of the road and cry because it’s hot, your muscles burn and you would seriously shank someone for a delicious and refreshing cold beer. On long rides you have to learn not to give up—how else are you supposed to get back to your car? Long-distance cycling (and any endurance sport really) is hard, but you have to have the grit to keep going. Life is like that, too. You can’t just give up when it gets tough. Sure, you can wallow in self-pity for a bit, but the time comes when you have to put on your big-girl britches, suck it up and keep moving.
Exercise has more than just physical benefits; it can impact your mind and attitude as well.