Many people begin bike-riding as a part of a weight-loss/health regimen. It is true, riding is an extremely low-impact, calorie burning, strength-building activity. But riding is SO much more. You’ve heard surfers wax philosophical about the ‘one-ness’ of riding the waves, but I believe there is no greater activity than biking.
I have engaged in many health-related activities over the course of my life. As a young man I did the whole ‘pump-iron’ thing, cardio, elliptical, stationary, treadmill, etc, etc. But I have to say, everyone of them have left me kinda flat, unfulfilled, and sort-of empty. So what it is about biking outside in the world so much different than the in-gym experience?
I am no scientist, and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but if you will, allow me a few lines of observation and subjectivity to differentiate the wonderment, and the magical joys of real riding from the mechanistic gym-world.
Connections: Again, to bring up the surfers illustration there is a connectivity not just to the rider but to the world around the rider. In a gym, there is a human being, a machine, and a crowd of adrenaline fueled humanity that are all engaged and engorged, hammering out their routinized health-related activity structure. There is no joy in the gym, there is, instead, the checking off of lists. A gym person is connected to the machine under them, and less so to the contrived environment around him.
The biker is keenly aware of many things going on around him. The variation of the road surface beneath the tires, the breeze and various aromas come together as a part of the experience. Sumac and honeysuckle lend their heady and sweet scents to the air, while pretty feral multiflora drifts by. The spots of shade become little reprieves from the sun, an oasis on the pavement. Cars float by, and the passing scenery grows different every ride. Urban riders have a slightly different experience. They smell the coffee from the corner barista, or a boulangerie. For the rider in Europe, the fromagerie may lend other enticing aromas. The sounds become an integral part of the ride as well. For the Urbanite, children, traffic, and other activities fill the experience with a familiar but varying symphony from ride to ride. As a villager I am exposed to a different set of audible cues. Horses, and cattle search noisily for succulent leaves. Tractors chug away cutting their fields of prairie grass, and the occasional squirrel scampers and chides me annoyingly from large chinquapin oaks as I pull hard to a steep uphill climb.
Manufacturers spend tons on research and development, creating the real-world experience. Hydraulic ellipticals and treadmills buzz away varying their height and tension. The scenery never changes, the smell is always the same. That funky combination of sweat, Ben Gay, and Axe. The work tedious, endless and as enjoyable as fixing a lawn-mower. The one bright spot being that wonderful endorphin cascade. Biking allows the mind to wander, to think and do it’s magical work that transports us far away from the pain of physical exertion to a degree. It exposes us to a multitude of sights, smells and sounds and allows our muscles to experience a plethora of challenges simply not afforded to those of us who slave away in a gym. Biking allows us to think through our day, think through our evening, to reflect on our plans, and occasionally challenges us to ‘crush a hill’.
Are you checking off your list, or have you grown to enjoy the ride?