Paul Nixon's Blog |||

The Joy of Cycling

The best sport is the one that you do - anything that gets you off your arse, generates a degree of challenge and requires a bit of endeavour is a good thing.

The Joy of Cycling

Cycling, however, has a combination of qualities that explain its self-evidently superior rise in popularity over the last decade or so. Many of these attributes have, at their core, an inherent and fundamental generosity.

1. Injury-free participation

It’s not impossible to get injured cycling - but it’s hard providing you don’t fall off. To contrast with running; you can push harder, go further, exceed your limits and suffer very little ill-consequence other than fatigue. And fatigue - it should go without saying! - is to be celebrated.

2. Sport for life

In your 40s, I reckon, with adequate training you can be 95% as good as you were in your 20s and 30s. Even better, you can ride well and comfortably into your 60s and even 70s.

3. It’s really easy to get going

To be clear, you can make cycling as hard as you like. Go and find your nearest challenging hill or get yourself to the foot of a 25km alpine climb if you need evidence. However, entry-level riding is open to everyone. Your first bike ride can be ridiculously easy.

4. Progression

Not only is cycling easy, but you will see rapid improvements once you get started. The journey from the first ride of a few kilometres to your first sportive is a surprisingly straightforward one. If you can ride 10km, you can ride 20km. If you can ride 20km, you can ride 30km. I have tested this limit up to 280km.

5. You’re in the great outdoors

Our ancestors spent most of their time outdoors. It’s an under-appreciated aspect of cycling that quietly confers significant benefits to our physical and, perhaps especially, mental wellbeing.

6. Sense of achievement

After a few weeks on the bike, you will find yourself going places. You’ll be doing more kilometres and undertaking journeys that look impressive on an online map. Highly visible and measurable progress is a great motivator.

7. Everyone can get quite good

Almost everyone has a 160km sportive in them - even if that sounds impossible before they try. Cycling is a low-impact, endurance sport. You build endurance by riding a little bit further than before - it’s genuinely that straightforward. Perhaps, rephrased, everyone can do a ride that most non-riders would think is impressive if not impossible.

8. It’s social

I highly recommend that you find and join a local bike club. Cycling lends itself to long, social rides. Cycling clubs are not how they used to be - ripping your legs off on your first ride and being left lost and limping home alone. Perhaps they were never really like that anyway. Your local club will have groups of all abilities and are super-conscious and supportive of people at the start of their cycling journey. We were all there ourselves once.

9. Cyclists are highly decent people

There probably is a slightly greater proportion of cyclists that are highly decent people compared to the general population. But the reality is that nearly everyone is likeable, trustworthy, honest and reasonable - you merely need to get out there and meet them. It’s tempting to think the world has gone mad, but the internet, newspapers and TV have strong incentives to make it look like this is the case. Most people are great, but they aren’t very newsworthy.

10. Beautiful places

And not only beautiful but also part of cycling legend. Like a Sunday-league footballer playing at Wembley - cyclists can freely ride on Alpe D’Huez, or the Flandrian cobbles, or the Olympic route through Surrey. The mountains are where everything comes together - the combination of extreme physical exertion and transcendent beauty can be overwhelming.

11. No limits, no end

The challenge never ends - no matter how good you are, you can always improve. Or you can try something new, or go somewhere different. It’s a journey that never ends.

In summary

Are there any downsides? It’s a time-consuming sport as you improve. Three or four hours rides are common-place, and a long sportive will take as long as a marathon. It can be a tough balance to strike when you have a young family, for example. It’s also pretty expensive, and even at entry-level, I imagine it would cost around £1,000 to get a bike and some basic kit (though I think there have been recent changes to the Bike to Work’ scheme that might help).

In conclusion: if you have the most basic level of physical wellbeing, some time and a bit of cash, then you should try cycling - you might be embarking on the longest and most enjoyable journey of your life.