There is a number of articles on ‘spirituality and cycling’ on the internet but I have stuck with my variant because I feel it somehow captures the spiritual wavelength of this uplifting physical activity more effectively. I have been a cyclist now for more than 50 years.
One of my most treasured memories as a child was in ‘pretend travelling’ using the one bike in our family. My older brother and I got around the potential conflict about whose turn it was to ride the bike by pretending we were both on a ‘road to somewhere’. One of us had our imaginary horse (characterised by a creative ‘giddy up’ running style), and the other would be on the ‘motorbike’ (the small bike I mentioned). We spent hours interchanging the two forms of ‘transport’ as we journeyed through the nearby school grounds and on the many surrounding bush tracks! The ‘motorbike’ would always outpace the ‘horse’! At 4 years of age, this was my earliest memory of the joys of cycling. We never did get a horse...
Cycling is an extraordinarily efficient means of transport. A London GP described doing his house calls in central London on his pushbike. In twenty years, he covered over 87,000km. He also had no parking problems! He alleged he had saved at least 10,000 litres of fuel a car would have required covering the same distance. That amazing technological triumph of the 20th century, the Anglo-French Concorde (now mothballed), consumed one litre of fuel to carry one passenger 7.7km. A cyclist, by contrast, manages to travel 495km on an equivalent quantity of fuel (Williams, 1994, p. 1744). Interestingly, the same doctor has worked out that 1.75 litres of draught bitter or a 50 gram bar of milk chocolate has enough energy to propel a cyclist 25km (Williams, 1975, p. 27). Try putting that in your RV!
Of course there is the pure joy of the physical activity and the sense of getting together just to journey with friends. A close friend of mine delights in the thrill of cycling and I am inspired by his deep grin from ear to ear and his expression of pure joy as he cycles along, particularly when he accelerates downhill!
Now that I have entered retirement I’m able to spend more time cycling. I delight in pedaling along on my phenomenal Cervelo road bike – carbon frame of course! I love getting out on the road. I have ridden to and from work for many years. I like to think I am a very defensive road cyclist and take the responsibility of adhering to all traffic signs – even stop signs! These days, ‘stop’ signs have become ‘slow down a bit!’ signs for motorists. There are two categories of cyclists – those who have had a spill and those who are yet to have a spill! I have had a couple of spills with a couple of fractures and by now I must have cycled well over 100,000km in my lifetime. I have cycled to work in London, Leiden and Brisbane as well as here in Newcastle. Years ago when studying in London, I remember getting stuck in the inner lane on a dreaded four lane roundabout near Hyde Park Corner. To this day I cannot remember how I managed to get off it! There is something important in cycling for me and I have been giving this a lot of thought in recent years.
I have loved the benefits of riding to and from work over the years. It calmed me down and as I arrived at work I was surprisingly serene in mood, so my colleagues intimated, but full of enthusiasm for the day ahead. I had time to sort things out in my mind on the way to work but it was the calming effect on me which I enjoyed most. After a busy day at work I had accumulated frustrations, disappointments, exasperations and anger. I jumped on the bike and by the time I arrived home I had transformed into a calm and communicative husband and father! I noticed a big difference when I used a car and never really felt good about ‘car’ days.
This calming effect is even more pronounced when I cycle with others on longer journeys over many days. I find the pedalling rhythm is akin to a mantra and I find myself reflecting on my relationship with God. I notice the scenery and wildlife more, and rich conversations with other cyclists occur. I think it is about our journeying together. As Christians, our pilgrim status becomes palpable on these rides. We become a community − sometimes with over 600 other cyclists. Everyone seems to be willing to help each other and most importantly encourage each other up the many hills on the journey.
One of my most powerful experiences occurred during one of these long bike rides. Late one afternoon I found myself part of a standing ovation given to a grossly overweight cyclist as she pedalled into overnight camp several hours after everyone else had arrived. Most of us had taken 4-5 hours to cycle the 80km for the day– she took about eight hours. As she struggled into camp – everyone stopped and applauded. Tears were streaming down her face and many of us became quite emotional as we acknowledged her amazing determination and grit to keep on going and not give up. I think this incident highlighted for me the importance of community and the deep respect and support freely given by this community of cyclists to one another.
Finally, recent evidence suggests cycling boosts mitochondrial activity by over 60% in the older population and this reverses the effects of ageing (Robinson et al, 2017)! So ‘get on your bike’ is good advice and there are safe places to cycle in Newcastle. The Fernleigh Track is probably the best, a wonderful Council facility which goes from Adamstown all the way to Belmont using disused railway tracks.
Make use of it and enjoy life to the maximum!
Robinson, M, Dasari, S, Konopka, A, Johnson, M, Manjunatha, S, Esponda, R, . . . Lanza, I R (2017). Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 25(3), 581-592.
Williams, R. (1975). De Motu Urbanorum. The British Medical Journal (Oct. 4, 1975), pp. 25-27, 4(5987), 25-27.
Williams, R. (1994). De Inertia Urbanorum. British Medical Journal (Dec. 24, 1994), pp. 1741-1745, 309 (6970), 1741-1745.