In the 7 years since I bought a road bike, I’ve changed a lot. Cycling is more than just a hobby. It teaches you new skills, modifies old habits, and makes you see the world from new perspectives. It can change your life wholesale, if you let it. Here are just a few ways cycling changes you as a person.
Cycling makes you a morning person
I used to snigger at people who woke up early to exercise. “You fool,” I’d think, “willingly depriving yourself of sweet, sweet sleep.” Now, I’m one of them.
After finishing university and taking up a full-time job, I quickly learned that early mornings were the only realistic times in which to train. Over time, I’ve set my alarm to sound earlier and earlier, summoning me to pre-dawn rides.
This routine has altered my body clock. On weekends, I’ll automatically wake up at sunrise, even when I’m not planning to ride. I’ve come to enjoy the stillness of the morning, when the air is crisp and a full day awaits. Whereas I used to work better in the evenings, my most productive hours now come before lunchtime.
When I do train, I arrive at work satisfied that I’ve already achieved something before the day’s begun.
Perhaps I was never really a night owl, but now I’m definitely a morning person.
Cycling makes you handier
Before I started cycling, I couldn’t tell a hex wrench from a headset. Nowadays, I know about torque settings, bearing pre-load, chain lubrication and cable tension. I can change a flat tyre and patch a tube. I can silence a squeaky quick-release, tighten a wobbly headset and prevent a dropped chain.
Unlike a car, a bicycle is a wonderfully simple machine. With just a little guidance, much of which is freely available on the Internet, most people can fix common mechanical issues and keep their beloved bike in good working condition.
Sure, some of these skills are bicycle-specific, but I’ve found that learning them has given me the confidence to fix other small problems around the house – loose doorknobs, faulty fluorescent starters, worn computer parts, etc.
Cycling makes you a safer driver
I’ve always been cautious behind the wheel, but cycling has amplified that. I’ve experienced enough close passes, near misses and actual collisions to know first-hand how the slightest mistake from a driver can seriously injure someone.
My eyes are trained to spot vulnerable road users. Whereas most drivers only seem to notice other cars (hence the common “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you” excuse), my vision instinctively locks on to cyclists (usually to gawk at their bike), motorcyclists and pedestrians from afar.
Cycling in Sydney makes you acutely aware of the road rules. I’ve had enough motorists yell at me for riding in a bus lane, riding two abreast, filtering past stopped traffic and not riding on the share path to know those are all legal for cyclists. Because you’re so vulnerable, you also learn all the give way rules, you get anal about indicating before turning, and patiently waiting behind slow traffic becomes second nature.
Perhaps most importantly, cycling has made me drive less. I’ve developed the habit of taking the bike for short trips, thus removing one car’s worth of congestion from our roads.
Cycling makes you a better navigator
One of the simplest joys of cycling is discovering new roads. In an urban area like Sydney, cycling lets you explore back streets and laneways, far away from busy thoroughfares.
Chances are, you’ll learn some secret routes that few drivers know about: back roads that bypass traffic lights, hidden tracks to circumvent poorly-connected bike paths, scenic roads for leisurely cruising.
You also develop a better sense of direction. When you need to ride to an unfamiliar destination, you’ll read maps to plan new routes. You’ll keep a mental image of the map in your head – or a digital version of the map on your head unit – and with practice, you’ll become instinctively well-oriented, always knowing which way you’re heading. On occasion, you might still get lost. Even then, the challenge of finding your bearings and getting to your destination will improve your navigation skills like nothing else.
Cycling puts you in touch with your environment
As well as giving you a better sense of direction, cycling also makes you more aware of your surroundings.
For example, you become more aware of the terrain. Is the land hilly, or flat? Are you in a valley or on top of a hill? When you’re driving, will you be going uphill (and pushing your engine harder), or cruising downhill?
You also become acutely aware of the weather. Whenever I’m planning to ride, I’ll check the weather forecast not just to see if it’s going to rain, but also to assess:
- Wind speed and direction – will I need to leave myself more time to battle a headwind, or can I target some Strava segments with a tailwind?
- Temperature – will I need arm warmers? Leg warmers? Gloves? Full long-sleeve jersey?
- Sunrise and sunset times – will I need lights? What colour glasses lens should I choose?
When you’re driving, your metal cage dulls your sense of the elements and your accelerator flattens the landscape with the push of a pedal. So when you ride a bike, you’re more in tune with your environment.
Cycling makes you healthier
This is obvious. Cycling is a great activity for burning kilojoules, losing weight and improving cardiovascular health.
If you start racing, you’ll probably think about your diet more, too. You’ll be more deliberate about fuelling with carbohydrates, recovering with protein, and cutting out surplus fat. You may start emulating the pros – eating oats for breakfast and pasta for dinner. You might even consider going vegan.
On the other hand, you might scrap that altogether and decide to ride so that you can eat more junk food and drink more beer. But at least you’d thinking about your dietary choices.
How has cycling changed your life? Let us know in the comments below.