It's more than exercise
So my mom is always frustrated that I take it far too seriously and push myself too hard. She says, "It should be exercise, you should do it for an hour, 90mins max, not more than that". But for me, cycling is more than exercise. Cycling makes me work well, pushes me and generally makes me happy. Every single time. No matter how bad the weather or the roads.
It's like meditation
Cycling is like mindfulness meditation. In meditation, you try focusing on something mundane like your breathing and then let your mind drift to different thoughts. But the trick and the hard part is to bring back the focus to the breathing and not let your mind wander too much. I've always had trouble catching myself drifting, but again I haven't done too much meditation before giving up.
With cycling its a lot more natural and easy. After the first few rides, pedalling becomes a reflex and your mind starts to drift. But the key is that no ride is too smooth and your attention is yanked to navigating and controlling the bike every few mins. Whenever this happens you're mindful again, and soon your mind will drift to a different thought. Just imagine doing this for hours at length and how clear your head will feel after.
Having said that, I also use cycling to process and think through some long and complicated thought process. I find myself doing an easy but long ride just so I can deeply think about something and oh boy I always had a lot more clarity at the end.
It makes me feel good about myself
Okay, this is a little weird, but cycling helps me feel really good about myself and my body, and trust me I have a lot of insecurity. An anecdote, just this summer, I didn't cycle or workout a lot in the winter and I was drinking a lot of beer. So obviously my weight increased. I was slightly obese based on BMI, I basically had very little muscle and I hated it (who wouldn't!).
I started at 72KG and with some biking and healthy eating I got it down to 68KG. My goal was to get it to 65 and losing those extra 3 Kilos was proving super difficult. I was feeling really good about myself though and I didn't really mind the extra weight anymore. I set myself a challenge and decided I didn't care about my weight as long as I could bike a 100 Miles and I could easily do just that! Anyways, the point is, cycling gave me enough confidence to not care about the numbers.
Sometimes I took it too far, for example I felt so good about my legs that I started shaving them. Well, tbh, it's not too far, I do have great legs ;)
Helps me push myself
Part of all of this is the fact that cycling helps me push my limits, both mental and physical. I remember my first 100KM, I started my ride with my local group who joined me for the first 50K and I was racing with them at every Strava segment.
This was an extraordinarily hot day at about 60K, my right leg cramped. I would have usually given up but I've been dreaming about my first 100K for weeks! I decided to sucker up, stretched, rubbed, drank lots of glucose water and continued after a short break. Towards the end I was falling apart and my legs were on the verge of cramping up, like I could feel if I put a little extra force on my right leg it would cramp. I slowly pedalled to 100.2KM and literally sat down on the side of the road. I didn't move for about 10mins after which I slowly limped home (through some planning I ended 10mins away). Still my favourite ride and very memorable!
Though that was the hardest effort, I had a lot of rides where I wanted to give up but suckered up and ended up with a huuuge dopamine hit once I hit my goals. Another story is of me pushing my fully loaded bike up Ještěd for nearly an hour. I suck at climbing and I just couldn't pedal, so I pushed my bike up the last few KMs of the climb. It was brutal and I was out of all the water I brought with me. I was so tired when I finally reached the summit (my first mountain summit) but I was soooo proud and happy! I ended up having an extended lunch and break before I was ready to go back riding, but boy that was a great experience.
Overall, experiences like these have always taught me my limits and that I can always push them. I'm not sure if this is going to help me in life, but I have a feeling it will :)
Suits my method of travel
My favourite vacation was climbing the Kedarkantha with friends from college. It was also my first vacation where I had no connectivity and had to push myself physically. Oh 4 glorious days of just slowly climbing with no phones involved. We've done a lot of sightseeing before and after that trek, but I only remember the trek and white water rafting from the trip. It was my first hint that I like adventure touring.
A lot of people go to places to see the architecture, sights and museums. While I do enjoy the museums and sights, they don't particularly excite me. What excites me is adventure and cycling is perfect for that. I've biked from Berlin to Stockholm, from Prague to Dresden and from Kostrzyn to Stralsund in 3 different bike packing trips and I've absolutely loved every single one of them. I've even biked the stretch from Copenhagen to Stockholm (>600KM) alone.
Infact, I had one planned for 10 days but had to convert it to a 10 day staycation (where I am writing this post and also biking a lot) due to a spike in COVID cases. After a few bikepacking vacations I realised I can take only 2 kinds of vacations, one that involves a lot of nature and physical activity, or one that involves my friends. I don't think I'll ever take a normal vacation where all I do is travel and see sights.
One thing I do beyond just riding is I binge watch a lot of biking videos. I never realised how much humans are capable of until I saw bikepacking videos. My first one was I'm Not Stopping – Lael Wilcox Races the Navad 1000 Across Switzerland and oh boy, I've seen it more than 10 times, and every single time it inspired me.
Seriously folks, watch it! It's amazing! And there are a lot of great ones I have bookmarked, if you like the video above, ping me and I'll share them all!
Anyways, all these videos of people battling all kinds of adversities and just sticking with it, and going one pedalstroke at a time will show you how small your own problems are. Hell I was cold already while riding and it was only going to get colder the coming months, so I went on a bikepacking video binge spree and at the end of it, I felt like I could take anything nature throws at me.
It makes me happy
I've said this before and I'm going to say it again, because its true! Every ride, no matter how long or short, how hard or easy makes me happy at the end. Though, the harder it is, the happier I am. And its pure science! Having said that, cycling not just makes me happy, but cycling when I am stressed, sad or confused makes me feel more confident. I don't know what it is, it just is :)
Oh, the icecream!!!!
Well, when biking, I eat a lot of ice-cream without any guilt and this summer, I was consuming buckets of ice-cream and I still lost weight!
Furthermore, whenever I know that there is an ice-cream waiting for me at the end, I bike doubly hard to get to it quicker ;) And Ben knows how well ice-cream motivates me to ride, having used it as a ruse to make me bike longer :P
Finally, it's fun
No seriously, it is! Specially if you have great roads and little traffic. For me, in Vizag, I had the amazing beach road beckoning me every single day. It was amazing, with the sea by my side.
Berlin has amazing roads too! I live right in the middle of the city, it takes me 15mins to get out of the bustle and after that its amazing! Seriously folks, if you have great roads and trails, and don't bike, you're wasting your life. You don't need to go super hard or long like me, just start small. The cycling bug will bite you very quickly and you'll do your first 100K in no time.