It’s a stupid cliché, but cycling really did change my life In 2011 I was sitting in the park with five people from my soccer team and realized they all had bikes – I was the only one of them who hadn’t used a bike to get to the game. I pointed this out to my buddy, Paul, sitting next to me and he just said, matter-of-factly: “you should get a bike, it will change your life”. I just laughed – almost embarrassed at his uncharacteristic display of earnestness.
Despite my reaction, the idea of getting a bike stuck in my head after that, gnawing at my thoughts. I must have mentioned it to someone because, the following year, I was given a bicycle for my birthday. It was cheap, heavy, and slow, but it was a bike, with two wheels and a seat and it worked. The idea behind the gift was that I would use my new bike to ride the fourteen miles to work and back and burn 620 calories in the process. Every day. I would have the body I’d always dreamed of and save the planet in the process. Simple. Except it wasn’t. In fact, it took more than a year for me to pluck up the courage. All the time, the bike just sat there in the entrance hall, giving disappointed, dusty looks at me each time I left the house. ‘Loser’ it would cough, just as I shut the door before taking the train to work. I was afraid to start cycling. The big and obvious fear was that of being hit by a car; however, there were many other little things I was also scared of. What if I got lost? What if my bike got stolen? What if the showers at the office didn’t work? What if they did work but I forgot to pack spare underwear? What if the 15 minutes snooze I got from my train commute was crucial to my ability to function as a human being? These questions would run through my mind every time I contemplated cycling to work. Each layer of thought eroding my enthusiasm until the will to ride a bike had been thoroughly washed away. Eventually I was pushed into it. A soccer injury led me to take up running; a running injury led me to take up cycling. It came down to a stark and frightening choice between cycling and dieting. The first few days’ cycling to work was, frankly, terrifying. The route I picked wasn’t great and took me along some really busy roads – many with no bike lane separating me from the traffic. On the second day, I had a close call when someone in a parked car swung open their door right in front of me when I was riding full-speed. By the end of the week, however, I felt pretty comfortable. The route had been tweaked, adrenaline levels had dropped and cycling actually became quite enjoyable. Interestingly, the ‘car door’ experience was the only close call I’ve ever had while cycling. After a few weeks I started noticing something. Cycling to work had given me a lot more self-confidence. This was bleeding into all aspects of life but especially my work. Our workplace environment at the time was atrocious. My organization had been dissolved, then re-established; people had been made redundant, then re-hired. Everyone felt vulnerable and nobody was behaving reasonably. Managers were hammering their staff, who were hammering their staff, who were hammering their staff and I sat right at the bottom of the pile. I’d been working 12-hour days, every day, only to be told by my boss at our weekly 1:1s, I wasn’t working fast enough. It was utterly demoralizing. Somehow it was only after I started cycling to work that I realized I wasn’t the problem. The problem was the insanity of what was happening around me. So I started working on a plan to get out. Within a month, I gave the best interview of my life and moved to a great job in a different organization. Could it have really all been down to the cycling? Well, maybe. It is no secret that cycling improves your physical health - reducing risk of cardiovascular disease by 42%; cancer by 45% blah blah blah… We all know this stuff. But I don’t think we all understand the scale of impact that cycling has on every-day mental health. People who have studied the links between cycling and mental health think it’s the combination of exercise from peddling together with the enjoyment gained from connecting with the outdoor environment that makes cycling special. These two factors have a tremendous impact on mental health and cognitive function improving mood, increasing blood flow to the brain, and helping to create new neural pathways. In my case, cycling definitely meant that I came into work in a better mood. I approached everything at the beginning of the day with more positivity and this, in turn, helped me get along better with the people around me. Conquering my fear of cycling gave me the confidence to address other things I was afraid of, like challenging my boss’s unreasonable demands and taking action to get a new job. Of course, my friend, Paul was completely right, cycling did change my life. The fact that this statement is a big, stupid cliché doesn’t make it any less true. **Follow along on social media and in your inbox for our North Texas Giving Day Blog Series. And help us reach our goal of $3,000 for bicycling safety and access on September 23rd!
BikeDFW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working for healthy, sustainable communities throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth region, by promoting bicycling for transportation and recreation. Tax ID number 20-4913022