I recently read an interesting article about how cycling is great for your brain health. I find this area of study quite fascinating. It seems that only 10 or 15 years ago, the learned professionals in the study of the brain were saying that our brains are relatively unchangeable and simply deteriorate as we age. Now it seems there are lots of people saying that the brain is far more malleable than we originally thought and I think it’s great news. So I’ve plagiarised the article I read and provide a summary here. I also found that undertaking a simple Google search on this topic brought up some other really interesting material.
Several new studies have found that cycling improves the way your brain works by making several important structures bigger so you can think faster, remember more, and feel happier.
I really love the concept of mindfulness but I often struggle to do it. Mindfulness to me is about focusing on the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or fixating on future events. It’s about being present, even if it’s not something that brings you pleasure.
Mindfulness and cycling go hand-in-hand and here’s why you should practice it while riding:
It will keep you safe
Being mindful while you’re riding a bike ensures that you are aware of potential hazards along the way. Depending on where you ride the hazards could be potholes, rubbish/glass on the road or bike-path, or even pedestrians. If you ride on the road like I do, then the hazards are often cars, so you need to be aware of what drivers are doing and expect them to be unpredictable, and at times erratic. If you’re daydreaming about other things then you’re not focusing on the present moment and keeping yourself safe.
You’ll enjoy the things around you
I love that saying ‘stop and smell the roses’, and it’s something that I try to do both literally and figuratively. When you ride a bike you get to experience things around you that you wouldn’t see, smell or hear in a car, or other mode of transport. If you are focused on the present then you’ll notice beautiful scenery, and also smaller everyday things like friendly people and changes in your neighbourhood.
Earlier this year my cycling club LACC started a women’s only bunch ride which I was asked to lead. It started out as part of a pilot program for women’s bunch rides under the auspices of Cycling NSW, and when the pilot program concluded at the end of March, the regular participants voted to keep going with the weekly ride.
I was very happy to continue with it and get real buzz out of encouraging other women to learn more about road cycling and riding in a group.
It’s a straightforward ride, just four short laps around Sydney Olympic Park, a total of about 25 km, followed by a mandatory café visit and we all head home around 7 am. If you’d like to know more about it visit the LACC Women’s Facebook page.
Today I was enjoying reading through the latest articles on one of my favourite online cycling sites Ella Cycling tips when I came across these great posts from pro cycling Verita Stewart. They are entitled Don’t be that cyclist and Do be this cyclist and I would recommend a read. They reminded me of the some of the etiquette of bunch riding so here’s a few tips from me on joining a group bunch ride:
I love words and mojo is amongst my favourites. Apparently it is of African derivation meaning magic, but over time like many words its meaning has changed and it’s now associated with self-confidence. My own interpretation of cycling mojo is when you lose interest, or fall out of love with the wonderful activity of cycling. My own interest has waned at times but I’ve always managed to get it back. Recently one of my favourite cycling buddies lost her cycling mojo and I’d like to help her get it back. Here’s a few tips for any women (or men) out there who find themselves adrift.
Just do it
I sometimes wake up in the early morning and want to go back to sleep, but I force myself to get out of bed because I know that I will be happy when I’m on the bike and when I return from my ride. I have never been on a ride that I have regretted, so I focus on this thought when I’m tempted to turn my alarm clock off and roll over. Just push through that feeling and you’ll be rewarded.
Organise to meet a buddy
If you commit to a friend to meet up for a ride then you are far more likely to get out of bed. My friends and I always leave each other with a ‘thanks for the ride’, because we are grateful for each other’s company, and we might not have turned up if we weren’t committed to each other. The night before a ride send out a few text messages and make a firm commitment to meet up. Then don’t let your friends down.
If you take up riding in your 30s or 40s as many of us do, one area you need to focus on if you want to advance, is to learn some bike skills. As children most of us rode a bike, but the majority of us were not formally taught, so we didn’t have the chance to learn any bike skills and this particularly applies to women.
In my experience in meeting many female cyclists, women tend to approach cycling quite differently to men. Although many of us rode bikes as kids we usually did a few laps around the neighbourhood and didn’t jump off gutters, perform wheel stands or other daredevil acts like our male counterparts.
The good news is that it’s easy to improve your bike skills. Here’s a few tips on how to improve your skills in areas like cornering, pedalling, safe braking, descending, climbing, riding in a bunch and more.
If you think the Gong Ride or Around the Bay is a serious challenge, then think again. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a team of women who are training for a huge race/relay called Race Across America that takes place each year in June. Last year I wrote about two American women tackling it and this time it’s a team of four Australian women calling themselves the Veloroos – Natasha Horne, Sarah Matthews, Julie-Anne Hazlett and Nicole Stanners.
Race Across America known as RAAM is a race but instead of being in stages it is one continual ride similar to a time trial. Once the clock starts it does not stop until the finish line. RAAM is about 30% longer than the Tour de France and is not limited to professional cyclists. While solo racers must qualify to compete, anyone may organise a team and race.
Racers must traverse 3000 miles (4,828 km) across 12 states and climb over 170,000 vertical feet (51,816 metres). Team racers have a maximum of nine days and most finish in about seven and a half days. Teams will ride 350-500 miles a day, racing non-stop. Solo racers have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race, with the fastest finishing in just over eight days. Solo racers will ride 250-350 miles a day, balancing speed and the need for sleep.
The LACC Women’s bunch ride
I’m often guilty of not promoting the good stuff I’m involved in, partly because I’m not good at self promotion and partly because like the car mechanic who doesn’t look after their own car, I’m a comms person who fails to communicate about the things I’m heavily involved with.
So to rectify this I’m going to tell you about a great pilot program from Cycling NSW that I am playing a small part in.
Jacqui Bogue, who is a member of the Board of Cycling NSW and the Chair of the CNSW Women’s Commission approached me late last year about a pilot program of women’s bunch rides run by Sydney cycling clubs. She was approaching all clubs to ask them to be involved and I readily agreed.
I’m a member of Lidcombe-Auburn Cycling Club (LACC) and the team coordinator of our women’s squad, and while I don’t do much racing I work behind the scenes, and I’m really keen to get inexperienced female cyclists involved.
Confession time for me. Earlier this year, and for the past couple of years, I have ridden an average of at least 100 km per week, but something went a bit awry for me in the middle of this year, and since then my weekly averages have been steadily decreasing. In my mind I was still doing those 100+ km per week, but in reality when I look at the stats I keep I’ve been very, very slack.
I’m not really sure how it happened but I broke an ingrained habit, and I’m really keen to get it back, so I’m setting myself a realistic New Year’s resolution and that is to ride at least 100 km per week throughout 2015 and beyond. It sounds pretty achievable but when you’ve become a bit lazy like me, it’s easy to say, but much harder to do. So here’s a few tips for setting your own resolution. I might just have to read them several times myself!
Set a realistic, achievable goal
You will be setting yourself up for failure if you make your goal too ‘big’. That’s why I’m being really realistic and saying just 100 km. I hope in reality I will exceed it, but I want to make it achievable. So don’t go adopting my goal if you’re currently riding 20 km per week and you can’t possibly find enough time in your schedule to do this five times over. Just aim for 50 km per week which will be more than double what you are doing now, and break it down into two 25 km rides, over two separate days. I certainly won’t be riding 100 km on one day. I will aim to do at least three rides per week and hopefully four.
Chloe taking the win at Omloop van Borsele © sportfoto.nl
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Aussie pro cyclist Chloe Hosking over the phone. Chloe has returned home to Canberra for the summer season where her training program continues, as well as her university studies in communication.
Chloe has just completed two pretty successful years with Norwegian team Hitec. Her 2014 season began with a stage victory at the Mitchelton Bay Crits, and continued with impressive results in Europe including the EPZ Omloop van Borsele and a stage of the Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour.
But despite her successes Hitec told her that they wouldn’t be renewing her contract for 2015. Chloe wasn’t too disappointed because she says she was ready to move but when discussions with Orica-AIS fell over at the final hurdle she was feeling a little anxious about her future. She made contact with a number of teams and found a great fit with Wiggle Honda where she’s signed up for the 2015 season. There she’ll be reunited with her friends Elisa Longo Borghini and Audrey Cordon and will enjoy racing again with Emilia Fahlin.
One of my worst habits on the bike, and sadly there are a few, is to hold tension in my shoulders while I’m riding. It doesn’t matter how often I tell myself to relax my shoulders, arms and hands I still find myself stiffening up in this area which leads to soreness and ongoing issues with the muscles in my upper back. So I thought it would be useful to share a few tips I’ve found on the subject which obviously apply equally to men and women. I’ll also continue to focus on these tips myself!
Let it go – Consciously let go of the tension in your arms and shoulders by focusing on that part of your body while you are riding. I regularly check in with myself and literally tell myself to relax my shoulders. Shrugging every 15 minutes or so and relaxing your arms really helps relieve this stress.