It seems fitting that in the week leading up to Christmas we talk about the concept of magic, and there’s no greater magic for me than the magic powers of the bicycle. I know it’s a big call, and I’m sure any non cyclist reading this will think I’m a little strange, but those of you who have been mesmerised by bike riding, will be able to relate. For me, taking up road cycling nine years ago was life changing so I’ll declare it has magical powers. Here’s a few reasons why:
Turns introverts into social butterflies
A fellow female rider confided in me that when she gets on her trusty road bike she changes from an introvert, who usually shuns social interaction, to a woman who wants to chat with anyone else on a bike. She deliberately speeds up when she sees other groups of cyclists so she can have a chat. Evidence indeed of the magic powers.
Gives you a mental pick-you-up
There is plenty of stuff written about the benefits of cycling to assist with mental health issues. I believe it goes beyond those good endorphins you get from exercise. You can also get those from jogging or other forms of exercise. Cycling has another special element – a sense of freedom.
The late Robin Williams said in an interview a few years back “My favorite thing to do is ride a bicycle. I ride road bikes. And for me, it’s mobile meditation.” And while you could argue that the magic wasn’t there for poor Robin, I think that it probably sustained him for many years until he finally succumbed to his mental illness.
Makes you feel alive and energised
I found this little gem on another website called Oopsmark.com and thought it summed up the energising effects of cycling.
“The only group of commuters who report enjoying their daily trip to work are the active ones. Pedestrians, runners and cyclists make up that group, and cyclists travel the fastest out of the bunch. But isn’t all that biking going to make you feel more tired than you do already? Counter intuitively, expending the energy needed to bike actually leaves cyclists feeling more awake and less fatigued. A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that riding a bike actually lessened feelings of fatigue by 65% and boosted energy levels by 20%. That’s because exchanging a driving commute for a biking commute means trading in agonising bursts of stressful cortisol for invigorating bursts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to energy that is released when we exercise. What’s more, you don’t have to bike hard to reap the benefits – just 3 days a week biking at a low to moderate pace will do the trick. If you want to feel more awake, it’s actually worse to drive.”
Emancipation of women
The feminist in me also loves the role that bicycles played in the gaining of women’s rights. One hundred years ago, Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester in England promoting the women’s rights movement, causing outrage by being one of the first ladies to wear pantaloons in the city. During the fight to win the vote the bicycle became not only a tool but also a symbol for the emancipation of women.
And of course everyone’s favourite quote which I’ve read many, many times from the American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, who wrote in 1896:
“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”
I’m grateful to those women and many like them. Because of their campaigning I can vote and work, and have other equal footing, but I’m most grateful that I can ride a bike whenever I want, wherever I want, and wearing whatever I choose. Magic stuff.