13 Dec 2016


Riding your bike makes you feel good. You already know that, but how? If you ever needed to rationalise going out for a ride, share this with your partner, your employer, your doctor or yourself.

We’re going to put aside all the physiological benefits for a moment – the increased fitness, strength, and all those endorphins and other ‘positive chemicals’ coursing round your body and brain. We’ll leave behind the financial benefits of getting away from cars and public transport, and the environmental benefits of single-handedly saving the planet. These may all contribute to a feeling of wellbeing, but for now we’re concentrating on six of the best psychological aspects.

Italian rider Alessandro Vanotti reflects on positive emotions riding for Astana. His countryman Andrea Guardini and Latvian champion Gatis Smukulis put their focus into preparing for the first stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour.

1. A bike ride creates positive emotions
Cycle to create a positive cycle. You expect you’ll feel good about making a positive choice, achieving something, doing something positive. You do it. It makes you feel good. You do it again. It makes you even happier with yourself, and stronger… cycling as a positive reward system is cyclical and self-feeding. Whether you build this into your daily commute or a Sunday-morning leg stretch, the regular activity feeds positivity before, during and after.

2. Cycling is social
Riding a bike is a full social interaction – and that is good for the human mind, spirit and soul. Ride on your own and you wave or nod to passing cyclists. Pull up alongside another commuter at the lights and you smile, or share a comment about the traffic or the weather or their sunglasses or seatpost.

Ride with a friend and you look out for each other – hand signals to warn of oncoming traffic and potholes; encouragement through the tough climbs and bad weather. Ride with a club and the camaraderie is 10-fold: coffee-stop banter, mid-ride mechanical fixes and seniors passing on their knowledge.

Hit the sportives and the crit races and you’ll make lifelong friends – and rivals! Teach your friends and family to ride or join you in triathlon and you’ve passed this gift on to the next generation.

3. Riding reduces stress
There are precious few amongst us that can truly say that life isn’t stressful. Work, family, finance, politics, the sheer unfathomables of the human condition… it can all put a weight on your shoulders that is tough to shrug off. So go out and work your legs to jelly and your lungs to the size of zeppelins and you’ll soon find those worries drifting away.

Brompton – British folding bike makers – undertook some research on London commuters with the Stress Management Society. They found commuting cyclists 40% less likely to feel stressed in their first hour at work compared to their counterparts using cars or public transport.

It’s an activity where concentrating on the here and now cleanses the mind of unwanted noise. As Simon Usborne wrote in The Independent: “I’m incapable of emptying my mind but there have been occasions on my bike when I realise I have no recollection of the preceding miles. Whether during solo pursuits along country lanes in spring, or noisy, dirty commutes, time can pass unnoticed in a blissful blur of rhythm and rolling.”

Whether you’re riding for fun, training for an event or cycling to commute, getting on a bike makes the day’s stress fade away.

4. Cyclists sleep better
One of the most important things for physical and mental wellbeing – essential underpinnings of happiness – is getting a good night’s sleep. Regular physical exercise is well documented in scientific studies as a significant factor in sleep, and cycling is the ideal kind: you can control how often, how much, how hard and when, and it’s naturally coupled with that other important factor, copious lung-fulls of oxygen.

5. Gray matter workout
Psychologists have long since recommended the value of puzzles and crosswords in keeping your brain fit, and the amount of processing you do while cycling is right up there. Out on the road you think about corners, hazards, traffic, gear changes – it might seem like it’s coming naturally but it’s a lot of brain work!

6. Get satisfaction
Cycling lends itself well to being goal-driven, providing a ready mechanism for generating a sense of accomplishment. Riding five times a week, conquering your first sportive, hitting 100km or 100 miles, losing 10kg, dropping your TT times, cycling is riddled with goals to aim for, and has no shortage of role models to aspire to and experts ready to share their advice to help you hit them. Feel accomplished and you feed into the whole cycle of positive emotions.

Vincenzo Nibali knows he had a good 2016 and ended it with the positive feeling of knowing he helped Tanel Kangert to win the Abu Dhabi Tour.