Cycle of Life: Lessons Learned on the Bike

Cyclical Philosophy

Bicycling is not only a sport, but a means of transportation to get a person from one place to another. It is a means of negotiating a road just as philosophy is a means of negotiating life. In both there are directions to take, choices to make and destinations to choose. In both philosophy and cycling, one has to choose their way and learn from their mistakes. Following are a few of the lessons I've learned on the bike that I have been able to take with me into the larger realm of life as a whole.

Exercise in the Morning

Traditionally, Native Americans of the Navajo Nation begin each morning running toward the east to greet the gods that come up with the sun. Native American tradition says that a runner creates a "living cord between the earth and sky." This is how I feel when I bike to work in the morning: I am creating a connection between myself and my universe. What better way to start the day?

I notice that when I take the train to work, whether I read or sleep or just sit there, I arrive tired and lethargic and have to rev myself up for the repetitive work I do all day. When I drive, I arrive aggravated. When I bike, on the other hand, I arrive energized and positive. After all, I just had an adventure! And I am really, really ready to start my day.

Dealing With Danger

One of the benefits of cycling to work is the danger. Yes, that's right: the danger. Most of the danger comes from "sharing" the road with cars.

Dealing with a greatly superior and often hostile force is full of important life lessons. Some of these lessons I learned the hard way. For example, once I was riding along down the right hand side of a line of cars stopped in the road. I didn't think that they might stopped for a REASON. So when the oncoming car turned across my path I was unprepared. My bike smashed into the side of the car and I did a shoulder roll across the hood, collecting some road rash as I skidded to a stop on the pavement on the other side. Well, let me tell you, it didn't take me but four or five times to realize that when cars are stopped like that in a line like that, they are waiting for something to happen. If you are a bicyclist, you don't want that 'something' to happen to you. So I learned to slow down and find out what it is before I smack into it.

Several times cars have sped up to beat me to a corner and turn in front of me. A couple of times I hit them, and several times I have gone down. Luckily I have not ended up under any-one's wheels, but instead have learned to listen for the car accelerating to beat me to the turn and slow down in time to avoid the collision.

Sometimes a bicyclist is just going to crash. It happens. But knowing that you might hit a deep patch of sand or gravel, you might misjudge a turn, or you might forget to pop out of your pedals in time serves to remind you that these things might happen and encourage you to watch out for yourself to try to make sure that they don't.

Extending these lessons brings up the wider idea of anticipating problems. Granted, in life, some bad events simply drop out of the sky onto you and you have no choice but to deal with them. However, many times, if you examine the event in your memory, you will realize that you could have avoided a disaster by noticing the warning signs.

When I ride I am totally alert and every sense is turned up to maximum. I am watching for the door of the parked car to swing open in my path or the car darting out of the driveway; I am listening for the sudden sound of braking or accelerating behind me; and I am feeling the road surface through the bike for adverse conditions.

When I am not riding, I am still in tune with my surroundings. On a dark street I hear the footstep or the car door open, and in my home I am conscious of the background noises, whether some child is doing something they shouldn't or some washing machine or furnace is about to go ka-fluey. Watching for hazards on the road has taught me to watch for hazards in the rest of life, too.

Me and my bike.
Me and my bike.

Courtesy

Although I seem to be alone in this realization, I have found that one of the best ways to avoid danger on the road as a cyclist is to show courtesy and to maintain a courteous attitude. Most cyclists seem to feel that they need to fight for their rights on the road against drivers who regard them as persona non grata. I agree that a little bit of that is sometimes necessary, but usually in my experience drivers respond better to courtesy than confrontation. Hand signals and a polite wave of thank you or "my bad" can go a long way toward taming road rage, and a courteous response to road-rage-induced invective can calm down an enraged driver who might otherwise take out his rage on some other innocent victim down the road.

Likewise in life, although there are certainly times to play hard ball, as the saying goes, one can trap a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you want to get people to cooperate, being nice works a lot better (generally speaking) than being a jerk.

Cycling taught me why it is important to be courteous.

Planning

Both the hazards of day to day commuting by bicycle and training for bicycling events have taught me to plan better. I need to plan what to do if I get a flat tire. I need to plan to have biking clothes and work clothes to change into. I need to plan to maintain my bicycle.

One reason my near-death cycling experiences have greatly decreased in frequency and ferocity is that I have taken the time to plan my route. My main criteria? To avoid parked cars. Parked cars are the cyclist's bane. After dodging doors for a couple of years on commutes though high-traffic business districts I finally got wise and designed a new route past a couple of parks and golf courses. I looked at MapQuest and checked out the route I should take, then I drove it to check it out. It turned out it wasn't even any longer than my old route, just more peaceful.

Although it takes much more courage and willpower to plan a route through life than a route for a bicycle commute, the same principles apply.

  • You must recognize that a problem exists
  • You must overcome your own inertia
  • You must do the research
  • You must make the new plan
  • You must test the new plan
  • If it passes the test, you must implement the new plan

Yes, I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you do the research and testing, you'll know you're doing the right thing.

Cycling has taught me the value of planning.

Focus

When I ride my bicycle, I must focus. I must keep optimum position on the bike. I must keep a steady pace. I must shift smart. I must listen and watch for road hazards. I must feel for adverse road conditions. I must be prepared to react.

To be focused is a good way to live life. To notice every nuance and potential problem, every sound and sight, smell, taste, and feel is to get the most out of life. To be ready to react and ready to recover is the essence of survival.

For about two hours a day, when I commute by bicycle, I am utterly focused on cycling. It's like meditation. When I am finished with my ride, my mind is clear and I am more than ready to face my next challenge.

Comments 27 comments

blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 7 years ago from australia

Hey Tom I think we have something in common going on here.One of my favourite sports is riding too. I don't have a bike though so have to ride whatever I can.Thumbs up Chief Tom.I am still laughing at that darn taco remark. Hahahha I laughed so much I actually fell off my chair LMAO


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

You are so precious, Blondepoet! I'm sure more often than not, you are riding something!


LAmatadora 7 years ago

Sounds wonderful! I wish I knew how to ride a bike. its ok...laugh! I am used to it..LOL

My parents never taught me growing up and by the time I bought one as a teenager and secretly took it out to a desolate park to teach myself, I felt like a lame and gave up...

I am always amazed at people who can ride. I not good balancing on it. I have a car so, oh well I guess I don't NEED to ride a bike. What I can't figure out is if I am coordinated enough to rollerskate and I am one hell of a dancer... then what the hell is wrong with me about not being able to ride a damn bike.? =(

Anyways- good hub!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Who cares about the bike? You can roller skate? And dance? That all sounds way cool to me.


LAmatadora 7 years ago

thanks...you made me feel better! You are so nice! yeah I can dance rollerskating backwards...its even more fun when its to old school !


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Sounds awesome. I can kind of walk around on roller skates, but I am a laughable dancer. You are lucky to have those talents!


Dink96 profile image

Dink96 7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

Glad you've learned the lessons of the road. One of my dearest friends had a pretty major bike accident, flew over the windshield, lost consciousness, the whole bit, but he's one of those Ironmen, so he pretty much shook it off and continues to risk life and limb in the pursuit of his sports---especially hockey. Bicycling just seems like the kinder, gentler sport to me. Happy trails, Tom.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

I've bounce off of a lot of stuff, but no major injuries so far, knock wood. Bike messengers are like your friend. They get a broken bone, get up and ride to the hospital.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

This is zen stuff. With bicycles.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

True, Teresa, o Ninja of the written word. Taoist or Zen, not sure. I am greatly influenced by Quai Chiang Cane.

:0)


Hawkesdream profile image

Hawkesdream 7 years ago from Cornwall

This is exactly what the kids need to hear , Tom.. safety and awareness.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Oh, man. I hate what I see out there. No helmets, riding the wrong way up one way streets, riding at night in dark clothing with no lights. I wish them the best of luck, but stupid is as stupid does, I guess.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

lol, don't ever visit China then Tom! You must see sometimes they have big cart things attached to their bikes with pipes and branches sticking out the sides so that it's wider than a car, and NOBODY wears a helmet!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

If I do go there, I'll be easy to spot!


Ivorwen profile image

Ivorwen 7 years ago from Hither and Yonder

Excellent advice about life. I appreciate the reminder to plan, test and implement IF the plan is a good one. I have a tendency to plan and implement, then find out it is not working out as I thought it would. At that point backtracking is required.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

You and me both, but "nothing ventured, nothing gained."


Dink96 profile image

Dink96 7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

Have you ever heard of these cats? http://hubpages.com/entertainment/Hypnotic-Brass-E


Iphigenia 7 years ago

I used to cycle everywhere in big cities in the UK, Manchester and Brimingham and later the smaller Oxford. Not sure that I'd have the nerve now. Where I live in France is either rural or coastal - all very quiett and calm with great cycle paths. But i do love to ride my bike - good for the spirit, good for the soul.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Dink, that was the next hub of yours I was going to check out! I'll have to do it after work tho...

Sounds lovely, Iphigenia! My own commute takes me though some more urban areas and some very nice areas. It is good for the soul.


kea profile image

kea 7 years ago

Since I live in the somewhat backwards Midwest I'm too chicken to share the road with cars, unless it's a "group ride"...too many of my friends have been hit by cars. You're right, it is definitely an adventure though and you have to be very aware of everything around you. Be careful.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

My time on the bike is my time to be an animal - wholly present and undiluted.


Artisan Walker profile image

Artisan Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Some very wise information here, Tom. I rode for about 20 years, as my only mode of transpo, both here in Oregon and in SoCal (deadly!), before graduating to my more preferred walking. What I learned (like you did, the painful way) was to ride on the LEFT side of the road, this way I could see any danger coming at me in time to avoid it, keep to sidewalks where safe to do so (many argue with this - I don't care), always assume a motorist was going to do the stupidest thing I could imagine him/her doing (this has saved my life several times), and to never venture in front of an auto - even if I have the light - without first making eye-contact with said motorist.

PS: My favorite bikes are the more substantial, beefier-looking mountain bikes.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Very good advice. I ride a road bike with traffic on the right side and have no real problems anymore, USUALLY, but the thing to remember is that no matter where you are on the road, they can get you. Regarding what you said about anticipating the driver to do the stupidest possible thing I could not agree with you more.


colmhamersley profile image

colmhamersley 7 years ago from ireland

yo dude.i like to cycle myself when i can.im really enjoying reading these articles. quite inspiring and very interesting.looking forward to reading more from you.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks very much, Colm! I'll be looking to your work, too, for expert training and fitness advice.


David 4 years ago

Interesting blog. Like it.

I have found that cycling around cars to be extremely exhausting when you have to keep keyed up all the time because of drivers who are just too lazy to even think when driving which I am constantly remind of when driving my own car.

I cycle to relax, not to stay keyed up all the time. Although I've had my share of road cycling and enjoyed it, there are too many stories of people being run over by cars and the law supporting the rights of people to use cars to kill cyclists, especially in the US.

Using city pathways is not the best option either because instead of cars you have skateboarders, rollerbladers, people who are either deaf or pretend to be deaf or are on drugs or noise blasters making them oblivious to everyone and everything. Plus the city does a lousy job of keeping pathways cleared of snow so at present I can't even bike to work.

Cycling on pathways is limited to 20kph which is ridiculously slow when many cyclists can easily do 30 kph. This limits bicycles to the range of toys instead of a serious means to go places in a reasonable time. I love being able to do longer distances and see more country from the bicycle. Going slower means you have more time to enjoy the great outdoors.

Everywhere I turn, I see more and more reasons for people not to cycle because their safety is never considered important. People want to go out and enjoy the ride, not constantly be harassed by drivers who think they own the road. Even though 65% of the cyclists in the city say they would cycle if they could be on routes that keep the cyclist clear of traffic, the city still wants to force cyclists and cars onto the same roads with the naive notion that painted lines will protect cyclists. For this reason, cyclist will usually not use routes that allow auto traffic.

Even psychics gets things wrong and unless one has perfect perception to know how and when they can remain safe on a bicycle, one is always taking the risk of injury or death around cars. Since most bicycles do not have proper mirrors to see what's going on behind them, cyclists are further at risk of injury from drivers who won't even pass safely and leave enough room for bicycles on the roads.

I find that drivers tend to be courteous around large packs of cyclists than when there are only a few on the road. Being a courteous cyclists goes a long way towards earning respect from some people. For others, courtesy is often seen as an indication of weakness when car/bike conflicts happen.

Cycling comes from a more civilized era before car drivers chose to kill themselves and everyone else on roads by driving too fast and caring too little (as in the movie "The Ride" when a motorist refused to leave enough room to pass safely. As cyclists, we will always be seen as second class citizens because we choose to travel using only our own efforts to get us somewhere.

Anyone can use a car to kill a cyclist and get off scott free. If a cyclist had the same rights we'd all be carrying guns and shooting back. Sounds like another episode of Thunder Dome.

Although I still enjoy road rides, cycling is much more enjoyable and safer when there is no auto traffic. These days I tend to do more mountain biking than road cycling which is not only safer, but also more enjoyable and teaches numerous skills that road cycling can't. The peace and quiet of secluded rides in the country is far superior to cycling around tyrants in their tin boxes who shout idiotic nonsense at cyclists. We all need to be reminded that cycling can be a stress reducing lifestyle. Each of us has to figure out what kind of cycling works best for each of us.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 4 years ago from United States Author

Thank you, David. While I have found the dangerous driver to be the exception rather than the rule, it is true that it only takes one. Nevertheless, drivers do prefer some roads to others and I have found that one can choose routes with less traffic and fewer hazards outside the city. In the city it is as you say. One must share the road with a superior force. The similarity of the relationship to that of predator and prey can be unnerving. Yet I have been fortunate not to have had an incident involving any other vehicle in perhaps ten years, so I must say it is possible to bike safely in traffic. I find that a relaxed awareness is more effective than fear and tension.

Regardless of where you bike, I hope you enjoy it in safety. All the best.

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