Making The Gradient

I’m glad we don’t have to reinvent the wheel – it’s a pretty awesome thing very hard to improve on a circle. Bikes might be some of the most basic things with wheels. When riding you become aware of the terrain because your body is responding directly to the physical environment. There is no hiding from the elements or the hills. There are of course adaptations you can make, like adding gears, choosing a different route, sheltering behind other riders and exploiting subtle changes in conditions.

All this requires a presence in the moment, a form of mindfulness that is perhaps under recognised or appreciated as a way of moving through life, an antithesis of the future focused lives that capture our attention – getting there instead of being here. Cycling is classical physics wrapped up in a spiritual experience – my perfect package for delivering altered states of being. Moving from a bike with gears to a single speed has changed my experience of the terrain I have ridden for a decade.

Far from being a simple shift in exertion due to the inability to ‘change down’ there has been an opportunity to alter my technique, pay attention to slight changes in gradient even the texture of the road can make a significant difference to momentum. My relationship to wind has significantly changed where a tail wind is experienced as sheer elation and feels like having a rocket strapped on the back. Conversely head winds draw me to focus on prioritising reducing drag, while squeezing every ounce of power from each pedal stroke and recruiting muscles that thought they had retired.

When riding like this, the total embodiment and presence of being is inescapable and surprisingly satisfying. Other cyclists blast past – clearly going somewhere, they barely notice me (although I find that hard to believe on my giant jaffa) and I remember being that person who would chase down anyone who didn’t acknowledge me. Not anymore…I can’t…and so that acceptance of the limits has afforded me a new found peace, one that has translated into the rest of my life.

Coasting when things even out is cherished, a chance to catch my breath. I can look up and take in the wider perspective than just what is in front of my wheel. Ever vigilant though for shiny glistening objects that could bring that momentum to a halt. Pedalling too fast though is pointless, it adds little power and wastes energy without adding momentum, ‘spinning out’ is ugly. So – it’s about finding a pace that allows me to keep ‘over the top’ of my gear.

The terrain in life we travel might look the same but each of us navigates it in a unique way. What might appear flat to one person may feel like a slow grinding slope. Others might need gears and at times struggle to find the right one. It’s also fine to get off and push.

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