Lessons learnt: What cycling can teach you

Becoming a cyclist is a journey of discovery that will see you picking up new skills and abilities - here are some of the lessons we've learnt at GCN

Clock22:29, Thursday 5th October 2023

There are plenty of obvious skills that cycling will teach you, from fixing a puncture to indexing gears and working out how to pack a bike into a bike bag. However, if you scratch a little deeper, you’ll find that there are also less tangible lessons that we pick up through our cycling. These lessons are not restrained to just a life behind bars, and can see you benefiting from them in everyday life as well as changing your perceptions of yourself and the world around you.

Travelling by bike is best

If you really want to experience travelling through a location, the best tool for the job is the humble bicycle. It is faster than walking or running and more connected to the landscape than a car. Travelling by bike will keep all your senses engaged in the world around you, without the filtering of car windows to hinder the experience.

The accessible nature of being a cyclist also allows you to connect with other cyclists and non-cyclists alike, whether that is sharing a brutal climb with a fellow rider that you met on your ride or breaking the ice when you inevitably get asked if ‘you really cycled here'.

Read more: Cycling in England: Sevenoaks plans to build £1.2m in safe cycling and walking routes

The capabilities of your body

It is remarkable what the human body is capable of, and nowhere is it easier to discover this than through cycling. Setting out as a newcomer to the sport, the concept of cycling for 200km or riding an alpine pass seems incredibly out of reach. With consistent and gradual increases to your riding along with learning about fuelling and recovery, in not all that long, feats of endurance that were once considered impossible now make up a standard weekend's riding.

Another unfortunate reality of cycling is that you will have your fair share of crashes and tumbles. Hopefully these will not cause any long-term or severe injuries, but broken bones, cuts and grazes do show just how resilient your body is. After a crash that leaves you bloodied and bruised, it can look like it is going to take months to recover, but most of the time grazes and cuts are on their way to disappearing within a week or two and broken bones are repaired in a matter of weeks.

Although we really don’t encourage crashing to find this lesson out, it is enlightening to see first-hand how resilient your body is and just how well it can repair itself after a nasty spill.

Eating lots is a genuine strategy

You’ll quickly find as you begin to ride further and further that cycling is essentially just a moving picnic. The inherent demands that endurance activities put on the body deplete your body's energy reserves within the first 60-90 minutes of a ride, and continuing to ride will require a whole load of eating.

Read more: Beer, milk, and pickles – the method to Lachlan Morton’s nutritional madness

Alongside the typical sports nutrition that you will carry with you to consume whilst you ride, coffee and cake stops become a necessary fuelling stop in big rides, as too does the big post-ride recovery meal. Endurance cycling really will recalibrate just how much you think you can eat, and it extends way beyond the bike. Cycling can also increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR) meaning the amount of energy your body needs to consume even whilst resting increases.

It is anything but plain sailing (or should we say cycling)

Cycling can take us to beautiful places and give us a perfectly valid excuse to eat as much food as we like, but nothing worthwhile comes easy and this is very true for cycling. One of the greatest benefits from cycling is the mental toughness it develops through the need to persevere and maintain a positive mentality.

It is typical that on a tough ride, the difficulty-to-enjoyment levels will ebb and flow, with enjoyable sections of the ride separated by difficult bits that have you questioning why you do this to yourself. After summiting the climb or reaching the much-needed refuelling stop, you can often feel considerably better than you were just five minutes prior.

The mental fortitude to push through and know that what you are experiencing is temporary is an asset that has benefits across all facets of daily life. It is like anything else in cycling: the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes, so don’t be alarmed if it seems hard to believe that the tough bit of the ride won’t last all the way home.

There is a niche for everyone

If you take a fleeting glance at the cycling world as an outsider it is easy to assume that it's simple, and it is just a bike, some pedals and having a lovely time. Although this statement in the loosest sense does hold true, there is a lot more depth to the cycling community than just that.

The world of cycling is made up of people from all walks of life, who like to express their love for the sport in plenty of different ways, and never has there been more ways than now. From road racing to gravel riding, mountain biking to bikepacking and everything in between, cycling is made up of a vast and vibrant community meaning that you are guaranteed to find a niche that really ticks all of your boxes.

Don’t be scared to venture out of what you know and try something new, your enjoyment for cycling can change and develop over time and finding a new way to turn the pedals can keep things fresh and exciting. Also, it's a great excuse to get another bike!

The importance of good coffee

Arguably as integral to the world of cycling at the wheel, finding and appreciating good coffee is something that is unavoidable the longer you spend riding. It is natural that finding somewhere lovely to stop for a well earned slice of cake and a coffee becomes somewhat of a weekend ritual. After purveying all of the coffee houses in a 50-mile radius, you will develop an appreciation for a good coffee and find the one that hits just right.

You might even be thinking that this won't happen to you as you don’t even like coffee, unfortunately for you we have heard this all before. After endless rides sitting in a cafe, with the aromas of coffee tickling your senses, you’ll be curious enough to order one and the rest will be history. Remember if you didn’t like it, there is a whole world of different coffee-based beverages to satisfy your taste buds.

Read more: Zwift announces Coffee Stop and more

The weather forecast is more like a loose suggestion

Planning a ride based off the weather forecast is always a bit of a gamble - over multiple seasons you will see a trend that the weather is going to do what the weather is going to do, and you can't always predict that. On days that should be perfect riding conditions it will change at the last minute to rain and gail-force winds, and equally a seemingly perfectly placed rest day on a stormy day can leave you feeling cheated when you wake up to find a perfect sunny day.

As cyclists it's best not to lean too much on the information provided by weather forecasts and instead be prepared for anything. Weather, even with the best predictions, can change and riding in the rain, wind or cold is only going to add to the experience and make you feel even more accomplished when you get back home having survived the epic conditions.

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough

For all but a chosen few, cycling is not our job, and for that reason needs to be fitted around life commitments and last-minute plans. Having the perfect ride planned out with a structured training session is the ideal way to train and progress as a rider but unfortunately sometimes things change and the perfect plan just doesn’t fit anymore.

When events like this happen, going out and doing something is always going to be more beneficial than scrapping the ride entirely. Fitting in a quick 30-minute or hour-long ride instead of the four-hour epic will still keep you ticking over. Sticking to a training schedule is great and we certainly encourage you to do just that, however, sometimes getting something done is the best option available.

Although it can seem like it at times, especially heading towards a target event, cycling isn’t life and death. It is really important to keep a healthy relationship with training and not let it take over your whole world, sacrificing a session to spend time with friends and family or to get essential errands sorted won’t affect your cycling but will have mental health benefits.

The best conversations happen on the bike

There is nothing that develops the art of conversation more than the prospect of a six-hour ride with a group of friends. The daunting reality of the awkwardness and silence if you don’t have something to talk about can spark the best conversations and with such a long ride, there is no need to wrap anything up prematurely.

The relaxed nature of cycling side by side without eye contact can be really good for talking about things that are on your mind and use it as a place for mental recovery and de-stressing. This makes cycling a great place to take some time to check in on friends and make sure that they are okay. Some of the best conversations and laughs I have had have taken place on long endurance rides.

Watch more: How Cycling Can Boost Your Mental Health – GCN Does Science

What has cycling indirectly taught you about yourself or life on a greater scale? We would love to hear what the sport has offered you. Make sure to drop a comment below this article with your suggestions.

Watch the best live racing all year round on GCN+, with unrivalled analysis, highlights and replays on demand. Territory restrictions apply, check availability here.

Related Content

Link to Movistar Women Team Talk: Stepping into the post-Van Vleuten era
Movistar women 2024 Team Talk

Movistar Women Team Talk: Stepping into the post-Van Vleuten era

With the team's big leader off to retirement, expectations rest on the young core to account for some of the wins that are now out the door

Link to Seven telltale signs that you're a 'true' cyclist
YouTube video vkc9flEQ2Kc

Seven telltale signs that you're a 'true' cyclist

From unsightly tan lines to the call of shame, if you can tick any of these off then you’re a firm member of the cyclist club

Link to Cycling training for beginners: top tips for getting started
YouTube video qxm3xZyoxzQ

Cycling training for beginners: top tips for getting started

If you are starting to take cycling more seriously or want to get fitter or faster, you might look to training more purposefully, but getting started can be daunting

Link to Beer, milk, and pickles – the method to Lachlan Morton’s nutritional madness
Lachlan Morton has once again astounded with his eating - as well as his riding - on the Great Divide challenge

Beer, milk, and pickles – the method to Lachlan Morton’s nutritional madness

EF Pro Cycling's nutritionist explains the philosophy of 'gas station nutrition' and what sets Morton's stomach apart

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox