Riding bikes – counter-productive for dealing with stress?

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  • Riding bikes – counter-productive for dealing with stress?
  • atlaz

    For me, like some of the previous posters, it’s about switching my brain off. Other than fireroads where I might well get back onto what’s stressing me out, once I get onto trails, it’s all about where the bike is going. It’s one of the big reasons why an early Saturday ride helps the overall tone of my weekend; helps me shake the office mindset.


    Actually, this thread got me seriously bugging about something I’d written eleven years ago or so. I’d not long finished university and I was waiting to hit the airport for two months’ worth of riding in the US (between San Fran and Santa Fe). It wasn’t really written for anyone or anything – I was just trying to convey, uhh, something. Needless to say, I loved the writing in Bike magazine – but unfortunately, I could only manage cringe-worthy platitudes and a sort of woeful romanticism… reproduced exactly for your reading displeasure: 😈

    “Deprive a man of his life lie and you rob him of his happiness”

    Going for a ride. Try to articulate the importance of what it means – try to put it into words – and already it’s drifting beyond reach. Woodsmoke on the trail. Something to remember and hold close in times of need – or think about in the bath (or the bar) afterwards… And then enter Ibsen, like a literary smart bomb, zeroing in on the sheer, silly fragility of what it means to be human. All clinging to the arbitrary flotsam and jetsam that we hope signifies something special. Vital things, forged by passion and necessity: to depend upon and believe in. Not for a moment do the largely hairless apes want to contemplate the possibility that happiness is a house built of straw, just waiting for the big bad existential wolf to come blow it down. But sometimes, and often in the wake of inexplicable punctures, the doubt creeps in…

    However, there are some things which even great playwrights cannot argue with. Noble things, in other words, which possess a certain kind of truth. Like a battered pair of Deore XT thumbshifters (n.b. mine have been stolen), for example, or the A-Team, or finishing a book so good you don’t want it to actually finish (hello Cold Mountain) or (if you get it right) falling in love. And, even if you don’t quite get it right, going for a ride.

    Because, above all else, the Trail will never lie. It is honest and sometimes brutally so. People, political parties, kitchen appliances – at some point, all of these will let you down. But if you leave blood on the wet roots, the fault is entirely your own. The Trail just is – you get back what you put in (that’s riding and building, both). Within the generally fluid discourse that is rider and dirt, some commentators inevitably attempt to bust hip new post-modern moves. Catching ill-judged philosophical air, they make critical (but ultimately futile) claims that no single truth is to be found. For even the ever-changing variables of geology, climate and season cannot disguise the underlining certainty of the Trail. It may – and probably will – hurt you, but it will always listen. On days when pedal strokes are fuelled by anger and pain, there is always the promise of wheels going somewhere (anywhere) other than here. Round a corner, a new way of looking at a problem. Other days, too, when all you can do is smile, and know – really know – that this is something close to as good as it gets.

    And somewhere in there, running like a sacred thread through the endless trail lore, the mythology and secret knowledge that builds up ride upon ride, is the singular truth: you may haul the climbs, rail the downs, but the Trail remains something far larger. It might (almost) be called a cosmological belief – singletrack for the soul. Archaeology and riding bikes (two driving passions of this particular fool since childhood, activities as separate as turning pedals and painstaking work with trowels should be), out on favourite trails, these pursuits somehow converge. Falling over themselves with enthusiasm, they collide like they are on some kind of super-crazed blind date. The profound spookiness (I get goosebumps) of knowing that Other People Were Once Here In This Place becomes juxtaposed with a far more personal sense of history. On the hills and in the woods, trails hold memories. And riding them again evokes the strange sadness of formative things now lost – gooseneck stems, lycra helmet covers and ill-fitting, hastily appropriated clothing.

    And just maybe, as a dim-witted citizen of a world that is too big and fast and convenient, I am a little more aware of the wisdom of those who have always valued an intimate connection with their surroundings. For trails surely call for songlines: a eulogy for every rock and tree, each slick root and drifting corner. And lost in sublime rapture somewhere on the hill, racing the last embers of the setting sun, I wonder how anybody could possibly call this feeling a lie.

    Feel free to slate me hard for such pretentious waffle (I was young, after all), but I believed it then – and I still believe it now! 😀


    An excellent bit of writing! 10/10

    Premier Icon I_did_dab

    “mountain biking to think about nothing; road riding to think about everything”.…that is so true.
    Sometimes I get too stressed to enjoy proper mountainbiking, those are the times to grab the roadbike, or do a bit of ambient off-road bimbling. Time and space to think things over.
    Keep your heart rate well in the the aerobic zone and you’ll be fine…

    Premier Icon ourmaninthenorth

    I have been v stressed lately. We’ve just got through a round of redundancies at work, and right now I’m working like a dog.

    I was trying to get fit enough to give road racing a go this year, but everything has conspired against me getting any of the fitness I might need. It got me really stressed and really down.

    So, sometimes riding a bike only makes matters worse.

    Then, I forced a change of mindset on myself – sack off the first half of the season and concentrate on a couple of big sportives: get fit for those, and maybe I’ll have something to enable me to then get fit enough for the late season. Sure, it isn’t ideal, but is better than hating it (which I did).

    What I’m trying to say is this: whether you’re road riding or MTBing, don’t try to force it. Enjoy the bits you do, and don’t make the rest of it like purgatory. That way, any riding will definitely have the benefit of allowing you a bit of breathing space to deal with life’s issues.

    As a wider point, though, I’m generally a *lot* happier the more I ride and the more time I have to ride.

    I get very moody and sulky when i cant ride, even just spining into work and back helps!

    Just gives 20 minutes every mornign/afternoon of complete and utter “me time”, a bit like sleeping in the bath 🙂

    Premier Icon ourmaninthenorth

    I should also add that commuting by bike seems to add to my stress – it’s not far, but it’s the repetition of the route, coupled with the fact it’s all in traffic, seem to add to the stress levels on occasion.

    Later this year I’m going to acquire a road fixed and see if that makes life a little better.

    Rather contrarily, though, I don’t feel any less stressed travelling to work by any other means…..

    Oh, I dunno.


    The moment i get one the bike any stress is gone, all i think about is the riding, if i stop sometimes i can dwell on the issue, so i tend not to stop.

    If i ride like a tool it’s because i’m having a moment, never do i blame stress.


    As regards the point re, if you;re stressed, will creating the same symptoms by riding (eg raised heartrate, sweating etc) be harmful, I would say no. The reason that ‘ordinary’ stress is bad for us is that when stressed, our bodies pump out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which are supposed to cause a ‘fight or flight’ physical response. When a physical response is not available to us these hormones are harmful. I would theorise (don’t know if it is the case, but makes sense to me) that if you undertake some physical activity, it would ‘use up’ the hormones in some more constructive way and lead to less harmful consequences.

    Feel free to correct me if this is b*llocks, but from the limited knowledge I have about the physiology of stress, it would make sense.

    Van Halen

    access to green space is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

    therefore MTB is good and road biking is bad.

    A crap days riding is always better than a ‘good’ day a work!!


    Unless you can road-bike in green spaces,watching sheeps soemtimes helps me if i’m stressed,i think they remind me to try and think more simply.

    Premier Icon Stu_N

    Fairly stressed at work at the moment with a big piece of work that really isn’t going well. I took most of today off (was meant to be all but had a couple of things I had to do) and went down to Glentress for a spin this afternoon. Possibly shouldn’t have taken the time out but feel loads better for it – gained a lot of perspective on the project I’m working on and priorities seem clearer now, so will be far more productive for the rest of the week.

    I really like commuting by bike, gives a similar thinking space between work and home, and I have a huge variety of routes I can do depending on how I feel, or perhaps I can tell how I feel depending on route choice. Been doing the taxi racing way quite a bit recently which probably isn’t a good thing, but means the stress stays at work…hopefully when this assignment ends I can settle back into the offroad route and enjoy the coming of spring.

    It’s probably coming soon to a Howies t-shirt, if it’s not been there already, but cycling is my Prozac 🙂


    A mate of mine came down from Bradford last week, to see family and try and deal with his tenant, who hazzunt pad the rent this month. This could have an impact on his work situation, and his living up North, as if the tenant does not in any way pay the rent, then he’ll have to move back down here to work and pay the mortgage. And his wife will have to come down too (not such an issue for her as she’s a freelance writer). But definitely a dent in their plans to relocate to Yorkshire. So he’s a bit stressed (tenant has gone AWOL).

    I lent him a spare bike, and we went for a riverside pootle. Down to Greenwich, then up through Deptford, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. Only a little one.

    Then across Tower Bridge, and up to Taayabs, for a couple of samosa and a cup of tea.

    He’d managed to lose the stress, somewhere in South London. Was so much more relaxed about stuff. Was asking how much I’d want for the bike! He had one down here, but it got trashed just before he moved back up North.

    Biking can be such a good way of getting away from stuff for a bit. Gives you a different focus, and you get to see stuff along the way.

    I find swimming to be my ‘yoga’. I just get in the zone, and pound up and down. Afterwards, I feel so much more relaxed.

    It’s not so much the thing itself, but the fun you have while doing it.


    I find 90% of the time it helps as I can just forget about the issues. Mind you I have had an almighty stack at Cwm Carn when instead of forgetting about stuff I left my mind wander back to it and just lost concentration on the important stuff, like staying on the track! Therefore, if its a really big deal I tend not to use the bike as a means of forgetting.


    Split up with the gf last night, off out for a ride in a bit. Bikes and friends, the best things for me.

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