The Joys and Benefits of Bike Riding – National Bicycle Month – May

There will be lots of celebrations of the bicycle in the coming three weeks because May is National Bicycle Month. As regular readers know, I ride more than 100 miles a week here in Chicago, all year ’round. So cycling is a labor of love for me.

I have tried to explain to myself first, as well as others, why I love to ride my bike. Until recently, the best I could come up with is that I feel like I am flying. Not soaring high, just flying along several feet above the bike path.

Riding on Northerly Island in Chicago

Riding on Northerly Island in Chicago

I know that when I ride, I am at once totally in the moment of propelling the bike forward and at the same time I experience a very enjoyable feeling of expansion – an almost out of body sensation.

This has been wonderfully explained by former University of Chicago professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow.

I was fortunate enough to discover Flow back in 1990 when it was published.

Wikipedia describes flow as follows: “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

“According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”

While I have only experienced rollerblading a few times, I was amazed to learn of a man who does it and has a similar experience to mine riding the bike. He is called ‘Slomo.’ He appeared to me in a New York Times Op-Doc. An Op-Doc is similar to an Op-Ed, except that instead of an editorial, it includes a Documentary video. You can read and experience the Slomo for yourself. The name Slomo comes from the SLOw MOtion in which he skates that looks like the slow motion shots we see watching sports events on TV.

Slomo is the name of a 69 year old retiree, Dr. John Kitchin, who skates along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach.

He began his explanation of his experience on roller blades as “a type of flying.(!)” You can imagine how that resonated with me. My exact words.

Slomo says that during lateral acceleration “many of us feel good stimulating a set of receptors in the inner ear that connects us with the center of the earth by gravity. A piece of calcium sits of a membrane so that any to change in the relative position of gravity will make this stone roll and there will be some indication that the body is moving relative to the center of the earth.

“When I skate the whole idea is to keep a continuous feeling of acceleration even though it is very small and if you keep it constant the feeling of expansion continues to build.”

This is Slomo’s gateway to being in the zone – in flow. It is the same feeling that I experience when I propel my bike across the pavement.

While rollerblading and riding a bike don’t look very similar apparently they generate an identical feeling in the person experiencing them.

Discussing this with others, I have learned from several different sources that you can get the same sensation swimming. I have no experience nor understanding of this, but I heard it from two different women in separate conversations.

The personal physical benefits I receive from biking include a resting heart rate under 50 beats per minute as opposed to the 60 to 90 bpm considered normal. My body fat amounts to around 16 percent and I weigh in the low 150 pound range.

To read more about the experience of biking, here are some of my posts:

Tough decision – no bike ride

A workout blizzard

What are the basic types of exercise?

How you can eat 3000 calories a day and maintain your weight

How to achieve the U.S. target levels of physical activities for seniors

Bicycle ride – first and final

What happens to my body when I overexercise?

What are good exercises for arthritis sufferers?

How dangerous is it to exercise outdoors in a heat wave?

What about seniors doing endurance sports?

Is cycling past 70 different from cycling past 50?

What is the most balanced exercise program?

Tony’s big biking week

The agony and the ecstasy of summer biking.

I published this last year to celebrate National Bicycle Month and wanted to share it again.



Filed under bicycle riding, Exercise, exercise benefits, National Bicycle Month, regular bike riding

3 responses to “The Joys and Benefits of Bike Riding – National Bicycle Month – May

  1. Reblogged this on One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100 and commented:

    This is my ‘better late than never’ post on National Biking Month.


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