There has been much chitter-chatter about the relative benefits of outside cycling against the inside variety. Tests, surveys, and assorted opinions have sized the two against each other from a physical perspective, but how do they compare from purely a psychological one?
At first glance, whizzing through the ether in the fresh air may seem the superior twin, but is it?
A study in the Lancet covering 1,237,194 adults using three years of survey data showed that for all cycling types, there was a reduction of 21.6% of poor mental health days. So, there is little doubt that cycling is good for us, but which type is best?
Well, as with everything in this wonderful life, it depends on our own personal perspective. Let me explain mine.
Before lockdown, I was an avid indoor cyclist. I hit the gym almost every day, spinning away to my heart’s content. Buckets of sweat poured off me to such an extent I even got banned from one local gym.
Then came the covid lockdown. Big shock, I did not know what to do. I did not own a bicycle, so I decided to go for a run instead. Without going into the details, it did not end well — running is not my thing. My mental health took a dive.
So, I decided to buy a bike, the clipless pedals, cycling bibs, etc — the full monte. I must admit I did enjoy the minutia that goes into cycling, tires, pressures, shoes, etc. It all fed my inner geek, and I started to feel better even then.
I then went for a ride. It was incredible. Cycling around the outer ring road of Richmond Park in London was magnificent. I felt alive and free, whizzing through the air — heaven. I rode harder and longer than I could inside, I told myself I would never go back to the gym again.
The next day came along, I slipped into the snug-fitting attire, and set forth. Riding down my street, starting to put a little power down, dreaming of pushing myself to my limits again, a texting pedestrian decides to walk in front of me. We were both fine but shaken — I carried on.
Arriving at the park, I set forth around the narrow outer road again. The road is shared between motorists and cyclists, normally in relative harmony, but not today. Cars dawdled in front of me, overtook with little space, broke hard in front, a total nightmare.
I was scared.
I wanted to push myself and enjoy the environment but did not know the risks. Should I go for another loop, or call it a day? My legs were fine, but I was frightened. Did not get that in the gym.
I was frustrated. I wanted to hammer around the open roads but did not know if I would survive. I felt that my attitude was wrong — perhaps I should be just taking it easy when the roads were busy and going for the burn when they were quiet. I was used to the gym environment where there were no restrictions.
The next day came. I looked at my bike. My bike looked at me.
I did not feel the excitement as before, I felt fear. I did not know if I would make the two-hour ride without serious injury. I stayed at home and ate pizza.
I did go for a few further rides, and enjoyed them to a degree, but still felt a mixture of fear and frustration. The mental health benefits that I adored were not there. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the act of cycling outside, it was just the practicalities that took the psychological edge off the experience.
The gyms are open again, and I am back to my lovely spin bike. I have not been for an outside ride since.
I do not ride for as long inside, do not push out as much power, but I can immerse myself in the physicality of the experience, zone out, relax. I do not fear the experience.
The bottom line is our own perception of risk, and how it affects us. Many cyclists brush off falls as they are simply part of the experience.
I would love to be like them, but my brain is not wired that way.