I am an avid road biker who really enjoys solo rides in the city, suburbs and off the grid back roads. A family member recently commented that biking for such a long time at a stretch would seem very boring. Au contraire, I find riding multiple hours at a time to be loaded with lots of enjoyment and a great place to process many different kind of thoughts, issues and problems.
The Hardest Sport?
They say that road biking is the hardest sport. What other athletic activity involves a 5 to 8 hour sustained near maximum effort for both recreational and professional endurance athletes? This would be cycling 100 miles and even more. Ultra-marathon runners not withstanding, long distance cycling is indeed a sport of mind over body as well as body over mind. There were times when I had to push my body further than it wanted to go, known to bikers as “Shut up Legs”. There have also been times where I was so mentally drained that I had to let my body take the lead and go into the zone. Getting into that Zen zone can be very beneficial to our bodies and minds.
How much energy is there for thinking? Watts / Kilogram
Now for a little math. The average bicyclist can generate approximately two-plus watts per kilogram of weight in their functional threshold power. For me that is 2.39 W/kg which is approximately 200W. Considering 30% of your blood supply flows to your brain, this means that I have about 60W of power going into the grey matter during a ride. Now let‘s explore where that 60W goes.
Top 8 Thinking Topics While Riding
- Safety – We cyclists spend a lot of time making sure we are safe, scanning the road for hazards, whether they be a small rock, stick or large pothole. We also are observing all the other drivers, bikers and pedestrians for potential illogical movements. We look around continuously, have rear view mirrors installed on our helmets, listen for cars and trucks and pay attention to just about everything going on. Is that a surprised and frozen deer just 40 feet ahead in that turn?
- Bike Checks – We make sure our bikes do
mechanical problems. Is that strange sensation due to a slow leak or poor road surface? Are my gears switching normally and do my brakes still work fine? If its wet, are there problems in traction or br eaking? Are my safety lights still working?
- Internal Bio-Mechanical Checks – We are constantly checking to see if something is out of place in our bodies. When we pedal harder, is that low level twinge in our left knee getting better or worse? Is our heart rate too high as we push for that personal record going up a hill? Can we maintain that braking pressure in our hands going downhill for 7 miles in a wind chill of 38 degrees?
- Telemetry and Current Conditions – We spend a significant amount of time paying attention to our sensor data (GPS location, temperature, speed, incline, power, cadence, heart rate) making sure we are right where we want to be. If things are off, we make corrections (including trying to figure out if the dreaded Garmin “off course” message is a problem or not). Will we make it home when we forecast the time to our family members?
- Food and Drink – Hydration is key to success in long distance endurance cycling. We also do not want to ‘bonk’; the technical term for running out of energy due to not eating enough when cycling. We also are continuously throttling food/drink to ensure we don’t run out on that very hot and long ride. Can we make it to the next town before we run out of water, caffeine or food?
- Social Interactions – By now we have the basics of survival on a bike ride covered. What comes next in leftover brain wattage is quite fascinating. If we are riding with someone else for a long ride, just intersecting with someone for a mile or until the next turn, or passing riders going the opposite direction, we are looking for those connections. Whether it be a long conversation about the next bike trip, or a route tip for the just-met rider, or sizing up that rider who just passed you—our brains are programmed for the social interaction.
- Scenery – We love to observe both the fascinating elements of the city and the countryside. Seeing interesting activity in busy towns as well as the grandeur of a view from a mountain pass of the valley is priceless.
- Work or Life Problem – Those final few watts go towards something I highly value when I am biking. Loading up that problem from work
,or relationship challenge into the head while all the other thinking is going on is a very good way to come up with new ways to look at and potentially solve problems. Like the person who solves a problem after sleeping on it for a few days, solving a problem while biking is an interesting slow motion technique to clear the runway for landing a solution or path to a big problem in a unique way. When you are solving problems while going up a painful climb, all sorts of new ideas pop into your head. Oftentimes the immediacy or criticality of a problem gets reduced under the passage of dozens of miles.
It’s interesting to see how far those 60 watts go.
Here is a heat map of where all this thinking has occurred since I was GPS enabled:
To see travel guide style descriptions of my biking tours, look here.