8 reasons cycling to work will make you a better rider
(Originally published on RideApart)
I'm a strong proponent of motorcycle commuting, but if you live relatively close to your workplace — say, within 7 miles — it may make more physical and financial sense to get there via pedal power.
I work from home these days, but up until the start of this year I was commuting to an office about three miles away. With a distance that short, I found it difficult to justify the time and effort required to put on my gear (usually awkward rain gear because I live in the UK), maneuver my motorcycle out of its storage space, then squeeze my way through traffic on roads designed in the 1800s for a journey so short my tires weren't even warm by the time I got to work.
It was easier to just grab my bicycle and go, and I was always happy I did. Even in the rain and gale-force winds, there was something immensely cathartic about it: a guaranteed 30 minutes of solace each day.
Full disclosure: I used to work for a charity that promotes cycling, so of course I would think this way, but I genuinely feel that regularly getting out on a bicycle — especially if you do so on public roads — can benefit your motorcycle riding in a number of ways, both physically and mentally. Here are eight reasons why:
1. Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
This one's pretty obvious. There's nothing new about the idea of there being a correlation between physical state and mental state. And, of course, your mental state is vitally important in motorcycling.
Your brain box is your best and primary defense against incident or injury, so you want it suffering from as few physical distractions as possible. Cycling is just one of many ways to ensure you're not the sort of person who breathes heavily when sitting still. But the benefit that it has over, say, swimming, is that it can be incorporated into your daily commute.
Unless you and your workplace happen to be separated by a lake.
2. Improved Balance
As with the first reason, this probably won't blow your mind. The sense of balance developed from regular cycling transfers to the sense of balance needed for riding a motorcycle. Obviously, it's not a like-for-like issue — your motorcycle weighs considerably more than a bicycle and therefore requires different physical input. But the basic concept is the same: you're imprinting certain truths on your physical memory.
For instance, you're teaching your body that it has to be an active partner in the process of manipulating the bike, not something it experiences much in a car. You're teaching it to involve your hands in braking, and to use all of your senses in assessing your situation. And you're teaching it how to behave on a vehicle that relies on balance to keep it from falling over.
3. An Easy Way to Work on Body Positioning
Many of the ways in which cycling benefits your moto life come from the fact that everything moves slower on a bicycle. When it comes to body positioning, that means you can practice certain concepts at far safer speeds.
I've found that cycling has helped me a lot when it comes to figuring out where my body should be in cornering. Again, it's not a 100 percent like-for-like situation, but the basic philosophies are the same. Spending a day at a racetrack might help more, but cycling costs a hell of a lot less. As slowly as 10 mph, I'm able to lean a bicycle, hanging my weight off the side, etc., but with the happy knowledge that if I crash it likely won't result in anything more than a skinned knee. Thereafter, with some adaptation, I'm able to apply the same physical techniques on my motorcycle.
4. Perfect the Art Of Countersteering
At the really low speeds of which a bicycle is capable the need for countersteering may be so subtle you don't really notice it, but it's there. Build up a decent amount of steam and you'll find all the rules apply, but again, with the relative safety of your not actually going all that fast.
A surprising number of people struggle to get their minds around the idea of countersteering, which is why cycling regularly (e.g., to work every day) is so beneficial. By experiencing something over and over and over, it becomes innate.
5. Learn to Read Situations More Effectively
Last year I spent a day picking up motorcycling techniques from a British police officer. The very next day, I started applying those same techniques to my cycling: looking as far ahead as possible, considering the potential situations ahead of me, and developing responses for those situations before they occurred.
What I've found is that doing this on a bicycle vastly improves my ability to do the same on a motorcycle. This was especially true early on because all this forward thinking was easier within the slower context of cycling. I could look ahead, see a hazard with which I might intersect and have plenty of time to come up with a possible response (as well as a back-up response), and evaluate the quality of said responses all before actually having to take any action. It would be hard to do that much analysis at high speed.
On a motorbike, you need to have a store of go-to answers in your mind. Cycling can help you develop those answers, as well as develop the skills and awareness that will help you choose the right answers when needed.
6. Improve Your Understanding of Lane Positioning
Most of the time when people encourage you to cycle, they sell it as a fun, healthy activity for the whole family and direct you to car-free cycle paths in your area. That's a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but in this case, I say forget that noise. Get on the road.
Inevitably, someone will tell me I'm an awful person to offer such advice, but it's worth noting that in the United States bicycles have a legal right to share the road with everyone else. And in some places, as is the case in the UK, bicycles are legally not allowed on the sidewalk. Therefore, by being in the road you are doing the right thing.
You will learn a lot by sharing the road with cars and trucks and motorcycles. One of the first things you'll want to learn is how to be seen. As a cyclist, you lack the motorcyclist's ability to speed out of negative situations. So, the importance increases for all the other things a motorcyclist should be doing to stay safe. In particular, you should be paying attention to where in your lane you choose to put your bike — pedal or motorized.
Because Britons love rules, there is, of course, plenty to be found on the British Cycling Federation's website relating to the subject of lane positioning. But the important bit is this: Where you put yourself in the road communicates certain things to other road users. If you're not aware of this, you may inspire some weird behavior that can put you at risk. Innately understanding the why of lane positioning at slow speed will help you to be more confident at high speed and, perhaps, create fewer situations where you need to use speed as a defense against someone else's actions.
7. Find Peace Among the Ass-Hats
As a cyclist on the road, you will find that almost everyone hates you. They hate the very idea of you because... uhm... I don't know. I've never fully understood it, but man, is there a lot of vitriol for the great evil that is some guy or gal on a bicycle. Too much, in fact, to worry yourself over.
It's a little bit masochistic to do so, perhaps, but by subjecting yourself to the experience of being a vulnerable road user that everyone dislikes (i.e., a cyclist), you will develop a better ability to deal with the psychological effect of being a vulnerable road user that quite a few people dislike (i.e., a motorcyclist). Eventually (after a few shouting matches) you will find a zen; an ability to stay aware, stay visible, and stay calm.
You develop a mindfulness that helps you remain in the moment, paying attention to what's happening now rather than losing focus and raging about what has happened or what could have happened. This mindset helps immensely when on a motorcycle. At speed, all the dangers I face as a cyclist become even more dangerous. So it makes even more sense that I not fill my helmet with focus-stealing anger toward the dumb things others are doing — acknowledge and move on.
That's much easier said than done, but regular cycling helps you practice.
8. Be More Bad-Ass
Get into the habit of cycling every day and you will inevitably run into bad weather. You can deal with this in a number of ways, but the best method is to just shut your cake hole and keep pedaling. I've cycled through torrential rains, 70-mph winds, hail, snow, freezing cold and discomforting hot. Sometimes it just really sucks.
One of the reasons it sucks so much is due to the absence of gear that can adequately protect you from the elements, while still allowing you to exert so much physical energy. By contrast, modern motorcycle gear is amazing. And if you've developed an ability to tolerate bad weather on a bicycle, you will hardly notice it on a motorcycle. Riding in the rain, riding in the cold—no problem.
While all your friends are calling off their rides and hiding under electric blankets, you will be out there enjoying the amazing awesomeness that is motorcycling.