October 2012

Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 4a

by Steve Brock on October 24, 2012

We’ve pedaled our way through life lessons on how faster can be safer, on finding your cadence and on how where you stare is where you will steer. Now it is time for life lesson number 4:

Don’t turn to turn.

On a bicycle, turning is more about leaning and letting your body guide where your bike will move. You have to trust that your body (and subconscious mind) knows how to get you where you want to go.

If you learned to ride a bike as a kid, you’ve probably forgotten how you initially got the bike to balance or turn. If you could un-record years of muscle memory, you’d find that staying upright on a bike is totally non-intuitive. You have to make small movements, turning your front wheel in the direction you’re falling.

You can’t think your way into understanding that process. Your conscious mind will always reject as irrational the very approach to turning that will keep you from leaving bits of skin, clothing and self esteem on the asphalt.

Turning on a mountain bike is an exaggerated version of this form of leaning and balance. You make numerous micro adjustments in ways you don’t consciously realize. Your body learns to turn even if your head is still back there staring at that big rock in the trail and thinking it would be a better idea to maybe walk for a while.

A good mountain biker learns to trust his or her body and to develop a very fluid center of gravity. You have to lean forward going up a hill. On a steep descent, you have to scoot so far back on or even past your seat that I’ve heard of riders getting tire burns on their rear end.

A sharp turn could have you leaning almost horizontally and you’ll be all over the place shifting left and right to balance on narrow “skinnies” or slick root-infested trails. Mountain bikers even refer to the idea of “dancing with the bike” where the rider and the machine are like Fred and Ginger swirling across the floor. Good riders learn that balance and turning become easier and smoother when you trust and move with your partner (your bike) in ways that don’t always make sense at first, but become a part of you over time.

So how does this apply to travel or to life? I’ll share my thoughts next time, but you tell me. Seriously, what are some ways you see issues of balance and turning applied to your own life or trips?

To be continued…

If you haven’t already done so, check out Lesson 1, Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4b and Lesson 5

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 3

by Steve Brock on October 16, 2012

We’ve explored two life lessons from mountain biking, faster is safer and cadence counts. Now let’s look at (pun intended as you will soon see) the third:

Where you stare is where you steer.

See that large rock in the trail ahead? The one you desperately want to avoid? The one that is getting closer and closer? The one you know will send you flying over your handlebars if you hit it? The one you try to take your eyes off of but can’t?

The one you just pounded into?

How could you have run into the rock when you intentionally tried to steer clear of it? Because you focused on it and not on the safe trail well beyond it.

Whether on a mountain bike, on a trip, at work or in life, where we direct our attention is where we will head, for good or… for a mouth full of dirt (or worse).

Don’t believe me? Try this.

On a white board or large piece of paper, draw two dots, at least a foot apart. Now try drawing a straight line from one to the other while you focus on the end of your pen or pencil. How’d that work?

Do the same thing by drawing another two dots. This time, try to draw a straight line by ignoring what you’re drawing and focusing your eyes on that second dot, your destination. If you’re like most people, this second line will be straighter.

The drawing exercise shows the positive side of focusing on where you’re going. With mountain biking, it works the same: Look 10-20 feet beyond your front wheel rather than right in front of it. You’ll keep to your line (the trail you’re following) much better and you’ll avoid obsessing about things like that rock you’re about to run into. Focus on the rock instead and, bang, you achieve a painful Zen-like state of oneness with it.

On a trip, if you focus on all of the things you want to avoid, I’m not suggesting all your worries will come to pass, but that very attitude will affect how you travel. Expect a lousy hotel and you’ll find plenty to complain about regarding your room or the service. Assume that the locals are rude and chances are your interactions won’t inspire spontaneous displays of affection.

Focus on the positive, however, and you’ll find it. Not always in ways you expect, but that’s one of the joys of travel.

So start looking. Not at the things you want to avoid but at the things you want to remember, the things that bring you delight, the things that add meaning. You know what they are. Just start looking.


Check out Lesson 1 if you haven’t already, as well as Lesson 2, Lesson 4a, Lesson 4b and Lesson 5

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 2

by Steve Brock on October 10, 2012

If the first life lesson I’ve uncovered while learning to ride a mountain bike is faster is safer, what’s the second? It’s this:

Cadence counts.

Or put another way, “find your rhythm.” This principle applies to road biking as much as to mountain biking but in a different way.

Technically, cadence is the number of revolutions your pedals make per minute. I’m told you want to maintain a cadence of somewhere between 60 and 90 rpm on a mountain bike. That means instead of standing on your pedals the way we always did as kids on bikes to go up a hill, you shift to a lower gear. That way, you maintain the same cadence whether you’re ascending or not.

But cadence has an almost poetic connotation as well. I think of it in terms of rhythm or something more. Once you find your cadence, everything fits better and makes more sense. Your ride is smoother. Your muscles seem to strain less. Your breathing takes care of itself. In a very real way, you’ve found your Flow.

“Flow” you ask? It’s a concept pioneered by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (say that five times fast, I dare you) regarding that state where you lose yourself to what you’re doing.

Flow is, as he notes in the Ted Talk below (and don’t give up when he starts on the little green men – it gets less, uh, curious, as he goes on), “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.”  You know that place you get where you lose all track of time and you are fully engulfed in a project or experience? That’s Flow.

Rhythm and Flow aren’t the same, but they share enough in common so that if you get your cadence or rhythm down right, Flow tends to occur more often. It happens on a bike but it also occurs when traveling in general. The secret is to find what rhythm works for you and for your particular trip.

Some trips, or parts of trips, call for a more leisurely pace. For example, we once rushed our way through Tuscany trying to see as much as we could in a short amount of time. That was about as satisfying as enjoying a fine Chianti by the bucket. Some places are made to stroll, not sprint.

In other places or on other trips, a rapid approach can be just right. Once, in Tokyo, I walked through various downtown districts quickly, absorbing all I could as fast as I could in part because that was the pace of the people around me. It seemed appropriate there among the neon streets and high rise buildings but far less so when I returned in the evening to the more traditional guesthouse where I stayed.

Part of the joy of travel for me is determining the cadence of each place I visit. How about you? Do you find a different rhythm in each new location or do you maintain a constant cadence when you travel?

Check out Lesson 1 if you haven’t already, as well as Lesson 3, Lesson 4a, Lesson 4b and Lesson 5

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 1

by Steve Brock October 2, 2012

In the first of five life lessons from mountain biking we learn that sometimes, going faster – and taking risks – can be the safest approach to biking, travel…or life.

Read the full article →