Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 1

How does riding a mountain bike apply to travel, or to life for that matter? Let’s explore five surprising lessons I’ve learned this summer about mountain biking that affect how we travel and live. I’ll start with the first one today and provide one per entry over the next week or two.

So here is Lesson 1: Faster is safer.


Number one on my non-intuitive list, this maxim states that if you go slowly down hills or over rough terrain, you actually increase the risk of injury. Huh? I thought slower meant better, at least when you’re learning.

Not necessarily. I tend to think of inertia as the resistance of an object to a change in its state of rest. But it also applies to the resistance of an object to change in its state of motion. I may not be a science wizard, but I do know from having a gyroscope as a kid that the faster the wheel spins, the harder it is to tip the gyroscope.

Same with a bike. Your whirling wheels stabilize you as you ride, so slowing down not only makes you feel each bump more, it’s also harder to stay upright. Physics is your friend.

On a trip (or in life) we also tend to defer to caution by thinking that slow and careful mean the more prudent route. But quite often, risking more can be the better – even the safer – option.

For example, an acquaintance told me of his attempt to cross the street in Mumbai, India.

He has just arrived in the country for the first time and he finds himself on a busy corner with vehicles of all shapes and sizes zipping past him. He waits and waits for an opening, but none come. Finally, he takes a tentative step toward the other side of the street. He believes that inching his way across the intersection will be safest.

A fellow pedestrian sees him and the cars and scooters that are swerving and honking about him. She grabs his arm, but instead of pulling him back to the security of the sidewalk, she rapidly propels him with her across the street…safely.

She explains that in India, if you hesitate, the drivers won’t know what you are going to do. So you confuse and anger them, increasing the likelihood they will second-guess your intentions – and do so erroneously. On the other hand, if you boldly step into the fray, all the drivers can see what you’re doing and where you’re going and you, ironically, are much safer.

Obviously, you need to know when to go fast and when to slow down. There’s a time for each. But in my own life, I err on the side of caution all too often. Thus, I have to remind myself of this little nugget gleaned from my mountain bike:

Take a risk. It may be the safest thing you can do.

You can also read lesson 2, lesson 3, lesson 4a, lesson 4b and lesson 5

If you found this interesting, why don’t you share it with others?