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

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

Previous post:

Next post: