• Cycling through the highs and lows. (Kath Bicknell)Source: Kath Bicknell
As we roll with the challenges of each and every year, an outlet like cycling can be as important for its mental benefits as physical ones, writes Kath Bicknell.
Cycling Central
31 Dec 2018 - 8:27 AM  UPDATED 31 Dec 2018 - 8:41 AM

The end of one year and the beginning of the next tends to inspire goal setting and reflection. “It’s been a tough year in some ways,” people tend to say on various social media platforms as they balance a desire to be #authentic with another for privacy, “but there have been some massive highs as well.”

'No shit', I often think in reply. That’s what years usually are.

The various challenges we face over the course of twelve or more months, regardless of where they sit in the bigger picture of life, can take on an overwhelming sense of significance at the time. A broken bone, a failed work project, an argument about something you care about. The challenges that are hardest to overcome – a job crisis, a longer and more limiting health issue to ourselves or someone we care for, a relationship breakdown, grief – are the ones that redefine and recalibrate us as one year becomes the next, forever changing our outlook and perspective as we navigate each new challenge that lies ahead.

Whatever these challenges are – physical, emotional, financial, psychological, social – I find myself feeling forever grateful for bikes. At least, as far as my own coping processes are concerned and perhaps yours too if you’re reading this website.

I’m grateful for the ways that a regular biking habit not only helps to keep our bodies healthy and strong but how it develops a finely tuned sense of what healthy and strong feel like. This sense, and desire to feel it again, provides an important compass when health issues or injuries can change the course of life on and off the bike or when other challenges pull us away from looking after ourselves altogether.

The way we learn about our bodies through regular exercise provides a way of communicating with health professionals and noticing changes. This body awareness and drive to feel physically well can be a powerful source of motivation when looking after yourself, just because someone told you to, could otherwise be quite hard.

I’m also grateful for the mental release and sense of perspective that cycling provides. This might come through conversations with former strangers on a bunch ride, an explosion of effort on a hill or the rhythm of navigating a well-built singletrack. When biking isn’t possible, consuming articles from or about other cyclists we relate to can help us to feel like we’re still connected to a broader community, or shine a different light on struggles and coping strategies of own.

While cycling media and social media often celebrate racing and group rides, I’m a big fan of the quiet processing time afforded by regular rides alone. These provide an important space to explore various thoughts through to their conclusions rather than push them aside to focus on more immediate tasks. I’ve written before about how riding is a source of mental coping in this way.

The impact this has on problem-solving, creative pursuits and realistic planning make it an important part of my weekly work processes as well.

As I think through the challenges of the last twelve months in my own life, where health issues have limited my ability to work and to see friends, I’m grateful to bikes again and again (good health care, too). Whether it’s pedalling slower than walking pace in the sun or feeling fit enough to ride a favourite loop with friends, the role of this sport in my life, my thought processes and maintaining and rebuilding physical strength is so much more than the simple act pedalling implies.

As you reflect on the moments that have defined and shaped the last twelve months, and plan for the next twelve, take the time to think through the ways you buffer various challenges of your own. Whether it’s riding that helps you to build resilience, or a combination of other activities, allow yourself space to prioritise these things in the same way you strive for goals that feel important in other areas of your life.

Challenges are a given. But we’re lucky to live in a time and country where we have an ever-increasing number of choices in how we deal with them, and research to support and inform the various approaches we take.

What is it about cycling that makes various highs and lows easier to roll with for you?

How to watch cycling LIVE on SBS
Your guide to all the LIVE cycling coming up on SBS, SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.