It might sound a bit mad writing a blog post in the dark on an iPad, but actually it’s not. Writing in the dark is like listening to music in the dark. You hear sounds in a music track that you would never hear if you were listening to it in daylight, because there is too much distraction for the senses when it’s light. The brain functions differently. Thinking in the dark can be both positive or negative. Apparently, Freddie Mercury of Queen thought up the start of Bohemian Rapsody whilst he was in bed. Equally, the opposite can happen. Worries get compounded and multiplied, because everything is more real in the dark.

So what? What’s this got to do with cycling? For me at least, when I’m cycling, I can start to drift into that darkness thinking zone and bizarrely, cycling in the dark has the opposite effect of what I’ve just been trying to explain. Cycling in the dark feels faster because vision is limited, particularly if riding off-road as well. It also means that concentration and focus needs to be higher, but in the daytime, it’s easy to drift off into thoughts whilst your legs are spinning the gears and the wheels. I’m not saying that I’m not aware of other road or trail dangers when I’m thinking, it’s just that I start to bring forward ideas that were in my subconscious or I think about things differently. If I have a helmet and dark glasses on it’s like I’m the only one inside my helmet, which is technically true, but it’s the thoughts in my head that become more real. Weird? Maybe, so I thought I would write this post about what I think about whilst I’m riding, and because I’m typing in the dark, my thought recovery (some call this ‘memory’) is all the more clear. I’m sure I’m not the only cyclist who does this, and you don’t necessarily have to read this in the dark either. The stuff below are good examples of what I think about whilst on the bike and as I’m pretty well your average cyclist and human being, I assume it’s similar for you. So, not in any order of thought, here goes…..

Food…..I guess this is never far from any cyclists mind because our cycling is in between our meals. Pasta is a food that is close to cycling and recently, I’ve been watching Pasta Grannies on YouTube. These are 5 minute videos of Italy’s finest Pasta making Grannies and it is truly inspirational. It’s more than just about the pasta. These women, some in their 90s have been making pasta since they were children, so they have good stories to tell and also make it look so easy. You can watch them here

Drink…….not sports drinks either. It is more about alcohol specifically, and these thoughts which are usually provoked by the food thoughts. It would be too traditional of me to bang on about cappuccinos and fresh coffee, so a drink that is different and amazing is one that is made somewhere in North Yorkshire, and by our friend. Champagne Cider. It’s made with apples from their orchard and uses champagne yeast to get it moving. The apples are frozen before the cider making starts. When defrosted, the apples are juicier and sweeter. Old Prosecco/Cava/champagne bottles are used to contain the golden, bubbly liquid whilst fermentation takes place. On pouring, it’s best to carefully decant the sparkling cider into a jug and with care, so as not to get any sediment that may be in the bottom of the bottle. I wouldn’t suggest much cycling after a few glasses of this drink or it’ll only end badly, but post-ride (see below), with some home-made fruit cake and cheese, it’s ACE! If you are reading this in the dark, you’ll be able to imagine the sweet cider bubbles exploding in your mouth as you think-drink.

Music……..These thoughts tend to be driven by two things. The first is the famous, ‘last track syndrome’, which is the inability to block out the last piece of music that you heard, and annoyingly sometimes, this can be music which you don’t like. The second is when something out on the ride triggers a thought. It could be music playing in a car that has just passed me or someone playing an instrument in a house that I’m cycling past. Either way, it takes up thinking bandwidth when on the bike either because of the melody or the lyrics. I know some people listen to music whilst riding with headphones, but I’m not for this, particularly if it’s on the road as it removes an important level of awareness; listening for that vehicle that may not have seen you etc etc. There are occasions when tackling a big mountain stretch that I sing a song in my head to get the legs moving to a beat. This seems to make the climb go a bit faster, or at least distracts me from screaming leg muscles. FYI – The track in my head during yesterdays ride was from an amazing US Country band called ‘The Devil Makes Three‘ and the track was ‘Old Number 7‘. It’s also about Jack Daniels drinking and you can check it out here

Work…….Cycling is a good way to briefly forget about work and it’s also a platform to bring out an idea from my subconscious that is a fix for something I was struggling to figure out during work time. I also see things out on the ride that make me look at things differently, or I see someone else doing something that triggers an idea and an application to work. Sometimes, a ride can be spoiled because I’m pissed off by some work colleagues’ behaviour, but at least I’ve nearly got it completely out of my system with the physical exercise.

My next bike…..Cycling is one of the biggest consumer sports, and most cyclists have more than one bike. I do. However, I think every cyclist out there when riding his/her bike, will sometimes think about buying smoother changing gears, different gear ratios, better brakes, a more comfortable saddle, the ultimate aero water bottle etc. Alternatively, I see someone else out on my ride who is on a bike I’ve only seen in a photo, and seeing it in the flesh for the first time might get me wishing for it.

Fashion……… is interesting, for me at least, to observe other people when I’m out riding. It’s not just their behaviour, but how they present themselves from their own style/fashion perspective. We all have a view on this and I find it interesting to try to work out the person based on what they’re wearing and doing. However, I’m all too aware that I can’t judge a book by its stereotypical cover, even though my own unconscious biases will try to dominate my view of others. I do have one cycling fashion criticism though. Why, why, why, do quite a lot of cyclists wear all black kit on the road? It’s unsafe madness. I’m not keen on Matt black carbon bikes either, but to go the full stealth black on the road is very unsafe fashion in my view. I have worn all black kit in the velodrome because it’s quite often easier to see a dark silhouette and shadow under the lights at the track than a colour. On a mountainbike or snowbike, black is also fine. Personally, I’m a ‘colours person’ as you’ll see from the picture below. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with riding around European woods dressed like a black and yellow Zebra……

Reflecting…………how many times do you reflect on what you’ve done that you were proud of, or alternatively, could’ve done better? I’m including work, home and anything else in this one. A bike ride is a great way to look at the good things and the not so good. It’s not just about what I did that I was/wasn’t proud of, but equally importantly, how I did it from a behavioural perspective. A bike ride helps the thought process to figure this stuff out. Feeling proud about something I’ve done makes me cycle faster as well.

Change……..Adapting myself to a new change process driven by something or someone else isn’t always simple, because as humans, we all have to be ultra adaptable, but at the same time, we don’t change our ways of working or living easily. It requires us to go through a change process. It takes your average human being, like me, between 6 and 18 months to sustainably change what we do, and this depends on the subject. To sustainably change means that a task is done without thinking as it’s become the norm or the routine. Sometimes, a bike ride can help this change process by thinking things through, and maybe even getting to the point of acceptance of something.

And finally………I like cars, or anything with an engine come to think of it, and I’ve seen a lot of people in convertible cars, with the roof down, and who clearly never looked at themselves in the glass wall in the car dealer, or even looked at themselves in a shop window whilst out on the test drive. I’ve seen a few drivers who should not have been allowed to buy the convertible car they had bought because they just look wrong for that car. We all suit certain cars, and whilst most of us are hidden inside a metal box, it’s not the same as fully exposing yourself in a car which you don’t really suit. I’m sure it’s the same for some bikes and their riders as well, because not everyone suits every bike, and some may argue, does it really matter? Maybe I’ll take my own advice and without being too shallow about it, start looking at my reflection in shop windows to check that I’m not dressed in the wrong stuff and on the wrong bike etc, and without riding into a parked car because I’m not looking where I’m going.

Capturing all of these ideas and thoughts usually mean that I stop regularly to record them in my phone, or I lose them forever. I don’t use Siri to take notes because it sounds stupid when I’m on the bike dictating my notes for everyone else to hear, and some people will think I’m a bit mad talking to myself. I’ve seen people in shops summoning Siri when they should have just quietly Googled what they want to know, instead of involving the whole damn shop.

So, in summary, a bike ride brings me the same clarity of thought as I get when it’s dark and my senses are being driven to operate differently. Our brains have a broad range of thought from reflection to innovation on a bike ride, and that’s a good thing. Enjoy your riding and thinking.

All photos by the Author