How cycling makes you happier
“Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling”, wrote James E. Starrs, and I would agree. I’m not sure it’s possible to be in a fit of pique whilst you’re cycling along a country lane, the wind in your hair and pedals turning under your feet.
The efficiency of cycling as an antidepressant is backed up by proper science, too. Studies have shown that riding a bicycle increases the chemistry in your brain that boosts feelings of calm and peacefulness. And the in-the-moment focus required to cycle is a powerful antidote to sadness – you simply can’t dwell on the past for long when there are horizons to reach and miles of countryside to traverse. Being in the repetitive thrall of cycling lets your mind wander, too, opening the way for deeper contemplation. Or just for writing your mental shopping list, or deciding which songs you’d choose if you went on Desert Island Discs. Either way, you get some headspace, the chance to hear yourself think. Albert Einstein even reckoned he came up with the theory of relativity whilst riding his bicycle.
And on our beautiful green island cycling is a brilliant way to fully immerse yourself in the landscape around you. Escape the city of a Sunday, plan a route on quiet country lanes and cycle tracks and soon you’ll be swishing along canals lined with wildflowers, past fields of curious cows and, ideally, ending up at a village pub for a well-deserved cider or two.
One of my all-time favourite days spent in the saddle was a small but perfectly formed summer adventure with my friend Charlie (you can read more about our bike and bivvy here). We started in Ledbury, an ancient market town near the Malverns, and we had a plan – a round trip of 60 kilometres to Ross-on-Wye and back. The forecast was for rain, but we decided to laugh recklessly in the face of bad weather, sling our bikes in the back of the car and head for the open road.
It’d be hard to find a more quintessentially English route than the one we took, meandering as it did through shaded valleys, up tree-lined hills, through chocolate box villages and past the occasional toothless farmer waving at us from a Land Rover. The sun shone (in your face, weather forecast!) and we ate up miles on the winding lanes, calling in at dinky hamlets with names like Much and Little Marcle, Pixley and Hole In The Wall, and cycling past village greens where the gentle thwack of cricket bat on ball followed by polite clapping was the only noise breaking the lazy Sunday silence. The birds sang and the flies buzzed – mainly into our mouths as we hurtled through massive clouds of them. But we figured flies are a good source of protein, so accidentally inhaling some was actually an efficient form of mid-cycle snacking.
The surreal feeling that we might have accidentally stumbled into a past decade or a Visit England campaign continued as we pedalled past Fownhope and saw a huge tree going for a walk. This revealed itself to be the village’s annual Heart Of Oak Festival, and a gang of locals wielding massive bunches of flowers, plus a marching band and a clutch of Scouts and Brownies, were parading proudly behind their beribboned oak. So we followed along behind the procession for a bit – they didn’t seem to mind.
As we left the festival behind and sped home along empty lanes, I realised how happy I felt, and how rosy the world suddenly seemed. Itching to escape from under the weight of the world for a little while? Get on your bike.
You might find you end up on the (cycle) path to happiness.