The Odd Science of Cycling

Interesting article and video here at the Guardian [link]. A guy with Parkinsons lost the ability to walk, but he could still ride a bicycle . The explanation is something to do with something how the brain functions.

It made me think of a slightly tangential point about how cycling can make you feel like an old man. You might well be able to cycle 500km a week, but can you walk 0.5km to the bus stop and stand up for 20 minutes? I can’t.

I’ve written many pieces on the benefits of cycling. Foremost among these is the very good idea that cycling will make you fit, healthy and strong. This of course, is true, but what we don’t tell you in these ‘cycling is good for you articles’ is that if you really get into cycling, you will find you become as weak and useless as an old man unable to stand up at a bus stop for more than 10 minutes.

A few months ago, I was in New York with a large age range of people. We were standing up in a park doing a rehearsal for a musical performance. Out of this mix of 20 or so odd people, I would consider myself to be the fittest and most athletic I was training pretty hard at the time – some tough hill intervals. But, the embarrassing thing was that after five minutes of standing up, I’m absolutely dying. My back was in agony, and all I wanted to do was to sit down – preferably on a bicycle. Cycling a lot – makes you very good at – well cycling. What it doesn’t do is make you good at walking or standing up. Somehow, increasing your efficiency to pedal all day, compromises your ability to even do simple things like walk more than 100 metres or stand up.

Throughout this standing rehearsal, I’m surreptitiously trying to sit down, rest against a tree – anything to relieve the pain of not being on a bicycle or a comfortable chair. An old 70 year guy next to me, has  a variety of ailments that 70 year old guys usually have, but even he can stand up much better than me, a young 35 year old thing. Next time I shall have to take a portable seat.  Really, it’s easier to cycle 100 miles than stand up for 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, it was reading Tyler Hamilton’s book The Secret Race – that made me feel a lot better. Amidst all the doping practises and scary blood transfusions, there were actually the odd passages about cycling. Hamilton stated that a good cyclist was either on his bike or lying down – there was definitely no walking around town. Stairs were to be avoided at all costs. He even fell out with his wife, because he wouldn’t compromise his cycle training by walking around town for pleasure. You had to admire these guys intensity.

Suddenly I felt much better at my lack of capacity to stand up. Now I was a real cyclist – so super trained, I was no good at walking.

You can tell you’re an obsessive cyclist when as soon as you arrive in a city you start to work out – how can I avoid walking.? How can I get a bike to start cycling around? Fortunately, I have a bike in New York – mainly to avoid all walking. Now, I don’t feel so bad when I get on a bike rather than walk 50 metres.

The only problem with this argument about cycling making you an old man is the triathlete. Before the invention of triathlons, we cyclists could get away with this philosophy that it’s  cycling or nothing. Now these pesky triathletes come along and show you can run a world class 10 km, after doing a 4okm cycling time trial. (I’m still staggered that Alistair Brownlee’s time in the 10km at the end of the Olympic triahtlon would have given him a reasonable placing in the Olympic 10km running race.)


Remember – A real cyclist is either on his bike or on his back.

But, keep quiet about these triathletes and you just might be able to spend all winter on the couch whilst your partner does all the household chores . ‘Sorry, I’d love to help, but we cyclists have to keep our feet off the floor, you know. It’s all part of my strict training plan.’

I promise this will go down just as well as reassembling your winter training bike on the dining room floor…


One Response to The Odd Science of Cycling

  1. Ed November 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    I was actually in the same situation today. Talked to a yoga teacher who recommended psoas stretches and sleeping with a rolled towel under my back and shoulders.

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