CYCLING is the business world’s new golf. It very effectively oils the wheels of networking and deal making — figuratively speaking.
The leader of the cycling pack for corporates these days is mountain biking, as long as participants are not asked to race. The stress of competitive riding easily undoes all the good work mountain biking can do for health.
To be really good for you, mountain biking needs to be mindful riding off-road, over rough terrain for pure pleasure, as well as a good workout. This creates an immune-boosting Zen experience in which you become “one” with your bike and the spectacular scenery around you.
Mountain biking is also a lot safer than taking to the tar on two wheels in SA, given the high death rate on our roads.
As with all forms of cycling, mountain biking is excellent aerobic exercise. It boosts stamina, fitness, circulation, cardiovascular and respiratory health, and immune function. It reaches its special Zen-like zenith with trail biking, and not just because there are no cars or toxic exhaust fumes. It’s mostly because the ride is in “real” rough nature far from the clean, landscaped, limited lawns and lines of golf courses.
Trail riding in beautiful parts of the world — past trees, bushes, wild flowers and rivers with birds, bees and bugs flying by and mud and dirt sticking to the sweat on your brow — is about as liberating for body and mind as cycling gets. It’s instantly distressing and relaxing, like a Valium injection straight into your veins.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that says: “You can’t smell flowers from a galloping horse.” The same applies to whizzing by at top speed anywhere on a bike.
Part of the magic of trail mountain biking is its meditative nature and in-built opportunity for pit stops that create time and space to stop and smell the roses. It’s part of learning to live in the present moment, to “be” instead of always to “do”.
Compelling scientific evidence backs up claims that spending time in nature is healing.
Scottish research in the Frontiers in Psychology journal in 2014, for example, shows that exposure to natural environments helps people overcome cognitive fatigue.
Cognitive fatigue is an element of attentional restoration theory, ART for short. ART is all about the power of restorative environments. It’s an influential framework devised in the 1980s by US environmental psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, professors from the University of Michigan who are famous for research on nature’s effects on human relationships and health.
According to ART theory, urban, high-tech living creates a constant barrage of bottom-up stimulation that forces you to pay full attention. The Kaplans call this hard fascination.
Hard fascination is a coping mechanism that leaves no room in the mind for reflection and other forms of thinking. It induces cognitive fatigue, which harms cognitive function.
It drains executive function, which is responsible for getting things done, from planning stages to final deadlines and desired outcomes.
On the other end of the spectrum is soft fascination from stimulation that elicits effortless attention, and feelings of pleasure that send feel-good chemicals known as endorphins streaming through your bloodstream.
Soft fascination supports executive function by allowing the mind to wander, think through situations, reflect on and make sense of previous experiences, develop ideas and make informed decisions.
Making time to let your mind wander is one of the best investments you can make in physical and mental health.
Trail biking lets you ride straight into the heart of that investment by taking you into restorative environments, replete with endless sources of sights and sounds that stimulate effortless attention.
There’s also the matter of how much strain mountain biking puts on bank balances. It’s not a cheap sport, but doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Mountain bikers often say their sport is more addictive than crack cocaine, and like all good junkies they’ll spend huge amounts of money they may or may not have on their drug of choice.
Mountain bikes are engineering feats and there’s no avoiding the fact that the lighter the bike, the quicker it allows you to accelerate and the less effort you’ll expend on the climbs.
Top-of-the-range lightweight aluminium bikes start at about R100,000, says Mike Barth, owner of Mike’s Bikes in Greenside, Johannesburg. You can easily spend upwards of R150,000, hitting R200,000, for the lightest bike. Barth’s own bike costs about R100,000. However, you can get away with R20,000-R25,000 for a bike with an aluminium frame light enough to do the job on rough terrain, Barth says.
If you “just want to tootle down the road and back”, he has heavier bikes for under R4,000.
The rest of the paraphernalia, such as helmets and gloves, require small change by comparison.
You don’t need an executive salary to afford the best equipment for a transformative, regenerating mountain bike experience. All you need is a bike that won’t break your budget, and the right attitude.
Like the rest of life, mountain biking is a journey, not a destination.