“Shut up legs,” speak up mind

Dave Cieslewicz
Cyclists have been celebrating Jens Voigt’s “Shut up legs” quote for years, while too often overlooking the flip side of that famous quip: speak up mind.

The retired grand tour rider got me thinking about the all-important second leg of wisdom – and the Zen of riding trails – during a talk at the Bicycle Doctor in Dousman on the 14th. During a serious moment in a rollicking, hour-long interview, Voigt reminded us all how a long bike ride melts away stress and makes us feel better, even after an awful day. Heads nodded in agreement throughout the room.

Inspired by Voigt, I reconnected with the mental exercise of riding a bike via a return to the off-road trails, a refreshing experience after spending more time commuting, as part of my work with the Wisconsin Bike Fed. It helped that Voigt spoke within sight of the Glacial Drumlin Trail, running alongside the bike shop.

Riding a bike for any kind of significant distance – especially on an off-road trail – is different than any other kind of exercise I know. I love riding in the city or on rural roads, but that can sometimes be high-stress riding, where survival chemicals kick in and the mind is concentrated wonderfully.

I also enjoy trout fishing and golf, but in each of those activities, you lose yourself in the effort, totally concentrating on where the fish might be or the mechanics of a balky swing.

When I’m riding a trail, my mind keeps pace with my pedals.

The ride doesn’t demand my full attention and enlivens my thinking, in stark contrast to the deadening sense of driving my well-traveled route between Madison and Milwaukee. When I pull up to my destination in the driver’s seat, I sometimes try to remember what I heard on the radio or what I thought about. Usually, I can’t recall a thing. Driving feels like empty, lost time.

Riding the trail I think about the Bike Fed and how we can sharpen our existing programs. New ideas for initiatives come to mind. Or I think about personal plans and projects. On the bike, those thoughts are uniformly positive. Even when I’m thinking through a problem, I focus on positive outcomes instead of wallowing in negative feelings. To pretentiously paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, I don’t see things as they are and ask why, but I imagine things that never were and ask why not.

This isn’t just my observation. There’s this from an article in Bicycling Magazine:

“In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.”

I can testify that it works just as well when you’re not stationary, but moving gloriously through verdant space.

Wisconsin has one of the best sets of trails in the nation, and the Bike Fed is working hard  with our partners at Rails to Trails to turn what we have into a truly integrated trail network. It makes for great riding, a mental stimulus and a healthier, happier, more productive society.

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