6 Life Lessons Learnt from Cycling

Image Courtesy: Sunanda Satwah

A few months ago, I decided to get atop a bicycle. Several times have I found myself under it or beside it, on the road. My scraped knee and the twisted handle glaring at each other with hostility. I have never been one to give up easily, but neither do I particularly relish getting hurt.

As a child, I used to wistfully watch my friends ride to school on their shiny bicycles, while my sister and I took the public bus. Many years later, during summer vacations, when I decided to join my neighborhood group of young cyclists, I found that the ladies’ cycles available at the local rent shop, were sans brakes. Several scrapes and torn skirts later, I finally learnt how to stop the upright cycle from succumbing to gravity’s horizontality by putting my foot down first. However, it was always a close battle between me and the floor, and lo! I would be splayed yet again- me, my accident-prone skirt, and the wheel spokes, all three in a tangle.

Years flew by, and I learnt to live with the secret that I do not know how to apply brakes.

In the past year, covid19 pandemic brought about an unusual revolution- it awakened the sleeping cyclist within all of us. Never before have the humble wheels been embraced with such enthusiasm as in the year gone by. Emboldened, I decided to get atop one again.

On a side note, I have been an educator for the past few years and if there is one thing I have acquired from the experience- it is the spirit to deal with failure, and to be able to laugh at one’s self. Okay, so two things. As I have watched my young students work hard at their lessons, attempt, fail, endeavor, struggle yet not succumb; I have found the courage from them- to try again, fail again, until I get it right. So, here I am three decades later, determined to learn how to ride a cycle properly and how to apply brakes, at the precise moment.

Talk about two left pedaling feet!

A student introduced me to an experienced and enthusiastic cyclist whose mission it is to teach others how to cycle and introduce them to the joy of cycling. Thus, began my adventure.

Bloodied shins and elbows are old friends, whose marks now stay longer on the skin than the memory of their pain. Some days, as I cycle under the scorching afternoon sky, mindful that there are less people at this time of day, napping at home- safe in the knowledge that they are not going to be crashed into by this cyclist, I feel almost philosophical. As the gentle breeze caresses my face and I ring the little bell under my fingers, just to listen to its happy tinkling sound, I find myself thinking:

It is important to let go of our fear of getting hurt. Hurt is inevitable. The injuries acquired in the learning of a skill or craft are more meaningful than the invisible pain caused by the silent guilt of having given up. The memory of past pains can sometimes hold us back. But it’s only through the breaking of its chrysalis, that the butterfly emerges beautiful, strong and free.

Dreams don’t come with an age tag. If your heart still dreams for something, no matter the decades gone by, reach out for it. Try. You may get what you seek or you may not. And, that’s alright. Sometimes, it’s enough knowing that you genuinely tried and didn’t let your doubts sabotage your attempts towards what you thought would offer joy. Knowing is always better than what-if.

This thought despite being cliched, is worth repeating: the secret behind avoiding a fall, lies in the ability to balance. This principle applies not only to cycling but also to all aspects of life — our careers, our quest, our relationships with others and ourselves. As long as we live a balanced life- avoiding extremes, we can navigate around many-a failures, falls and pitfalls.

Of course, knowing when and how to apply brakes, aka when to stop is paramount to avoiding unnecessary imbalance and injury. In life, applying brakes equates to the ability to say ‘No’. It is important to gauge, during cycling and in life, how far we can go at the pace we’ve set for ourselves and when we need to stop- to catch our breath, to avoid over-committing, to observe how far we’ve come and to assess the distance yet to be covered.

The one cautionary statement my cycling instructor Sydney Miranda keeps having to remind me often is, ‘Always look behind you before you start to pedal, and while crossing the road’. Asides from the obvious warning about potential accidents, it reminds me that sometimes what is behind us may catch us unawares. Life has a way of springing surprises. It’s wise to be alert.

Most importantly, relax and enjoy the scenery. For several weeks, my knuckles turned white on the handlebar as I single-mindedly focused on the road ahead and held to dear life. Gradually, my grasp on the handle is loosening and I feel confident enough to take my eyes off the road every now and then to savor the hills and trees. It’s the same with life choices and relationships- every now and then we need to loosen the grip a bit.

As I pedal, feeling light, almost floating above the ground. Smiling. Savoring the sun’s warmth on my face, lost in thought, I reach the end of the road. I swerve. The 180degree turn is sharp. Too sharp. Crash!

Image Courtesy: Sunanda Satwah

Gravity: One. Sunanda: Zero.

Game on.

Acknowledgement: Thankyou Niharika Chhabra for all the encouragement and your delightful laughter.

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