Kingdom Cycling Experiences - Life Lessons Through Cycling
by Collin Daulong
Collin is one of the owners and guide at Kingdom Cycling & Experiences.
One of my favorite lessons of all time to instruct is where to look on the trails. The reason is because it’s the one thing you can do that will most immediately make a dramatic change to your riding.
Let me give you a quick analogy on why focusing on this is so important: in cycling, we have a tendency to hyper focus on the hardware we are using, debating endlessly about tenths of a degree in geometry, millimeters in tube lengths and the performance advantage of losing 50 grams on our bike while we slug down a few more heady IPA’s. This is all well and good because the right equipment is incredibly important to help augment our performance as much as we possibly can, but what are we doing about the software?
Would you have a sick new iPhone 15X but run Windows 95 on it and use AOL instant messenger? No, of course not (and this is not to open a debate on if this is even possible, just driving home a point). We spend so much time changing things externally that sometimes we forget that the changes we make internally will increase performance far more significantly.
Now, I have been riding my bike for quite some time and I would say a vast majority of that time has been by myself. This has given me ample opportunity to contemplate nearly everything in life, from why burrata is the most perfect food of all time when coupled with fresh bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt (insert Homer Simpson drooling face) to how lessons learned from cycling translate to life as a whole.
To start, I need to hop back to where we are looking on the trail. I would argue that where we are looking is the most important skill you need to work on while on two wheels; the reason is because that is how you are giving your body information to react to. To break it down even further and give you a bit of an exercise science lesson, we have two sets of vision: our focal vision (which would be whatever is in focus when you are looking at something), and our peripheral vision, which is everything that is not in focus. Both the focal and peripheral vision are hugely important in sports and everyday life.
The focal vision is hugely important in recalling motor plans. Simply put, motor plans are how we do anything. Over time, we each develop a series of motor plans that we subconsciously refer to when riding. An important thing to note is that the focal vision has a much slower reaction time than the peripheral.
The peripheral vision has a much quicker reaction time. I’ll give you a quick example: if you’ve ever carried a bowl of hot soup that was filled to the brim, you know that if you stare right at the soup, it would spill, right? However, if you are looking straight ahead, with the soup in your peripheral vision, it won’t spill. This is because your peripheral vision is making subconscious, super-fast adjustments to keep the soup from spilling and ruining your carpet, burning your hand, or give Fido a tasty bath.
Now, how do these concepts (and others) apply to life?
Keep your head up:
When riding, you should not be looking at every single root and rock in front of you and navigating each individually. Instead, you should be taking stock of the entire trail in front of you for as far as you can see and choose the best line to get you to where you want to go with the least amount of effort.
In life, we are thrown a ton of obstacles, one after another, all day every day, and we have a choice in how - or if - we respond to them. We can either blindly react to everything in front of us and try and navigate through the day from one challenge to the next, OR we can look at our long-term goals and pick the challenges we NEED to face to get us there.
Look where you want to go:
Have you ever tried riding across a bridge by staring off to the sides? If you have, you know the results (a spectacular crash was most likely involved) and if not, I would not suggest doing it, because you always go where you are looking.
This also applies to life, as if you are so fearful of the worst-case scenario you will generally find yourself there. We so often find ourselves looking at what could go wrong and do not spend enough time looking at what could go right that we either fail to launch or find ourselves manifesting our fears one way or another.
If you are looking to get that promotion, why would you spend time thinking about what would happen if you didn’t get it or obsessing about your competition rather than looking at where you want to go and taking every step to get there?
What are you telling yourself you can and cannot do?:
This is one of our favorite topics of discussion, recently. What are some of the things you tell yourself while riding that may be limiting your performance? Are you getting to hills and telling yourself that you cannot climb them? Are you approaching technical features and berating yourself that you cannot ride them? Well, let me tell you something: to quote the famous Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
You have this running narrative in your head that you have developed over the years, and you may or may not realize that you have control over it, and it has control over you. If you are telling yourself you cannot do things athletically, physically, or personally, then you won’t do them; if you tell yourself you can do these things, you are at least opening the door instead of closing it before you even get there.
Now, when I say this, I am not saying you have to believe what you tell yourself at first, but you have to begin with telling yourself the results you want to see are possible. Control your narrative and you will start to see profound changes in all parts of life!
Loosen up and have some fun:
I like to tell people that holding on to a handlebar should be like holding on to an empty toilet paper roll without bending it: you want to hang on, but not too tightly. The more tightly you hold on to the bars, the more fatigued you will become and ultimately, you’ll have less control of the bike. The more you let go, the more the bike will just flow underneath you and allow you to enjoy the ride! Same as in life: if you are holding on too tightly and trying to control everything/everyone, then you will become fatigued and ultimately lose control. If you can let the small stuff pass you by without getting jostled, you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more.
I say all these things and in theory they sound amazing, but they require intentional practice to reinforce, both in your riding and in your life. This is not an easy journey, and you’ll undoubtedly stumble and fall, but the more you can remind yourself of these elements and bring yourself back to the practice, the better you'll become.