Sep 142011
Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity

There's just as much time as you think there is.

Like many people I know, I have a slight tendency to overdo. The world offers up lots of kudos for this. In fact, I once won an award you might attribute to overdoing, in a way (the 2010 YWCA Women of Achievement Award for Volunteer Community Service, which was an incredible honor and this isn’t meant to diss the award!).

Joining, doing, and leading are lifelong habits of mine. At the same time I’m pretty fiercely dedicated to downtime, some of which is cleverly disguised as biking for transportation or for “exercise” (fun).

Riding with my sweetheart in the 2007 Tour des Lacs. That September day was my all-time high mileage (so far): 94. And you can bet your saddle-sore bootie I wasn’t thinking about work while we rode from Spokane around Lake Coeur d’Alene (and back the next day).

This didn’t used to be the case, mind you. I used to just add more and more and more and more and more (you get the idea) to the list. I’d end up feeling overwhelmed, feeling as if I’d failed people to whom I had made a commitment because I hadn’t done everything that I knew I could bring to the cause.

Note that most of the time the only person who knew there was “supposed to be more” was me. I have a deep-seated tendency to, as we like to say around our house, should on myself. I should have done this, I should do that. And there are so many good causes you should help!

Somewhere along the way I decided to stop saying yes to everyone who asked so I could be more present for the ones to whom I had already said yes, including my family. I tried to perfect a response along the lines of, “I can’t give it what I want to be able to give and I’m not willing to settle for less.” Much to my amazement, it’s okay to say no and (as far as I know, anyway) I haven’t lost any friends or broken any furniture.

And now for biking, as the title promised.

Biking can be a discipline to which you bring all the shoulding and compulsive over-achieving possible. (I know this because I’m married to someone who trains for bike racing.)

Fortunately for me, I’d already outgrown some of the Western world’s thinking about athletic achievement thanks to a yoga practice of several years. In yoga, where you are in your practice is where you are. Force it and you’ll snap a hamstring (which makes a sound like a rifle shot, as I know from painful firsthand experience).

Settle into your practice, though, instead of striving constantly for “more” and “should” and “better” and “perfect”; bring everything you have into that moment; and you will have a deeply satisfying experience that uses every cell and fiber in your body. And you do improve so that ambition thing gets satisfied eventually. (For a great read on yoga and life, pick up Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer.)

Biking is much the same way. Like yoga, it provides a wonderful practice opportunity for mindfulness meditation. Riding in traffic is particularly good for this. You pay attention only to your cycling, drivers and vehicles around you, pedestrians who may step in front of you, road conditions, and the other factors that affect your safety.

There is no cruise control on a bike, no “set and forget.” The street that one day is dry and bare may have a touch of frost the next morning so you have to brake a little sooner.  If you’re riding with the flow of traffic you’re constantly adjusting pedaling pace to maintain a safe distance as drivers speed up mid-block, then hit the brakes at the next red light (the world needs more hypermilers, and if only those drivers recognized that by slowing down they could move more smoothly and efficiently and get somewhere faster in the long run). And like yoga, the more you do the better you get.

This may sound like a lot of input. But compare it to a workday with ringing phones, people coming into your office with questions, the email notice blooming constantly in the corner of your monitor, texting teenagers asking if they can have a friend over and bake cookies, a dozen or more tabs open in your browser–and I actually have two monitors at work, not one, plus my laptop so I have three times the real estate in which to create screens full of competing projects. Five if you count my cell phone (you should) and the screen on my desk phone.

Paying attention to only one purpose–riding my bike–instead of dealing with multiple purposes and priorities is incredibly relaxing by comparison.

When I ride my bike I’m completely in the moment. At the same time I have created a space in which I cannot be distracted by electronic technology, thus improving my ability to focus. Much as it may amaze some of my online acquaintances to realize this, I do not actually tweet every five minutes.

When I think back on the commute I had years ago, driving from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane and back every day, the only thing I miss is my local public radio station. But even that provided constant stimulation—I was never without some kind of input.

Around 50% of all car trips in the U.S. are three miles or less. This is ridiculously short—the engine doesn’t even warm up. But on a bike that distance takes about 15 minutes, a wonderful length of time that lets you clear your head and make some space in your life.

Biking is downtime, a precious commodity in our plugged-in, wired, always-on world. Make some time for downtime.

Related Reading


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • What does riding your bike do for your mental health?
  • When was the last time you deliberately scheduled (yes, scheduled) downtime?


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Reader Comments

  1. I think you’ve hit on one of the things that seems to answer the question of why I am catching onto biking when no other form of fitness ever stuck. It’s the freedom it gives me and the personal space. I think it also addresses my impatience. On my bike, I’m never waiting for a bus that’s late, I’m not stuck in traffic or at a light. I’m moving on my own power and on my daily commute, I really don’t have to STOP very often at all. I love the thrill of getting on the bike and just going and going (albeit at 11 mph!). No one can stop me.

    Also, I peeked at your husband’s blog and photo and got a laugh. Because oh my, you and I are really leading parallel lives!

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