So why, exactly, do we love cycling?

For many of us, possibly all of us, cycling is an integral part of our life and on those occasions when we are denied our weekly club ride due to ‘an over-riding commitment’ (forgive the pun) we feel robbed. An injustice that is only intensified if the sun is shining and you know a good smattering of your cycling mates will be out in force!

Cycling, we are told, is ‘the new golf’, but though we have seen a massive boom in the sport, there has never been any clear research as to the reasons why road cycling has exploded in the amateur ranks.

Men taking up cycling in middle age has often been reported in some sections of the media as a form of mid-life crisis, but if you have been away on your holidays in recent works, you may have missed the publication of a new study that dispelled this myth, painting a very different picture of so-called Mamils (middle-aged men in lycra).

The researchers from the University of East London, James Beale, a Senior Lecturer in Sport Psychology and Oliver Glackin, an Exercise Psychologist, confined their study to men, or rather, to Mamils, though their findings will resonate with both sexes.

A total of 11 were interviewed, aged between 34 and 52 who had been cycling for more than two years and considered themselves to be “serious recreational cyclists”. A small number of interviewees, perhaps, (not to mention an age group that excludes many) but the findings provided THREE main reasons for enjoying cycling.

The first reason was identified as ‘mastery and uncomplicated joys’, which is where the men explained how ‘green-cycling’ (i.e. cycling in the countryside, as opposed to commuting) offered a number of challenges to overcome, such as tackling tough hill climbs or riding long distances, plus the opportunity to enjoy pleasure and exhilaration, such as when descending at speed.

Members of OCC during a recent trip to the Forest of Dean . . . but does a competitive edge lurk behind the smiles, camaraderie and the passion we share for road cycling?!

Secondly, the study found that the men enjoyed the ‘restorative process’ of cycling in the countryside and the escape it offered from the worries of their lives at home. “Being surrounded by nature and being granted the peace of an empty country lane took on therapeutic qualities for the men,” Beale and Glackin concluded. A state of mind not unlike the amplified self-awareness experienced by students of Buddhism.

Finally, the men were found to enjoy being ‘alone, but connected’ meaning that they could ride in groups without the pressure to talk to others, although they would often engage through social media.

Intriguing stuff and no doubt many club cyclists – men, women, young and not so young – who ride on a regular basis, will recognise some of the findings of the study.

But not all of them  . . .

The researchers ended the survey by noting that all the men they interviewed ‘used a GPS route-mapping device that gave them details of their performance, which they could also make available to their friends via social media.’

Now, this is where the report goes a little off-piste. Beale and Glackin surmised that the men they spoke to only used this ‘mapping device’ to explore the roads and routes used by other cyclists, share photos and their love of the sport. They did not, they concluded, use it in a competitive way to compare one another’s times.

C’mon! Have they never heard of Strava, KOM’s and Leaderboards?

Really?!  

If there is one single certainty that we can take away from this report, it is this: the two authors are definitely not road cyclists!

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. These findings resonate even though the sample is quite small. I guess there are many types of Strava users – from us semi-competent navigators to sophisticated route-builders!!! As for the competitive aspect, there must be a mix of performance addicts who pore over each ride, right through to those who don’t care a bit! I only go into those details on a good day out! I imagine a lot of people just use it to record distances done and average speeds achieved, but that would be an interesting further area for research! Performance data addiction?!

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