All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Cycling

By Risa Isard

In my post from April about settling into post-grad life, I recommended joining some sort of “club” as a way to meet people with shared interests.  When I learned of a women’s cycling group in town, even though I’d never seriously cycled before, I took some of my own advice and decided to join.  Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot in the past six weeks.  For instance, I now know how to change a flat tire and use clip-on shoes.  I’ve also been reminded of a few life lessons.

1)      Always keep an open mind

I learned about the cycling group several months before the season started.  I was so excited; I told everyone I knew about it and eagerly awaited the group’s first practice. And then the introductory email came. As it turned out, the cycling group was affiliated with a church.  I paused.  What’s that mean for someone Jewish like me?  I decided it meant that I’d try the group and see what it was all about.  I decided it meant that I’d approach the first few practices with my guard up, skeptical, but ultimately open-minded. As you can imagine, I’m glad I took that approach.  The only time when religion seems to play any role is during the prayer before each ride.  I stand there respectfully as the leader prays for safety, for group members who have had biking accidents, for friendship, for the beautiful sights and weather, and for getting our bodies in better shape. When she’s finished, I buckle my helmet buckle, mount my bike, pedal away, and think to myself how grateful I am for all of those things, too. We’re really not so different.

2)      Check your ego at the door and stay humble

Let me tell you how many good things have come from me being over-confident: zero.  For instance, that time on my first day when I was feeling really good and decided that I could drink, bike, brake, signal, and turn all at the same time? Ran into a fence. Or that time a few weeks later when my riding buddies and I were talking instead of focusing on our pace line formation? I’m lucky there wasn’t a car busting down the lane of traffic into which I tumbled.  It’s great to feel comfortable so quickly when you’re learning something new, but don’t let your comfort disguise the fact that you are still learning.

3)      Our bodies are really pretty incredible

Like most American women who have been exposed to countless images of airbrushed models, my body-image is a work in progress. One of the only times I’m not self-conscious is when I’m exercising. Biking 50+ miles has a way of making you realize how incredible your body really is, even without that six-pack.  Even more so, being surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes, all of whom don’t think twice about wearing their spandex bike shorts, has a way of reminding you that being an athlete is about being out there—nothing more.

4)      Being a member of a team requires selflessness and communication

As a novice who rides with women much more experienced than I am, I’m constantly navigating the space between trying to just go with the flow and expressing my needs. Becoming more confident in speaking up and asking for help is something that is especially important, both as I cycle more, and as I grow as a professional.  Good teammates, whether they are riding buddies or colleagues, will encourage you to express your uncertainties and will help to fill your weaknesses.  To the teammates who have selflessly offered to pull me back into the pace line when I was struggling and who continue to encourage me, thank you.  You’ve taught me a lot beyond just the know-how of biking.

Most of us have spent our entire lives learning these lessons, but they’re seemingly easy to forget and all too easy to write off as skills to teach our kids.  The truth is, though, that they’re just as important in your adult life as they were in kindergarten.

Oh, and take it from me: drafting ain’t no joke.


risaAbout the Author
Risa Isard  graduated from Duke University (2012), where she designed her own major in social change, gender, and sports and earned honors for her thesis about the prehistory and early years of Title IX. She is an “everyday athlete,” has been published on espnW, and also blogs at I’m an Athlete, Not a Princess.  She recently landed her first “real” job as the Community Relations Coordinator for the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple A affiliate for the San Francisco Giants.  She considers herself incredibly fortunate to have had amazing mentors and strongly believes in paying it forward to the next generation.