The Cyclist Nod– It’s Contagious.

Last week, I had one of those nice moments where one thought led to another, and that thought led to another and then the final thought brought me right back to the beginning with a satisfying conclusion, all in the context of an environment that led to the first thought. I felt enlightened, accomplished and satisfied. Yum.

These moments happen to me frequently, but recently they’ve been happening to me atop Hawk Hill, right before a most glorious bike decent.

I believe psychologists call this a “peak experience“, or at least good that’s what ol’ Dr. Maslow of the hierarchy of needs fame called it. Apparently they’re linked to self-actualization and happiness, so I’ll take it. Oprah would possibly call it an “Aha moment” but I reserve that term for more pinnacle, life changing events or realizations. This one just felt like all my little gray cells were working together nicely.

P.S. That’s a Poirot reference. Tee hee.

Here’s the story, from awhile ago–

I made time today between meetings and work to squeeze in 45 minutes of Hawk Hill repeats, even though *gasp* the training plan says I should be riding for an hour. I’m going to swim later, I promise. I decided against crossing the bridge gauntlet and drove to the base of the hill, popped in some earbuds, plopped on my bicycle, started Strava and realized I had exactly 45 minutes left of the new podcast, Invisibilia. I wasn’t going for speed today, so a podcast seemed like a good plan to assist in the climbing.

This week’s episode was about entanglement, and more specifically, the second story was based on the idea of social contagion. In this story, psychologists note that we are extremely impacted by our environments; environments that mainly include the behaviors and emotions of the people around us. We do some behaviors consciously, but most are largely unconscious. The intense impact of others’ moods and actions show our unmistakable interconnectedness as humans. I find quite a bit of solace in this notion since it describes my thoughts on spirituality. But that’s another story.

Ahem. Back to leisurely peddling up Hawk Hill. My cadence was way slower than usual and my attention spent looking at the view and listening to a story, a.k.a. definitely not getting a workout. Then, a few guys sped by me, so I picked it up. I have a competitive nature, and I know that my actions are sometimes motivated by competition, and other times, cohesion. I like riding next to someone with the same cadence and the same posture. Especially during a group ride, I try my hardest to conform because I think organized movement has a sense of beautiful order and simplicity.

My speed increased and I tried to match cadence with the leader and held that for a while until I realized–truthfully, I wanted to listen to this podcast. I dropped off their line and stopped being an annoying follower while the podcast continued with more facts about contagion. It’s one of the reasons I love group activities for individual sports. I enjoy the competition, but am driven by the way my body performs when it’s trying to match everyone else. Inherently, my posture is better, I’m using my core, I’m faster, I’m feeling “like a real cyclist”. It’s not just the drafting, I swear.

I’ve previously espoused to friends that I need group workouts to help me stay motivated and accountable, and I’ve heard that women are more likely to workout in groups due to our relationship-centered natures. True, but somehow the idea of contagion is particularly appealing– during a group workout, there’s something happening in my brain that is making me a better athlete. I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s personal performance trickery. Score!

As I was going about this whole thought process, I realized another thing about the cycling community that’s also quite motivating. In climbing, everyone at the bottom at the crag yells “send it” or “allez” when a climber is about to make a big move. During running races, high fives and waves abound. The backpacking community bonds with a “how’s it going” or “beautiful day” acknowledgement. In cycling, it’s the head nod.

I love the cyclist nod. It’s a little bit of “we’re all in this together” magic that really does some warm fuzzy community building.

What makes the nod unique is that it doesn’t necessarily happen only when someone is passing you, and you don’t have to be fully kitted out to get one. I personally perceive the nod as someone saying “Hello! You are pedaling a bicycle! I am also pedaling a bicycle! We are doing work. We understand each other. Hurrah!” and then we get on with our day.

Whenever I give a nod, I like to smile, though I realize not all nods are smiley. Some of them are short and curt, (usually when you are on the downhill and the nod-instigator is on the uphill) and I perceive they sound like this– “Hullo. Legs hurt. You feel me? Carry on.” Those are good because we’ve certainly all been there before.

Then there are those folks with aero helmets who probably can’t nod because that would be creating air resistance. I envision they are nodding in their heads, and they are saying this– “Pedal pedal pedal pedal cadence matters power meter number I’m going to get a KOM for this pedal pedal Hello/Bonjour/Ciao Old Chap pedal pedal need more power pedal.” This of course, is in some vaguely British/French/Aussie/Italian accent and you can smell the trail of money they leave behind. Not my cup of tea, but who am I to judge!

The moral of this story? It’s nice to be a part of a community, be it for social or fitness/competition’s sake– and it turns out the two may be nicely intertwined. Geez, I love teamwork and I’m getting gushy. Regardless of how individual a sport may seem, it’s always better with friends.

With that, it’s time to get my cycling cap on for some Twin Peaks Up and Overs. I’ve got some nods to give.

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