When riding, well, actually, when doing just about anything, it’s easy to have your body living the physical experience while your mind is living a completely different experience. If you’re riding and listening to music, you’re only half-riding. If you’re riding and thinking about…pick one: work, an earlier conversation you had with your wife, a future conversation you plan to have with someone, a theoretical conversation you would like to have, the plans for some future event, etc, etc, ad nauseam, then you are only half-riding.
If you are half-riding, then you are not only missing the point of being on the bike (except, say if you are on a regular commute, then you can be excused for half-riding sometimes), but you are taking a serious risk of having an unpleasant surprise. If you are not paying attention to the road, the cars, and the regular obstacles in your path, you will most certainly increase your risk of flats, close calls with vehicles, and even an accident.
If you are half-riding with a group, then you dramatically increase the likelihood of having a run-in with a riding partner. But for me, the biggest problem of half-riding is to miss the point of being on the bike in the first place.
This realization came to me very clearly many years ago when one day I came up to a stop light near the end of the ride and could not remember the previous hour. I couldn’t remember any people I saw, other cyclists, nothing. The prior hour was a complete and total blank. But I could remember what I was thinking about, which was mostly crap. I lost an hour on the bike. Gone. And this wasn’t the first time, it’s just that this time it became an epiphany of sorts. This shocked me into the realization that something must change. I was missing the point of being on the bike.
Then after a suggestion from my wife, I created a cycling mantra that I could think about when my mind started to wander from riding.
From that point on, I decided to bring my focus onto what I consider the main physical aspects of being on the bike – breathing, relaxing my shoulders, and pedal stroke – as a way to stop my mind from wandering. When I would think something other then the present, I would bring myself back to those aspects of cycling. It was a lot of work, and took me years before I found myself able to effortlessly ride while focusing on the ride.
Also, I often change my focus from the physical aspects of cycling to my external senses: the sounds (this is particularly interesting on small quiet roads), the smells (in a car you will miss the smell of the stream running along the road, but on a bike the smell is very noticeable), the sights, and the feelings (the road surface changes constantly).
While riding, especially on a long climb, I can spend a ridiculous amount of time just paying attention to the position of me feet. I can dedicate large blocks of time paying attention to my pedal stroke and posture, and then I might switch to hearing birds chirping, and then focus on smelling the air, or feeling the air enter my nose.
With all that, why would I want to listen to music? Who has time to think about planning something? Why dwell on problems when I can feel myself moving along a beautiful road?
That’s why I ride… I ride to be on the bike.