Today I’m going to teach you how to ride a bike. Well, I’m going to share with you how I ride a bike. And truthfully, this post has nothing to do with how to ride a bike. But it has everything to do with handling the ups and downs of life more efficiently.

This summer, we became a three-driver household. Rather than buying a third car, my wife and I decided that we would keep our driver-to-car ratio at 3:2.

It helps that a COTA bus (our city transit service in Columbus) stops a half-block from my house and a half-block from work. Every COTA bus is equipped with a bike rack, so my bike and I ride the bus to work together, then my bike carries me home after work. Thankfully, my bike hasn’t complained about this arrangement — yet.

Every day that I ride home, I notice something: The earth is not flat.

I joke that my ride home is uphill all the way, but the truth is that the path also goes downhill in several places. My bike has twenty one gears. I generally use only the seven gears in the middle. The smallest of the seven helps me get up any hill in my way; the largest helps me go as fast as I feel comfortable going on the downhill parts of the path. I’ve had a bike for recreational riding for a long time, however I’ve never commuted on my bike before. So, in a way I had to learn how to ride a bike again.

Three Things I’ve Learned About How to Ride a Bike

  1. When I feel resistance and my legs start to burn a little, it pays to downshift. By doing so, I may slow down some (sometimes a lot), but I can keep pedaling at the same pace and I don’t deplete all the energy in my legs.
  2. When going downhill, I don’t coast. I upshift to maintain resistance as I pedal. This helps me go as fast as I can with no real extra effort. This helps me propel myself much further into the flat or uphill parts before having to downshift (and slow down) again.
  3. I upshift and downshift dozens of times during a 30-minute ride. In fact, the more frequently I shift, the less I deplete all the energy in my leg muscles. When I ride efficiently like this I often get home faster, too!

Three Things I’m Learning About How to Live Life More Efficiently

Every day that I ride home — and every time I shift gears — I am reminded of these three lessons:

  • I need to remember that it’s okay to downshift in life when things get more difficult. I have a tendency to try to “muscle through” the tough times and then feel depleted long before the tough time is over. Slowing down is not only an option, it’s sometimes the only way to maintain the stamina I need to make it up whatever hill I’m experiencing in life. It is physically impossible to attack all of life with the same velocity.
  • I should also be careful not to coast too much when things get easier. Sure, there are times to take my feet off the pedals, let the wind whip through my hair, and yell a “YAHOOOOOOO!” on the downhill slopes. However, when things are going well, it can  pay off to upshift, keep pedaling, and use that momentum to propel me even further. I personally find that more satisfying than letting gravity do all the work.
  • And finally, life — like a bike path — is not flat. It has many ups and downs. Some I can see in advance, prepare for, and know exactly when I’ll need to shift gears. But I also need to stay in tune to the road underneath me and keep getting better and better at adjusting on the fly.

Two questions for you:

  1. Is there a hill in your life that you’re fighting too hard to climb? Can you allow yourself to downshift so you’ll have enough energy to get to the top, even if that means going a little slower right now?
  2. Are you coasting when it would pay off to upshift and keep pedaling instead?

As always, I invite you to jump into the conversation. Add your thoughts below!

5 replies
  1. Joy Lanham
    Joy Lanham says:

    You are dead on with this post! I also ride my bike often and I find myself stubborn in riding and in life and don’t downshift, I would rather get out of the saddle and blow my legs out, not always a smart move. I find myself thinking a lot on path rides, the next time I hit a climb I will surely rethink how stubborn I am being with a particular problem, and think through downshifting. Thanks for the awesome and relevant insight!

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    Great bike riding post! Use those gears as they were meant to be used through life. It’s ok to downshift, what’s the hurry? Isn’t it the journey we need to enjoy not just getting from A to B?

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      Absolutely! Unless you’ve promised to take your daughter shopping for a homecoming dress. Then you have to get home ASAP or all hell will break loose.


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