Going slow, making friends, and finding focus and flow

It is winter now, so when people ask me if I am still biking, I happily say I am, and I recount how wonderful my experience has been these last few months. The other day, I was told by a friend that the way I describe winter biking sounds “romantic”, and I actually feel that accurately captures my relationship to my new slow mode of transportation. So, if you will indulge me, here is my tiny treatise on the wonders of winter biking.

Going slow:

I like going fast. I love my road bike and clocking ridiculous speeds when you hit a downhill section just right. Over the past two years, I commuted on an old roadie and I love whizzing past other cyclists – particularly when going up steep hills. I would feel exhilarated and alive.

I did not anticipate the complete change when I first got on my new Public dutch cruiser. The transformation was immediate and complete. As I perched upright, I was compelled to lollygag, meander, and relax. On my way to work, I would see the city wake up around me, noticing things about my neighbourhood that I never had seen before. In the evening, as I quietly cruise up darkened, snow-covered streets, I am convinced that there is nothing better in the world than slowly biking around the hushed streets of Ottawa.


Caught on my way to work by local blogger/photographer from loveOttawa

Making friends:

Anyone that has briefly existed in a city knows that there are certain social mores to follow. You don’t make eye contact on public transit, and by gawd, you don’t initiate conversations with strangers! However, to my delight, when you are out on a bike in the heart of the winter where scarves, face masks, and goggles cover nearly every inch of a cycling commuter, tiny cracks in the carefully-constructed walls of urban isolation are revealed. There are only a few of us out there, so when stopped at a light with a fellow frost biker, you exchange a nod or cheery pleasantries. Invariably, these little chats make my day brighter and better. You feel connected, even for a moment, to a strange and lovely community.


from Dallas Clayton

Finding focus and flow:

But I think it is more than those tiny bright spots of cheery social interaction. I think that biking has been healing my mind and building happiness in my soul by helping me focus and experience flow on a regular basis.

I think it is the only time in my day that I only do one thing – that I don’t have 5 things on the go, 10 tabs open, and my mind is planning what to do next. I feel like I spend most of my day in a constant state of distraction – flipping between email inboxes, projects, and tasks that I sometimes feel like I am losing my ability to focus deeply on one thing. When I am biking, I only need to concentrate on one thing, and it is so refreshing and replenishing. (Sidebar: you should also watch this video from my latest “celebrity” crush on ‘single-tasking’)

Related to ‘single-tasking’, I think my twice-daily rides may give me daily installments of flow. I have recently read several articles on the science of happiness and the idea of “flow” and think that my bicycle is a tool to achieving flow regularly in my life. As described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [also, mad respect for his sizeable last name!!], flow is the few moments in time when you are completely absorbed in an activity and nothing else matters. Flow is a state of heightened awareness and immersion in an activity. The rhythmic motions of biking may be enough to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and  “dampen internal chaos.”

In addition to single-minded absorption in one task, there are also bursts of spontaneous joy, where my heart sings and everything seems just as it should be.

So, anyone want to join me for winter biking adventures? If making friends, finding focus and flow are not enough reasons to pull your bike out of hiding this winter, check out this beautiful video from the Ottawa Bike Lanes Project:

See you out there! xox

3 thoughts on “Going slow, making friends, and finding focus and flow

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