"joy" riding

This article was published in the Church Times on the 16th May 2008.

Many of us live a sedentary lifestyle. Not much of it causes our hearts to race a little. We spend a lot of time sitting around in office chairs, or walking to the car - perhaps even strolling to the office. Many of us live in urban or suburban environments. Much of the landscape that we look at has been manicured or modelled by modern society. Put together, our lack of physical activity and insular environment can stifle our true humanity.

My passion for mountain-biking (or 'off-road riding' as it is more accurately called) began when I realised the most exercise I did was running up the stairs. I have always liked to engage in sporting activity. However, my life as a vicar made this increasing difficult. The anti-social hours I worked meant that it was difficult to join in team sports. I tried going to the gym for a while but found the treadmill; well a treadmill! I decided to avert my early midlife crisis by buying a mountain-bike! In the parish where I worked there were hundreds of acres of forestry commission land where I could ride. From that moment on I got the bug! It was that sense of freedom and fresh air, the exhilaration of speed and a little danger that set the pulse racing. Cycling off-road for even half an hour provides a whole body workout comparable to an aerobics class or time in the air-conditioned environs of a gym.

Before you start to worry, off-road cycling need not be the extreme sport of thrill-seeking teenagers and men who should know better! From around £250.00 and upwards you can buy a bike which will handle the demands of bridleways, forest tracks, disused railway lines and other parts of our beautiful landscape. 'Hybrid' bikes (suited for commuting and less demanding conditions) can give you the freedom of the roads and lanes too!

Off-road bikes are designed to make terrain 'rideable' and you will be amazed what you can achieve. Contrary to popular belief, they do less damage to bridleways and regulated routes than horses and the only CO2 emissions they give out is your shortness of breath!

I have been riding off-road in many parts of England, Wales and Scotland for over 10 years now. During my mainly solo trips it has provided me with time and space to think. Which priorities in my life am I willing to sweat over? Which of the challenges that lie ahead am I prepared to overcome? Am I willing to persevere in areas of my life, which are more important than mountain biking?

I want to encourage you to consider 'getting on your bike', whether on-road or off-road. Cycling can be a real tonic for the soul. One of my colleagues brought a 'hybrid' bicycle recently. He told me that although he was nervous at first, riding his bike recaptured a part of his youth. It made him feel young again, giving him a sense of freedom and exhilaration that he had missed. I think that he's right. Off-road riding does take you back to moments of youthful joy, as well as 'back to nature'. You travel slow enough to see things that you would otherwise miss and fast enough to see the diversity of our landscape. As you do, I believe that your heart will beat faster, and you will remember afresh what it means to be human.