Cycling is like life. Cycling with no goal is meaningless. What meaning is there cycling in circles? Or living aimlessly? Meaning comes from direction and destination. Join me in my life's journey on a mountain bike :)

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Thoughtful cycling

Cycling is an activity worth dying for. A cyclist's life is at risk on the roads but when I cycle, I feel so alive. What irony. But then, irony is (almost) the name of my first mountain bike: Iron Horse.

I feel alive when I'm surrounded by nature. Wide open spaces, surrounded by sky, by water, by nature.

And there's great feedback; I know how I'm doing at any point in time. Man-machine interface, the bicycle and my life in my hands. The bike goes as fast (or as slow) as I can pedal. It goes where I steer it (within reason). All it takes is a twitch of my wrists.

Sense of direction
Cycling is like life. Cycle with a destination in mind, instead of moving around aimlessly. I find cycling without a goal boring and meaningless. What's the meaning in riding around in circles? Similarly, what meaning is there in living life aimlessly? Things becomes meaningful when there is a sense of direction and destination.

A map helps. Where are you now? Where do you want to go? How will you get there? And is the map up to date? Things change quickly. While there are no maps in life, there are perspectives, mindsets. Sometimes, these are wrong in the first place, or have become out of date. You need to have milestones too, to keep track of progress ie know how far you are from where you want to be.

A compass helps too - one that points true north, that doesn't keep swivelling. What is your compass in life. Does it point to true north? Does it swivel with each passing fad or whim? What (or Who) is your true north?

Though I have a destination in mind, sometimes I deviate from my path (and schedule) because of rain, or because I came across an interesting trail. Or when I get hungry. Or when dogs come after me (maybe they're hungry too). Sometimes, I have to swerve, because of a careless (sometimes, reckless) driver or pedestrian. What if you have a puncture? Or the headwind is so strong it cuts your speed down by 40%? So, have a fall-back position for risk management purposes.

It helps to look further ahead, to anticipate. Don't get too engrossed with what's happening under your nose. How's the road or track? How's the traffic around you? Some pitfalls (like holes in the road) are static (but remember, you're moving). Others (like traffic) are not; things happen and happen quickly. A split second, a flick of the risk could make the difference between life and mangled flesh.

Sometimes, I come across something beautiful and want to linger. It could be an abandoned road, overgrown with grass. Or an abandoned habitation. Or beautiful scenery. But how long can I linger? Lingering in a beautiful place to starve isn't beautiful. Got to move on, just like in life.

Plan the work, work the plan
When you've mapped out where you want to go, stick to the map. Sometimes, as you travel, the familiar sights beckons. Before you know it, you've done what you've done many times before and end up where you've ended up before - problem is, you were trying to get somewhere else! If you want to go somewhere new, resist the familiar. On my first ride to Sentosa, the map showed me where to go. But when I caught sight of the Shenton Way skyline, I gravitated towards it. Problem is, Sentosa isn't really that near to Shenton Way - and I found out the hard way that I'd made a huge detour. I'd have reached my destination faster (and with less wasted energy) if I'd stuck to what I'd mapped out. The difference in result was the simple difference between making a left turn instead of a right turn.

But when journeying in life, remember that the map isn't necessarily the terrain. How up to date is your map and is your bearing right? When you travel, the terrain changes. The map doesn't. Know the difference.

Use appropriate performance indicators. How fast must you go to reach where you want to go? Are your goals realistic, or are you taking life too easy and short-changing yourself by doing less than your potential? Know also the difference between short-term and long-term. What works in the short-term (like a certain seat) doesn't work for long rides. You'll literally have a pain in the butt if you have the wrong saddle on a long ride. So don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Test your equipment - and your assumptions - about life.

Sense of balance
No one can cycle without a sense of balance. So don't kid yourself trying to get through life without a sense of balance either.

There's a metaphorical meaning to balance too. While I have a destination in mind, sometimes, certain tracks I pass by look attractive. Where will they lead me? Is it opportunity or distraction? Even if the track opens up to a new vista, will I run out of water and daylight? Exploration is about venturing into the unknown, but there are risks in the unknown. Should I play it safe and miss possible adventure? Or should I take a risk, balanced by knowing when to turn back?

Overcoming obstacles
Big hill ahead. When the going is tough, don't lament - it's a waste of breath. Yeah, lamenting feels good, but gets no one anywhere. Switch gears, keep up the cadence and keep on moving. All you need to do is pedal, one stroke at a time. So long as you keep pedalling, the peak gets nearer and nearer. And at the peak, enjoy the view or just coast down!

Sometimes, the problems are small, but cause big problems. It's amazing how much difference a couple of mm in adjustments to seat and handlebar height makes. And the difference between a correctly-positioned cleat on a shoe and a torture instrument can be as narrow as a grain of sand.

Once, I got lost in Malaysia while riding in a group. It was hot and hilly. And no 7-Eleven in sight. Hardly any shade around. Literally went around in a circle. But I enjoy riding so much, somehow, I didn't mind the extra legwork. I guess if you enjoy what you do and have confidence / faith (rightly placed) that being lost is a temporary condition, you can be happy and enjoy the journey.

In cycling, like in life, stops are necessary. To eat, for toilet, to check the map, to rest, to take stock. And you gotta be prepared for the bad things that may happen: tyres puncture, road rash, scratches and dents happen. Sometimes it's your fault. But even if they're not, the pain is the same. So, look out, be prepared. Check your bike well, ride well, stay well.

Sometimes, the terrain and weather are for me. Sometimes, they are against me. When I accept I can't change the terrain or the weather, I enjoy the ride better. Which is so much like life.

When it comes to dealing with life's obstacles, some solutions are directionally related. Others may be incremental: minor changes can make a difference, just like adjusting seat or handlebar height by a few millimetres can make a difference. And some things I just have to live with, like cleaning the bicycle chain and cassette, and coping with chainsuck which damages paintwork.

The great escape
When I need to get out of the house, I jump on my bike. Helmet on my head, gloves on my hands, the sun (or rain) beating down. The tyres humming, going "rrrrrr". My legs going up and down, up and down. The wind in my face, my cares falling behind.

It's better to be alone with my Iron Horse on the road (and off road) than alone in a crowd at Orchard Road. Cycling to roads that lead north into the sea (well, to the Straits of Johore). Punggol Road, Sembawang Road, the paved path that leads past Senoko Fishing Port. And the wonderful Old Lim Chu Kang Road. But nothing beats Turut Track. Wow, there are country roads in Singapore.

See the monkeys at Upper Pierce Reservoir. The clouds of butterflies on unnamed roads. The occasional road pizza of monitor lizard at Mandai. Or the poor little red bird, with matching red legs, lying by the roadside, beautiful in death. Or the magnificent white egrets soaring above the grass.

The great adventure
Cycling gives me a sense of adventure. For instance, I made a few trips to Sengkang in 2002 while it was still being built. As I wandered about, I wondered: "Where does this route lead? What will the next turn bring? How do I get to the trees over there? Where is Coney Island - it's here on the map but how do I get to see it?" If only this sense of wonder and adventure can get transferred daily to daily life...

Teamwork and leadership
Sometimes, I ride with my pals. When the pace gets too slow, I want to leave people behind; if I cycle too slowly, I fall asleep - or simply fall.

But I wait for my pals up ahead - that's what friends are for. In fact, it's quite touching to see bikers care for one another, waiting for someone to catch up, or riding with the slower ones for the entire journey to offer encouragement and help them keep pace.

It's truly a pleasure to ride with like-minded people, who enjoy riding and who care for each other. See how they help each other with their bikes, compare equipment and experiences, share food, water and laughter.

And we share info about routes, favourite places, bike components. So we all do better: we go places we've never been to as individuals, and we ride better - provided we (literally) signal our intentions early. Even when the bike leader tells us the big picture (destination / route), we can crash into one another unless we know the tactics: where exactly we turn or if there are road hazards just ahead. It really is dangerous if the leader is turning ride but some riders are turning left and the rest going straight.

And no one will follow a self-anointed leader - unless that person has something of value: nice places to go and good performance to inspire. In which case, that person will be annointed leader whether he/she wants it or not.

Sometimes, I ride alone.

When I cycle, I sometimes see cyclists ahead and want to catch up. And sometimes, cyclists pass me by.

If you see someone on a red Tank with Easton tubing, that's probably me. It seems to me there's less than a handful of mountain bike Tanks on the roads.

If you see someone on a red Iron Horse and a bright blue water bottle, that's probably me. It seems to me there's less than a handful of Iron Horses on the roads, and none for sale in bikeshops.