I am splattered in mud from head to toe. My comfy padded cycling shorts are now so soaked they have become a diaper. Inside my socks I feel the gritty crunching of sand between my toes and my head is itchy from the tiny pebbles that have weaseled their way in under the ventilation system of my helmet and all I can think about is t-shirts. Yes, t-shirts. About an hour into this ride my mind drifted away from the burning in my legs and lungs and wandered onto the idea of designing my own line of humorous bicycle t-shirts. Coming in sizes for both men and women, I would have a mountain bike line that would say things like “If you can’t walk it you can ride it!” For group leaders there would be shirts saying things like “Why are you all following me?” And my favorite “What state are we in?”
I love it. And in this euphoric state of mind brought on by pedaling too many miles alone and eating a few too many Little Debbie’s, it seems like a real winner. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? I am really on to something here. I can talk with so- and- so, and get them printed cheap, and maybe sell them in my local bike store.
Many people claim that they come up with their best ideas in those few peaceful moments between sleep and wakefulness. In fact I have had a few of these moments myself, but they occur more frequently when I am on my bike. Yup. Cycling has brought me to new avenues of thought. Instead of just zipping down fifth, I’m taking the side streets and arriving at little hidden parks that I never knew existed. Sure sometimes I am absorbed with bike things while riding, like admiring the tread on my front wheel as it spirals around. I like to think that my greatest brainstorming moments come while zoning out to the hum of two wheels on pavement. I’ve solved answers to riddles, I’ve thought up theses to term papers, and really clever things to say next time I have a disagreement with my boss- all on the seat of my saddle. Sometimes this distractive thinking while riding has gotten me lost on backroads I should know and once in a while I have been known to go through stop signs, but for the most part they are the most therapeutic moments of the day.
Long bicycle trips produce even more fruitful thinking. Even when I am riding with other people I find that eventually we all reach that state where it is just easier to pedal then to try and spit out words. So far I’ve invented: really cool clips to put over clipless pedals for rides to the supermarket, an endless tissue supply that can be unfurled one handed by pressing a button, and a helmet visor that extends to various lengths.
My productive thinking doesn’t always occur right away. Usually the first ten or twenty miles spent with my fully loaded bike I am thinking many things that have nothing to do with inventions and are laced with swears. My legs are stiff, my camelback doesn’t sit right and I have to constantly blow my nose. Then after a few hours spent pedaling away I start to forget about immediate discomforts. I forget my constantly lengthening list of things to do and my mind drifts. Sometimes I develop recipes and since I am burning thousands of calories when I create these recipes they tend to be unhealthy. I dream of eating Italian cookies by the handfuls. I think that next time I make chocolate covered strawberries I will see how chocolate covered chocolate tastes.
That gets me thinking, which as we all know on a bike can be dangerous, I wonder what my boyfriend dreams up while he is riding. So I ask. He of course answers that he doesn’t know. Then a few moments later he says, “I think about food. I think about what a huge meal I’m going to have and how good it’s going to taste.”
“I know, I think about that too. But what about after that, like after you have thought about every kind of food you are going to eat. What do you think about then?”
“Well, actually sometimes I think about writing a movie.” He finally says. He then elaborates and describes to me in detail specific scenes. Obviously he has put a lot of thinking into this. Fascinating. And I thought he was thinking about the Red Sox game he was missing.
Next I decide that I will bicyclo-analyze a little boy I watch occasionally. When his brother is off at school we often go on bike rides near his house. We ride for a half hour and I ask him, “Hey Matt, what are you thinking about.” He is five and a very giggly boy. He gives me a little giggle and says in one big breath, “Well, I am gonna get this really cool bike. That is fast with rocket launchers and I will shoot by David on my bike. And he will be so mad that he doesn’t have a rocket launcher bike.” So I am not the only one dreaming up big crazy ideas.
For now I just keep riding waiting on that million-dollar invention moment. I pedal away nearly every day for an hour or two. I take long weekend rides for several days with friends and I let my mind drift. Last weekend on a ride in Vermont I devised a line of unique “grocery bikes” that have all sorts of baskets and hangers to hold bags of food. Perfect! Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this before? I can open my own store in Europe and sell them by the hundreds. By the time I get home I realize the complexities of designing bikes and running a business are things that I have no idea how to do. For now I am thinking of working on getting my boss to let me ride my bike while working. My theory is, if my thoughts are most productive on my bike- why not go with it?
I’ll start by working on that one.