Off my bike: The things I missed most when I had to stop cycling

There's nothing like losing a key part of your life for making you realise just how much it means to you.

It's been a circle of sorts. Injury brought me to cycling and, for a while now, injury has kept me away.

Some 15 years ago, my return to cycling as an adult was spurred by ongoing back strain. I loved to run, but my lower back was troubled, and I figured a bit of bike riding could prove a handy substitute on occasion. It did.

But knee surgery five years later closed the serious running window and vaulted me onto the saddle as a committed rider.

It's been a glorious decade: tens of thousands of kilometres covered, trips on four continents, new things learned, friendships formed, challenges surpassed (and failed) and a whole new focus to my life.

Recently, I resigned myself to a necessary hiatus. A (non-cycling) misadventure had damaged my formerly "good" knee, and it was back to the surgeon. After a period of pre-operation impairment, and many weeks in recovery, I'm slowly getting back onto the bike.

And by their absence, I have been reminded of the many rewards that regular riding brings to my life. 

The joy of exertion

All my life, I've craved physical activity. I've done team sports, hit the gym, hiked, run and tried swimming (the black line does my head in). If I'm not getting a regular workout, I feel as if I'm not getting enough out of life. Upper body workouts – never my favourite thing – have been a boon, but I'm longing for the sustained cardio burn that is the best thing about exercising by bike.

Mind matters

Exercise can be a mood enhancement tool for me. Wake up feeling flat, hop on the bike for a quick ride, get the heart rate going and the wind in my face, and things just start to feel brighter. On some rides my brain swings into problem-solving mode, and I arrive back at my door with plans for the future. At other times, a ride can be a chance to contemplate not very much, without the lure of electronic devices.

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Goals and events

I live alone, so the goal of keeping up the weekly kilometres is a great motivation to get off the couch and out the door. But it's entering regular cycling events that really helps to keep me honest. Last year, after an illness-blighted effort at Amy's Grand Fondo, I vowed to return for a better showing. It's in 10 days' time – so much for that. But three months should be enough time to build for another go at the daunting . I'm itching to start.

Social cycle

I've never been much of a bunch or club rider but weekend outings with friends are always a great way to combine motivation and interaction (and perhaps a bit of competition) – especially if they've committed to the same upcoming events. Of course, there are many ways to catch up with people, but riding is especially useful for keeping in touch with those who have family commitments.

Visual splendour

I'm going to get parochial here (sorry), but living on Sydney's north shore really puts beauty within reach of one's pedals. A blast around the nearest suburbs brings famed harbour views, a push north brings beaches and national parks, while riding to work takes me over one of the world's most famous bridges. Taking those same journeys by motorised vehicle just isn't the same.

Weight control

I'll be honest now – focusing on nutrition and diet is just not my thing. Over the years, my weight has stayed pretty much the same without me paying it any attention. But lately, my clothes have been feeling tighter - my regular weight has increased by about 5 per cent, necessitating a loosening of my belt. It'll be interesting to see what happens as I ease back into action.

But there has been one upside to all of this. I haven't had to think about giving my bike a decent clean for the longest time.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011.

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