cycling · fitness

Riding a bike is easier than flying a plane. But aviation experts have good tips for us, too.

Now that the weather is warmer (or threatening to be warmer) in the Northern hemisphere and vaccination numbers are going up (albeit gradually), many of us are heading back outside on two wheels. Yes, we’ve been dutiful and some even enthusiastic about indoor cycling (see Sam’s posts about the joy of Zwifting, like this one). But nothing beats riding outside on or off-road, amidst sun and clouds, greenery and flowers, breeze and sounds.

Two road bikes-- mine in foreground, Pata's in back, relaxing while their owners stop for coffee on a fine summer Friday. To be resumed...
Two road bikes– mine in foreground, Pata’s in back, relaxing while their owners stop for coffee on a fine summer Friday. To be resumed.

Resuming cycling in real life does require us to dust off long-unused skills like bike handling, holding one’s line in high-traffic areas, paying close attention to road conditions and getting used to the abundance of sensory input.

If this seems challenging, imagine how pandemic-furloughed pilots feel about getting back into the cockpit of a 737. In a New York Times article this week, one pilot reported:

“It’s not quite like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was laid off when the pandemic hit in March last year.

“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still get it off the ground, but what fades is the operational side of things,” he said. “There is a multitude of information being thrown at you in a real working environment, and the only way to stay sharp and constant is to keep doing it.”

Tell me about it. Driving a car felt similar after months of staying home and off the roads. And my dashboard doesn’t look remotely like this:

An updated 737 cockpit from the Mid-Canada Mod Center (no idea what that is). Many dials, levers, screens and buttons.

Still, having to process all that information in real-time, while on or off-road cycling, requires some focus and adjustment when we’ve been riding in our basements for months on end.

Which leads me to tip #1: remember that cycling (like flying) is a full-sensory experience.

We can all appreciate the need to brush up our skills with our sporting equipment, especially when it’s been a long time since we’ve used it. The same goes for aviation. From the article:

There is no “one size fits all” training model aviation experts say. Typically, pilots receive variations of training based on how long they have been idle. In simulator sessions they will be required to perform different types of landings and takeoffs, including those in adverse weather conditions, and practice for emergency events. 

So, tip #2: Check that all safety and repair and emergency supplies are in good order.

As cyclists, we need to remember to take lights with us, checking that they’re charged, testing brakes, replacing weak or worn-out tires, cleaning out and refilling saddle bags with safety and repair tools, some dough, ID, etc.That will help us be ready if and when some weather or emergency situation comes up.

Once we’re back out there, we may not feel completely up to speed yet (as it were). Pilots feel this way, too:

“There’s certainly an aspect of rustiness that comes with not flying regularly,” said Hassan Shahidi, the president of the Flight Safety Foundation,… “As travel recovers and demand increases, we must make sure that our pilots feel fully comfortable and confident when they get back into the cockpit.”

Before the pandemic these pilots were practicing the same procedures day in and day out flying over and over again. When you’re not flying as often your cognitive motor skills are degraded,” he said.

Here comes tip #3: know that you may be rusty (even though your chain isn’t). Give yourself some time and space to ramp back up in terms of speed, handling, distance, etc.

Airline pilots who were furloughed had to find other jobs during the pandemic. Many of them worked in warehouses or did package delivery. Those jobs paid some bills, but they didn’t feed them vocationally. For many pilots, flying is part of who they are, not just what they do:

“At the beginning there was a lot of worry about the risks of Covid, but now that vaccinations are underway everyone who has been recalled is so happy,” said [one pilot].

“We love the air, the view, the aircrafts and it’s so much more about those feelings than the money, although in this pandemic you realize that the money is also important,” [the pilot said]. “Everyone is making a big effort with training because they just want to get back.”

Which leads me to tip #4: despite the worries, the logistical hurdles, the changes in equipment and physical acclimation to exercise, for many of us, riding bikes is a big part of who we are, not just what we do in our free time. Getting back to riding means reclaiming that part of our identity.

For me, that means getting ready to fly again– in my case, down some hills on two wheels will do nicely.

Readers, have you been dusting off gear, checking batteries, replacing parts in preparation for a return to sportsing outside? How’s it going? We’d love to hear from you.