Ryan Leech's ProVisions - Free Your Freeriding

Mar 28, 2013
by Ryan Leech  
“My church is in the mountains,” “Riding is my meditation,” “Riding brings me closer to God than any religion,” and “Welcome to the church of what’s happening now” - these are just a few comments I’ve heard on recent rides, and relating them to my own experiences is what inspired me to write this third installment of ProVisions.

Backcountry trails from home base of Sol Mountain Lodge in the Monashee Mountains

As humans, we crave meaning and purpose. With science reigning and the Church fading, deeper life meaning can become more elusive, so naturally we need a new source, something that provides us an experience beyond words, something that makes us feel alive. It seems that riding mountain bikes delivers, as those quotes above attest to. To derive our fulfillment from mountain biking is awesome, but I believe we need to proceed cautiously, or rather, consciously.

When we go for a ride, it makes us feel amazing. We then seek a similar experience the next time we go out. Each time provides us rich opportunity for meaning making, and each of us are drawn to slightly different aspects of the sport to accomplish that. Here are just a few examples:

The Explorer:
‘Where the trail ends’ is where you come alive, deep in the mountains, exploring uncharted territory. Or travelling to new riding destinations and ripping fresh singletrack.

The Trickster:
Pulling off a new move whether a first for you or for the world, this is when your confirm your worthiness and the praise floods in.

The Racer:
Exposing yourself to intense and sustained effort is when you hear the church bells (errr cow bells) ring. You train long hours to prepare for this moment, immaculately tracking every calorie in and how it’s burned. Get the combination just right and you’ll be racing in a seventh heaven suffer fest.

The Mentor:
You’re responsible for bringing new people to the sport of mountain biking, what higher calling than showing them the trails and turning them in to true believers.

But what happens when you run out of peaks to explore, tricks to learn, races to enter, and newbies wanting to ride with you? What happens when you just bore of it, or even worse, when an injury comes along and keeps you off the bike? Well, there goes your church, along with the meaning that it provided. For pro and recreational athletes alike, this can be devastating. A quick fix is to swap sports - try something new, fresh, and challenging, something that doesn’t aggravate the ‘ol injuries, some sport that provides a similar serving of solace.

Riding is a relatively healthy and positive ways to address that yearning for meaning (and to treat that mid-life crisis); there certainly are much worse alternatives. But the bottom line is that riding may eventually be revealed as a distraction and postponement from discovering the deeper meaning of life we intuit. It may be providing a fool's version of this meaning, a fleeting version that begins and ends with the ride…how could something as healthy and awesome as mountain biking end up being like showing up for church on Sunday and sinning the rest of the week?

It doesn’t have to be if we proceed consciously, but in today's measurable scientific world, we are taught to direct our attention outward, find meaning out in the world, so we become very talented do’ers, champions at doing stuff. It’s relatively easy to ‘do’ all that is necessary to be an explorer, trickster, racer, or mentor, especially when it seems to satisfy our yearnings for meaning. The thing is, that all this doing doesn’t leave much chance for human ‘being’. Being comfortable in our own skin. We need to stop doing for a few moments – and watching TV doesn’t count – we need to watch our minds. By looking inside, we can radically bolster and evolve whatever meaning we have discovered ‘out-there’.

Pausing to take in the sunset. Photo credit Margus Riga

By practicing ‘being’, I essentially freed my beloved sport from the burden of providing meaning and purpose. Mountain biking was no longer a pill I took, I was no longer relying on the ride to bless me, I was now able to bless my ride, and for the first time, experience what it means to truly freeride; being in the zone is now a choice rather than a random side-effect.

So how do we “proceed consciously,” “practice being,” and “connect to a deeper source of meaning and purpose” beyond reputation, image, title, role? These are big questions and very personal. There are many practices and methods, I’ll share a couple that have worked for me, which are contemplation and meditation.

Contemplation is all about asking yourself the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I to do? How am I connected to nature, to the friends I ride with, to the 3G signals circling the world? Doing this while out on a ride is perfect, but all you ‘strava’ians aren’t gonna like it because it requires you to stop and take in the view!

Meditation while out on a ride is great too, the key is that you’re not relying on your riding to elicit the meditative experience. Cultivate this ‘being’ capacity while stopped. It may be awkward if you’re riding with friends, so doing it at home may be best. Check out this short blog I wrote as a starting point.

For busy people seeking a riding high, contemplation and meditation are a waste of time, but I am convinced, from my own experience, that when done diligently over time, the higher quality riding high that you’ll experience is just a bonus compared to the benefits that resonate through the rest of your life. It will allow the Explorers to discover a rich inner world that is infinitely vast, the Tricksters to find inner joy to complement the external validation, the Racers to connect their training to life versus just the race, and the Mentors to show us what it really means to say ‘it’s not about the bike’. Have you had similar experiences? Please do share!

Ryan Leech is widely considered to have been one of the most progressive and technically skilled mountain bikers in the world. Intimate with the benefits of yoga for a thriving pro career, he got certified to teach and thus began injecting a new generation of cyclists with the body mind intelligence necessary for long term optimal performance. His new Yoga for Cyclists Video is now available.

As a Professional Integral Coach™, he works privately with people, such as pro athletes, during transition to help them discover what’s next more quickly and with less suffering.

Author Info:
RyanLeech avatar

Member since Oct 9, 2007
25 articles

  • 39 1
 Great article! I've always believed that there was more to biking than the immediate ride. It's a release, a reflection, an escape from the daily mundane yes, but this is not the end. It is one way I balance my life. Take my bike, away, take my trails away, but you can never take my being away. I will find something else to keep my mind centered and focused. But for now, escapes into wilderness will do, will do just fine. The best thing I think is that after our escape from social reality, we shred back into life full of stoked awesomeness! Ready to take on whatever's on our plate.
  • 5 0
 well said
  • 12 1
 I am a fairly regular church goer, partly for the fellowship. I think there is more than just the wilderness, there are the people that share that wilderness and world with us. The same fellowship can be found on the trail. In the end Christian or not, my philosophy holds true as a human, Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.
  • 7 2
 too much trying to find meaning in things that neither have, nor require any meaning.
  • 11 0
 there should be a pinkbike poll to see what most people mostly identify themselves as: explorer, racer, trickster, mentor.
  • 4 0
 I always meditate before doing something on the bike that scares me. I always centre my being to achieve the focus I need. I see myself through the stunt, line or obstacle in my minds eye. Push away any negative thoughts or visions of crashing. The scarier the line the deeper the meditation, It is like a way to force myself to meditate. I also find reaching a vista on a climb a good place to meditate as the endorphin's fade off. Putting on protective gear and wrenching can sometimes be a good meditation, I first learned to meditate doing martial arts now biking is my kung fu.
  • 6 0
 I think Builder would be another one. Nothing like turning a hill side into a giant zen garden!
  • 10 0
 The path to enlightenment is as difficult to ride as the razor’s edge. I battle myself more than any mountain. Riding helps me be, brings me to the moment and ripples out after. In those moments when I realize what is really happening is bliss. Church of Trees with sounds of the forest are the choir, the mist my cleansing and riding my prayer. I loved this article. Ryan you are a sage my brother!
  • 12 0
 This article is exactly what I needed to read right now. So much of it applies to me its almost ridiculous.
  • 4 1
 same here
I shouldn't understand this article because it's pretty much made out of english words I've never heard of Smile But I did! Just because I fit so well in it. Riding has become my painkiller pill too.
  • 8 0
 Flow theory and Neuroscience can describe some of the aspects of biking that appeal to me. The opportunity for the mind and the body to share a present orientation. Where lower and upper brain regains share activation and connection somewhere safely between activated but not overwhelmed (or at times overwhelmed with the opportunity for acheivement and organization rather than helplessness). Where the body acts and reacts automatically with room for revisions and growth. I see it as science and my neuro background only increases my passion and use of biking.
  • 5 0
I couldn't agree more with you. Csikszentmihalyi's idea of flow is one that I can connect with on a profound level, especially in regards to the present moment that biking forces you to be in.

Riding for me seems to be a catalyst in initiating flow, but I have begun to utilize meditation to achieve similar results without the use of an external machine (i.e. a bike). Riding used to be an escape for me, where I could just get on my bike and the world would fall away. I used to live for the moment, right before a jump, when you are going too fast to stop and you are fully committed, fully in the moment because to be out of the present instance would mean crashing and subsequently pain. But I now realize there is more than just escapism to biking. The true, lasting happiness for me stems from applying that sensation of calm, the positive stress,, the experience of flow, and being present to my entire life. Biking has helped me immensely in achieving this goal, and I love biking immensely, but I no longer feel bound to it.

Thanks for the article Ryan, I love each and every one of your articles and I am looking forward to the next one!
  • 7 0
 Right on; I've not been in town when you've visited our local gem of Ragged Mountain in Maine, though you've ridden there. It's a special place. I tend to ride solo for all the reasons you describe. As I explained to a new rider a couple years ago, it's therapeutic; I can show up to the mountain all wound up, rough spot in my marriage, confused about parenting, off day at work, whatever. And as I spin the pedals and breathe in the clean air, something happens: the mountain eases my burden. At the end of the ride, I'm cleared. I don't spend too much time thinking about what, why or how, I just know it works for me, and I know other locals say similar things.

And I'd also suggest that as we look at our connection to the greater world, that begins to shift, to the point where I can't just ride around or through a mud hole, I stop and spend 20 or 30 minutes putting in some rock armor, or closing off where folks are short cutting a switchback. Because the mountain does so incredibly much for me, it's become an extension of me, and I take care of it, keep the soil in place, give the water a place to run.

Thanks for once again giving voice here on PB to the deeper reasons I ride. And if you make it back up to the Midcoast, I'll make sure to be around Wink
  • 7 0
 love reading these! they always inspire me to cleanse my body, become a better person, and open up my mine to other possibility's keep up the great work Ryan!
  • 4 0
 It is so nice to read such a thoughtful piece. Thank you.

Is cycling culture myth-based? If so, who is telling the stories? For what purpose? And what is there to learn from the myths? Maybe creating the mythology is part of what will build the depth and meaning of cycling?
  • 4 0
 Great questions Gary! We all tell stories of our riding experiences to our friends, sometimes sensationalized, sometimes deep, sometimes similar to the quotes at the top of this article, and each time we do, I'd say we are contributing and evolving the mountain biking mythology for generations to come, and this is happening whether we are conscious of our role in it or not. If we'd like others who follow in our footsteps to experience the depth I speak about above and that all those who commented also experience, don't we then need to be sure our more transcendent experiences are turned in to stories and shared?
  • 4 1
 This is the reason I refuse to wear those hydration packs. Stop, sit on a log, get your water bottle out of your backpack and spend five minutes taking it all in. For me those few minutes relate to real quality time for reflection and just plain and simple inner peace.
  • 2 0
 That's actually a very rad habit... Nicely done! It never hurts to take a minute to stop and look around, eh? Smile
  • 5 0
 LEGEND! he has inspired me and so many others since day one! You rock Mr.leech.
  • 3 1
 Judging by the comments here it seems I'm in the minority here, but this one got a little too deep for me. "Deeper sources of meaning", "being instead of doing", "blessing my ride"..... hell I just get on my bike because its fun.
  • 2 1
 same here, idc about soul or anything, I just want to go fast and push myself cuz its fun and addicting as hell
  • 2 1
  • 5 2
 Perfect. Then you wouldn't mind if the rest of us simply enjoyed the article that is so different then the usual PB content? A different view? In peace? Thanks. Smile

I'm never quite sure why folks who don't like the pieces like this feel the need to comment about how 'this one went a little too deep' or 'it's just biking' -- there are all types of riders on PB, and articles such as this one keep the independent, different-ways-to-skin-a-cat spirit of mountain biking alive instead of promoting a sickening, destructive culture of cool. It's not you vs. me or us vs. them... It's about this being a cool perspective from someone who has been in some seriously large shoes. That's it. Smile
  • 3 6
 Worst article I have ever read regarding MTB. Glad he loves the sport but this guy is "lost".
  • 4 1
 Completely disagree. How is he lost? It sounds to me like he's finding his way through life better than quite a few people on here are.
  • 3 1
 Ambatt - so let me get this straight, people are no longer allowed to offer a differing point if view on an article? What's the point if having a comment section then? What's the point everyone just agrees on everything?

So if you don't like my opinion why don't you just ignore it? Why am I not allowed to comment on something I disagree with while that's exactly what you are doing by responding in the way you did to my comment?

So you won't mind if those of us who though the article was a little overboard comment and discuss that in peace? Thanks Smile
  • 2 2
 Agreed, well said sino428. Let's get back to stuff that matters, like trails races bikes gear....the simple fun stuff we all come to PinkBike for. Having said that, I'm done with this thread, time to watch the video "Faster than You" one more time. Cheers!
  • 1 0
 I mean don't get me wrong, I don't mind the article and I honestly didn't mind reading it, I just made my original comment because I have a different view. Doesn't mean I don't respect to POV if the author.
  • 2 0
 Riding after a tough day at work takes away all my stress. Riding lets me spend time with my teenage kids and helping them build their bikes lets me teach them something about mechanics and engineering. Riding makes me feel young and fit. That's a lot from two wheels and some bare dirt!
  • 2 1
 Well that was pretty sweet, I'm 25, been riding for 22 years. Mountain biking for 10. Trying tricks for the past 5. And I can't get enough riding time in. Heck, I visited Nova Scotia a couple years back and biked the ocean floor at low tide.I will say one of the most validating experiences for me was getting cut off on a trail by a buck, a doe, and two calves. Not to mention I was minutes from home when it happened
  • 2 1
 Forgot to mention that with the tricks I am trying to learn I am gaining a lot of respect for the guys that do tricks on full dh rigs!!! Spinning a 360 on a BMX is ine thing, a dirt jumper another but on a downhill... That's almost superhuman!
  • 1 0
 I find a sacred spot on a trail and blaze. Its true if you stop on a trail and take in your surroundings, one can get a feeling of belonging to a bigger picture. Harmonious with the world. Ryan is using NLP methods to change his perception of his environment. Any way that you can smile more and bitch less will be an enhancement to your lifestyle.
  • 1 0
 Wow ! first off this it on so many point that in my head i understood but have never been able to properly articulate. I just want to thank you Ryan for taking the time to write this and share your insight with us. I will be sharing this with a lot of people for a long time ... thank you again .
  • 4 0
 This article was just what I needed for a night cap. Very intriguing.
  • 1 1
 I think that you can reach this meditative state many different ways, being a young free rider i find when your at that moment of pure concentration blocking every thing out, but what is ahead of you stomping the landings in "mars like" virgin dirt. Riding trails and lines seeing massive drops in your peripheral vision and being to the point where you feel like your mind has been set free! I find this feeling one of the best in the world. Thank you for sharing this article it was very interesting.
  • 3 3
 Interesting, I hadn't anticipated the overwhelmingly positive comments.

It's great the Ryan expresses satisfaction with his own philosophies. At first it seems preachy, as if he is prescribing a superior approach to life. But I doubt that is the intention. Ryan is simply thoughtful and sharing his thought process. Thanks for the interesting read!

Yet my philosophy is somewhat different. I observe people who constantly search for enlightenment and self-fulfilled well-being, as being some of the least fulfilled and enlightened people. You might know the type, like the obese person who frequently facebooks links to articles like "12 dieting secrets". Or perhaps an avid hiker who walked a thousand miles and found themselves in the process. Meanwhile, that person is still not sure of themself and what they want to do with life. Or even a recovering alcoholic who thinks they are more enlightened about the proper way to integrate alcohol into one's life.

However I believe the enlightened view is that there really isn't another level of enlightenment for most people. There is no secret purpose to life that that most people need to seek out. If you're having fun, don't mess with a good thing. Let other, less satisfied people agonize over how to live life better. If you're tortured in the way that Ryan seems to be a bit dissatisfied with life, certainly think through how to change your life. Just please don't assume that the rest of us are less enlightened by not needing to fix anything in the first place.
  • 4 3
 I think maybe you misunderstand being "enlightened" in terms of being more self aware, or on a higher level of self-awareness, in order to aware of shortcomings or issues in life, instead of blindly ambling through a chaotic unplanned life, ignorant of issues and problems. enlightenment may mean seeing and recognizing these issues in the welf, by actions, behaviours, or life situations, and creating ways to move away from this into a better/higher state of being. as an example, the unhappy person who continues to mask their present situation with drugs, booze, dangerous/high risk behaviour etc instead of dealing with the root causes of that present unhappiness. personally I think the amount of "enlightened" or genuinely self-aware people in modern western society is minimal, and so many social and human problems come from this total lack of self awareness. 2c
  • 1 1
 Truly aware people would realize that there are both deliberate and oblivious people, both satisfied people and those still seeking a fulfilled life. Blindly prescribing continued work for those that are already in a good place is not enlightenment, but the exact opposite.
  • 1 1
 Great points which mesh with a book i just picked up. One of the concepts which is sort of similar to one of your ideas. The author calls this "goalodicy" which just means the pursuit of a goal to an end similar to ol' captain ahab and his white whale. There are lots of similar concepts in that book. Nebidy who enjoyed this write up should check it - Title is The Antidote by Burkeman. Ppl should know this sport isn't about buying stuff or thinking great "epic" ideas up as is vogue now. Sure u can do that, but u could miss the point.
  • 3 1
 I just met this guy at the Portland bike show, so nice and such an awesome and inspiring rider
  • 1 0
 I met him at the Seattle Bike Show and I couldnt agree with you more.
  • 3 1
 I get that higher being feeling when I smoke a bowl of some of this fine cali tree and hop on my rig...
  • 2 1
 Explorer! Trickster! Racer! Mentor!... with your powers combined I am Captain Freeride!!!!!!!
  • 1 0
 I like trusting my subconcious to figure it out. Just get yourself to the point of no return and it will do the rest.
  • 2 0
 What a great Good Friday read.
  • 1 1
 Idk about blessing your ride, and deeper meaning.. however the being and doing i definitely agree with and to me its obvious biking can be therapeutic
  • 2 0
 Always love these write ups!
  • 4 3
 Ryan has a sexy voice
  • 1 1
 I only ride when I have free time, pretty much a freerider though.
  • 1 1
 Riding is like oxygen to me. Without it I shall not burn.
  • 1 1
 Nice reflection..inner peace...inner peace...iiiin iinn ner peaceSmile
  • 2 1
 riding 'gives me wings!'
  • 2 1
 "mountain biking."
  • 1 1
 This. Smile
  • 1 1
 --- the explorer

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