Ever feel like a dark cloud has swept in and clouded your mood? Whether it’s for a matter of days or longer, you don’t want it to last. But when helpfully titled books and well-intentioned conversations with friends don’t help, we’ve got the perfect panacea: your bike. Spin the pedals and leave your negativity in the dust.

Why am I feeling anxious about where my life is? Am I giving enough to my relationships? Why is everyone else at the beach or out riding while I’m chained to my computer screen waiting for… well, for what? Are next week’s meetings sorted or am I stuck there sticking loose threads together by hand? Recognise that rising sense of pressure? Sometimes it stems from our own high expectations, other times from external forces, but either way, the impact it’s having on your wellbeing is probably a familiar feeling. It affects your sleep, seeing you toss and turn. On the rare chance you agree to meet mates, your heightened state of alert keeps you on edge. Herbals teas are a nice suggestion; so are books about being a better you, or conversations with wellbeing experts. But the best cure is to get outside and ride.

You’re probably well aware of how riding makes you fitter and stronger. But, you might cry, how can even the most mitochondria-rich cardiovascular system stand up against an ailing soul? Right now, the thought of being forced to spend time with oh-so-stoked riders might fill you with unease. Why would you want to go riding then? Easy. Riding is about more than the smug satisfaction of a low resting heart rate; it has the power to unleash an energy within your soul, break it up into smithereens and rebuild it from the ground up. Like LSD, without the need for a trip sitter. In the moment you’re waiting to drop into the trail, you’ll notice a shift – an abating sense of oppression. Just watch it wane, as your sense of strength comes back to the fore.

Step outside of your head and into your body

How often do images of your bank balance flash into your head as you pick a line through a rock garden? Do Excel spreadsheets or schedules blur your vision? Rarely, right! Riding is the most fast-acting antidepressant we’ve ever come across. Line choice and landings are so all-consuming that your mind has no choice but to be in the moment. Two hours later, you’ll swing into your driveway and realise that you haven’t once dwelt on the thoughts that had been pre-occupying you so much.

The importance of a reset like this is on par with the need for open windows in a stuffy classroom full of teenage boys after a PE lesson. And while going for a ride is only a temporary measure against intrusive thoughts, we can safely say that there’s no risk of immunity – it works ride after ride. New perspectives will always be out there; you just need to go and grab them. A brief respite and some gasps of fresh air will be enough to bring you back out on top and pivot you into a more positive headspace. Switch your phone into focus mode and get outdoors. Disruptive thoughts can float on by; you’ve got better things to do. Focus on your lines, let the bike do the rest.

Fear > Fear

Some cry, why take on the added challenge of mountain biking when your work, love, life and other four-letter words are stressful enough? Isn’t there a contradiction in there somewhere? Hell, no. The flood of hormones that are released while shredding are admittedly the very same stress hormones, but in this situation they’re acting differently. That stupid grin on your face after taking a corner too tight or nailing a steep, loose climb? That’s a rewarding rush of adrenaline. There’s a reward from taking on and subsequently coming out of each challenge. Let it be a reminder that yes, you can do it. It’s manageable – you are managing it. Take that thought and allow it to lend you some swagger when you get off the saddle. It’s a little-known phenomenon that we’ve dubbed ‘the bike effect’ and it translates across everything in life. If you’ve bossed that trail, then there’s nothing stopping you from bossing the rest of your life. Like a snowball, riding is a magical toy that lets us alter our perception, discover exactly what you’re capable of and turn stress into stoke.

Mental health is a hugely complex topic, but we’re surprised more people don’t prescribe riding as part of the toolkit. For an immediate sense of relief from negative thoughts, hitting the trails reminds you that you’re capable – and that’s a comforting thought that we’ll be deploying from now on as armour against sinking thoughts and stress.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of ENDURO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality mountain bike journalism. Click here to learn more.

Words: Moritz Geisreiter Photos: Julian Lemme