Complete StreetsKids and Family Cycling

Riding Into Focus

Ever notice how jumping in the saddle can have a calming effect? I notice that if I take too long of breaks between riding that I feel antsy and irritable. There is something about mounting your trusty steed and heading into the mountains, or out on the road, or even just to grab a bite to eat. Bicycling Magazine recently published an article that took that idea one step further. Riding Is My Ritalin: ADHD and Cycling is a great article that highlights how one young man has used his bike for focus and success. The whole article is really great, and I recommend a full read, however there were a few things that really caught my eye which need some further illumination.

The article starts off with Jeff and Lori Leibovitz finding out that their son Adam (in elementary school at the time), has ADHD. It then delves into some of the opinions and facts that surround ADHD, and the use of prescribed medication, while highlighting Jeff and Lori’s concerns, as well as, Adam’s struggles. Right when things start looking bleak donuts and bicycles come to the rescue. From the article;

Around the same time, Adam began going on bike rides with his father. Jeff is a Category 2 masters racer. He’d attach a trailer cycle to his bike and tempt Adam to come along on Saturday-morning training rides. “I’d lure him with the promise of fresh doughnuts,” Leibovitz remembers. The boy took to riding quickly, almost preternaturally.

And most importantly;

There was no way Jeff Leibovitz could have known it then, but that simple weekend ritual would eventually change the boy’s life.

From this point on the article takes to the bike. It talks about how Adam finds his focus through riding, and eventually stops taking Ritalin (which was making him sick, and apathetic). Not only does he find focus he excels at riding, and becomes a very fast competitive cyclist. The author of the article then turns his attention to pro cyclists who, are commonly known for ADHD tendencies;

These changes have reverberated in competitive cycling, a sport filled with athletes whose behavioral traits trend toward the disorder’s symptoms; at pro races and masters’ events it’s not uncommon to hear jokes about cyclists’ ADHD-like characteristics. When I ask Jonathan Vaughters, director of the Garmin-Slipstream team, whether he’s noticed ADHD-like behavior among any pro riders, he says: “Only the entire peloton.”

An un-named Olympic cyclist is then quoted as asking;

“I wonder how many kids over the past decade got put on Ritalin instead,” he said. “How many potential racers never discovered the sport?” In other words: How many would-be greats never found cycling because they were medicated?

The article then goes on to site studies which have shown that cycling can (in most cases), have the same effect as the prescription drug, but that people opt for the drug as a quick and easy solution.

When I got to the above point in the article I could not help but think I had heard these arguments concerning bikes before, in fact I hear these arguments all the time, they are symbolic of most conversations I have concerning bicycles and bicycle riding.Time and again bicycles have proven to be a simple ‘cheap date’ to improving local economies, community health, even property values, and yet time and again we build roads that are bigger, wider, faster, and not even remotely safe to ride on, let alone enjoyable. Why do we do it? Because it seems more convenient to turn a key once than to turn a crank twice.

You may notice that just like Adam, we as a community also get some undesirable side effects from the quick fix; congestion, gas prices, and road fatalities to name a few. You may also notice that there are a lot of communities missing out on their potential, as was speculated about would be young racers, because they are relying on what seem to be the more convenient solutions.

The article is not advocating that every kid with ADHD will be magically cured by riding bikes, and I am not advocating that we should just throw away our car keys. What I am trying to say is that if we care about where we live it is the “simple…intuitive…and homespun,” things like taking one bike ride, which will transform our neighborhoods, and downtowns into places that will thrive. All it will take is a little bit of focus.



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