The Five Senses of Cycling

Time after time here on 20,000 miles, I have talked about things that I have seen while on two wheels.  Pure and simple, when on a bike, I can stop anywhere and see things that cars would never even notice, let alone stop and snap a picture of.



I have seen things that I will never forget.  The problem?  Talking about what I see ignores all the other senses that come into play when on two wheels. (My thanks to Sarah from Honoring my Compass, for reminding me of this!)

As we all learned way back in grade school, we have 5 senses:

  1. Sight
  2. Smell
  3. Hearing
  4. Touch
  5. Taste

In a car, surrounded by a metal cocoon, listening to the radio, and blaring the climate control, I would argue that you are cheating all of the senses.  So much is missed while barreling down the road in a car.

On a bike, though, each and every one comes into play.


I won’t spend time on this too much.  Anyone who has followed this blog, has seen many pictured of things that I have seen.  I can stop for mountains, flowers or animals that I see along the ride

imageAs much as I would be tempted, very seldom would I be able to pull over and snap a picture like this from a car.  Hell, I’d be lucky, at 35 – 70 mph to even notice this guy, let alone find a place to park and take a photo.  The bike is an incredible way to see what there is around you.


Long ago, I would pop in the ear buds and listen to classic 80s rock while riding the bike.  I still use them when I am climbing stairs in downtown Seattle



A few years back, though,  I stopped doing so on when pedaling.  The last time I used them was to help me complete the final 20 miles of my 200 miles single day Seattle t0 Portland ride.  I just needed a boost.

Nowadays, I love hearing what is around me.  Listening as I ride lets me hear other bikes and cars that are passing me.  Allows me to talk to other riders along the route, and to stay tuned to the sounds the bike makes as we roll along.  Manys the time I have heard a problem with the tire or chain before I could feel it.

Better yet, listening while I ride has allowed me to spot things along the ride.  In my rides I have heard otters fighting along the river, geese coming in for a landing, hummingbirds buzzing over my head and osprey flying to a nest.



Even in a hard ride, when focused on the road, and the climbs, keeping the ears cocked and aware of the surroundings can draw attention to things easily missed.  I’ve been riding past this nest for months, and probably still would if I hadn’t heard momma come in for a landing 2 weeks ago!  The wind in the trees, a river crashing over some rocks, a fish splashing in a stream or a bird singing in a tree, all are parts of a ride I enjoy.


In a car, as mentioned before, many times you are hermetically sealed.  Shoot, unless your shotgun rider had a bad bean burrito from AM/PM, you may not smell a thing aside from the leather seats and the cold coffee in the cup holder.  A bike? Completely different.  You can smell EVERYTHING!

Sometimes is it NOT good.  Getting stuck behind a bus on a drawbridge



or coming up on a smoker walking along a multi use trail is NEVER good!  Shoot I have even passed sorority girls on the UW campus whose perfume damn near made me gag!

However, aside from the bad listed above, most of the time, the smells are something NOT to miss.  I have passed restaurants with food that smells so good I almost cried.  Riding in Mt Rainier, the smell of evergreens


is the cleanest and freshest smell you will ever experience.  Since trees breath in CO2 and exhale pure oxygen, I firmly believe riding through the trees is better than a diet Mtn Dew for an energy boost.  If you are lucky enough to ride near the ocean,

IMG_0082 The smell of salt water will leave you smiling for hours.  It is almost impossible to be unhappy with the ocean smells, and yes the sound of the waves, as you ride along the ocean.


This may not be as intuitive as the rest, but yes, the skin plays a key role in the cycling experience.  In a car, with A/C and heat, the sensations felt are minimal.  On a bike, it can vary with the miles.

I have cruised along in the bright sunshine and ugly heat, and suddenly hit a patch of shade that makes me audibly sigh with relief.  While riding in the mountains, suddenly coming upon snow, a stream or waterfall



can feel like walking into the ice-cream aisle of the grocery store.  Yes, on a long hot climb, I will admit I have stopped and let a stream like this cool be off before finishing the climb.

Then, when heading downhill, it is ALL about the touch and feeling.The wind rushing past you, cooling you off.  The bike humming along the road, bouncing over small bumps, jumping little holes, and vibrating through your body.  All of these are experienced through the sense of touch. When you have ridden long enough, you can remember this feeling more than anything else for some rides.


Now, aside from the occasional bug that might fly into your mouth while pedaling along, taste may NOT be a big deal during a ride.  However, after a long hard ride, when you are lucky to even be standing

stpFood of any type, hell even a Cliff bar or a stale bagel, can taste better than any 5 star restaurant!  If you are lucky enough to have my wife pick you up at the end of a ride, then REAL food is guaranteed, and the meal will be remembered for years to come!

The moral here?  Not only is cycling great exercise, and a way to reduce stress.  It is also a way to get in touch with each and every sense you have.  The more you ride, the more you will become attuned to the world around you, and the more you will enjoy the experiences only two wheels can give.

Give it a shot soon and let me know how what senses you experience as you ride!

10 thoughts on “The Five Senses of Cycling

  1. This is *so* very true. And for those who haven’t been on a bicycle, I don’t they can fathom how wonderful it is to travel with all five senses engaged. Hallelujiah for the bicycle!

      1. Once again, hallelujah brother. My crankiness (coldness + callousness) melts away as soon as I hop on my saddle. 🙂

  2. So agree, I wrote a series of 5 blogs on the same theme (another has been waiting for ages too so this may spur me on), so like so many I revel in the senses (even the bad ones for when they stop). Did writing the blog heighten your awareness or kick in reflection?

    1. A bit of both. A lot of remembrances happened while writing it, and on the ride to and from work yesterday I made s point to pay attention. I’ll see what I get with a longer ride this weekend!

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