SATURDAY DEC 14 / 2019 / by Andrew Talati

The-Spiders - 8 Legs - riding together in New ZealandThe Spiders - 8 Legs riding in New Zealand - photo courtesy of 8 Legs

Too many, too soon

NRR - North Road Ride - very heavy fogNRR - North Road Ride one winters morning

We've been saddened by the deaths of so many great people to suicide recently, with many more experiencing these dark moments alone. Cycling is a unique sport in that it allows us to spend hours riding shoulder to shoulder with another person in a bunch – whether it's a mate, a work colleague, a new friend or a regular rider.

Too often those important conversations do not take place and more than 8 Australians take their lives every day, 6 of whom are men.

Having that support network

The Spiders - 8 LegsThe Spiders - 8 Legs - Photo courtesy of 8 Legs

A recent study by Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research found in the annual Well Being score that there's a decrease in Support networks, questions asked to respondents focused on relationships and social connections relating to those we rely on, whether to make us feel happy and loved, to support and take care of us, or simply to accept us for who we are. 

As a society we need to find those avenues to build those deeper connections with each other that can provide the environment for more personal conversations. 

Looking straight ahead

Peak Cycles - Kinglake RidePeak Cycles - Kinglake Ride - photo courtesy of Ben McIntyre

When we ride, we may occasionally look over our shoulder to the person at our side, but generally our eyes are firmly planted on the road ahead and looking for nuances in the bunch like changing speeds and potential hazards.

MAAP Ride - MelbourneMAAP Ride - Melbourne

Unlike a conversation off the bike, talking while riding allows you to not look a person in the eyes when you speak, instead you can be focused on the surroundings. This element may make it easier, less intimidating or overwhelming for someone to speak openly and frankly about what they're going through rather than having a direct conversation that is face-to-face.

Deeper conversations

Lee Turner - Lewis Bull - Shoulder to ShoulderLee Turner, aka Hollywood

Whether riding together regularly or infrequently, it offers a unique forum where you can speak openly and without judgement. The conversations can start with the usual small talk of asking how are the kids/ family/work and what have you been up to before moving to the more personal conversations.

Tom, lets catch up for a coffee

Tour de burbs - post ride coffee at AU79 cafePost Tour de Burbs ride - AU79 cafe

It's becoming more common, but through personal experience and anecdotal evidence men often find it too confronting and uncomfortable to organise a catchup over a coffee. 

An activity-based conversation takes away the confrontation and awkwardness as there is a focus on something outside of the conversation, like making sure you stay upright and avoid accidents.

Building deeper connections

OTR - On the Rivet - photo courtesy Shannon LaffeyOTR - On the Rivet - photo courtesy Shannon Laffey @shannon.laffey 

Sharing experiences helps build deeper bonds and connections which help facilitate conversations that need to be had, but are often left behind.

Just being present

The Spiders - 8 LegsThe Spiders - 8 Legs - Photo courtesy of 8 Legs

As the old proverb goes to climb a mountain starts with taking the first step. A small step to start with can just be to show up and be present. Being part of a group helps to foster an environment where you feel a sense of belonging and that you are not alone. Having a group to meet with regularly and spend time together can be the step up you need to overcome the isolation and struggles that you're experiencing

No judgement

Peak Cycles Ride Peak Cycles - Kinglake Ride - photo courtesy of Ben McIntyre

This year I was riding back home with another rider who I didn't know that well. I'm not exactly sure how we got there, but quite unexpectedly he confided in me the struggles he was experiencing and how this was impacting him.

I asked a few questions and just listened to what he was going through. It was the first time he had been open about what was happening behind closed doors. Outwardly he seemed fine, was attacking on the ride and having fun but beneath the surface he was harbouring these mental struggles.

He felt embarrassed to chat about it as to opening up about his feelings made him feel vulnerable.

The rider's seat

LLCC Local Loops Cycling Club -  The Riders SeatLLCC - Local Loops Cycling Club ride

The rider's seat is a sacred place where sharing your personal experiences of issues can transcend the usual chat and create deeper bonds with other riders. It's a great place to have these conversations while enjoying the scenery around you.

Conversations like these are always difficult to begin with, whether it's reaching out to those going through a tough time or those in need, or asking for help yourself. We all get overwhelmed by work, by friends and family and all of the other stuff life brings, but treat your regular bunch rides like a scheduled appointment – don't cancel it when you feel a bit down. Because keeping yourself motivated and going on rides goes some way to help your mental and physical health.

Resources for starting Shoulder to Shoulder conversations 

MAAP Ride - MelbourneMAAP Ride Melbourne

Beyond Blue

Has some great  tools to help people open up to someone about their mental health, and for others to know what to do if someone opens up to them.

These are some practical tips from the perspective of someone wanting to talk about their mental health, to those who want to know how to support someone.

Tips for having the conversation about how you’re feeling

Talking to someone you are worried about

What to say and why

Have the conversation


Movember Foundation

How to have a conversation

Dr Zac Seidler, Director of Professional Health Training at Movember commented:

“If you’re on a bike, shoulder to shoulder with another guy, 50% of the hard work is already done. You’re in a setting they find comfortable, with a person they can trust, with no clear time limits or fear of having passers-by overhear you. However, there’s no doubt it can be an uphill battle to get your mate to now pour his heart out to you. The key is not to rush, just like a race, pace yourself. Starting broad and slowly targeting your questions towards how they’ve been going will give them a sense of control over the conversation.

Aim for open-ended questions that are specific like “you mentioned you haven’t been sleeping too well, why do you reckon that is?”. This doesn’t allow for a one-word answer and shows them you’ve been listening. What’s really important is that you remember, these aren’t your problems to fix and feeling like they are your problems to solve will only put more pressure on your mate, pressure he doesn’t need.”

Movember recommends using the ALEC approach when opening up a conversation with a friend, read more about this and other tips for having better conversations here:


Mental health focused cycling groups & rides

Tour de Parma 
Life Me Love you
Knights of Suburbia

Lastly thanks to Ryan Neil - Founder and CEO of ICE - International Cycling Executives for the inspiration