Everyday Cadence: The Fact of the Grey Matter

Welcome to Everyday Cadence - our first person account of daily rhythms on two wheels. 

Join Dara on her tube travels through time and space in and around NYC. A writer with a penchant for social justice, Dara is committed to making the world a better place  - whether it’s by adding more bike lanes, advocating for human and animal rights, building community through arts and culture, or just giving back.

Read what's on her mind and join the conversation with your own cadence recollection. 

On most days (save ice storms, rainstorms, sub-28-degree weather, or the “business” meeting that requires me to pretend that I’m an “adult”), I wake up, get dressed, toss a bag on my back, and a helmet on my head.

Then, I mount a thin piece of steel on wheels lined with rubber, and head out into the streets of New York City.

Instinctively, I’m dodging parents walking their kids, cars pulling out of parking spots, trucks unloading their morning bread and milk, buses meandering to their next stop,  passengers hailing cabs, cabs picking up passengers, doors swinging open, potholes, gravel, discarded everything, food carts, and, of course, other bikes competing for a small designated space.

There’s a lot going on.

Perhaps, I’m nuts. Perhaps, I’m flirting with danger. But I feel very, very alive.

As someone who grew up in NYC dodging cars and crowds on the streets (and perverts on the subways), it is second nature to bob and weave my way throughout the City.

And on my bike, I’m tackling the streets in a way that no pedestrian, car or bus-rider could. I’m feeling the rhythm of the traffic and flow in a way that is both necessary and impossible to miss. When I ride, I plot my route, I anticipate danger (best possible), and I am ready to respond.

Thanks to biking, over the years, I’ve gotten better at doing so -- and science even proves it.

Cycling helps build new brain cells in the hippocampus – the “grey matter” in your head that involves muscle control, sensory perception like seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Sadly, this region deteriorates from the age of 30.

Luckily, regular physical activity can help keep thinking, learning and judgment sharp. Aerobic exercise helps maintain adequate blood flow, which supplies the brain with a steady stream of oxygen and nutrients (things we need).

And, in fact, researchers from the University of Illinois found that a five percent improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests.

In other words: cycling is more than physically healthy for you. It makes your brain work better.

The thing is, we don’t always need science to tell us what we feel.

Sure, I’ve had some foibles, but riding has improved my instincts and my reflexes. This translates into how I am in life: I’m trying to figure it all out, while staying the course. I’m increasingly aware of my surroundings, the people, and the nature (if limited) around me. I see how things work, and don’t work together. I’m trying to survive. Ideally, I’m smiling.

When I’m on the road bumping elbows (or pedals) with cars, trucks, pedestrians, crossing guards, and pigeons--all sharing some torn up asphalt for a short bit of time--I am most definitely woke.

So, while I may be just a teensy bit nuts to get on a bike everyday in a city known for its, shall we say, aggression, the fact of the grey matter is that both my body and my brain are in great shape.