Ex-professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton (in the news again recently, which you will know unless you were asleep for 60 minutes) claimed in 2009 that his second positive test for doping (DHEA) was the result of his taking a herbal remedy to counter longstanding depression (Bonnie Ford of ESPN as usual does an excellent job of summarising here). Hamilton is not the only professional cyclist to have suffered from depression during or after their career, and I have often wondered about the relationship between training workload as a cyclist and mental health. I recently read two blog posts about depression by active cyclists (Scientist, you’re a failure & Drugs and Mental Healthcare) and this got me thinking about how exercise and mental health interact. In this post I write about my own experiences, share some academic research on the topic, and speculate a bit about depression and cycling in general. I am not a mental health professional (although I am an academic working in the area of empirical psychology) so please take my words with this in mind.
My introduction to fixed gear riding came in the late 80s in a London where cycling had become my passion. I lived in a flat in Whitechapel, with two fellow cycle commuters; my then girlfriend had a father who ran a bike shop in Yorkshire. I was fairly naive about many aspects of cycling, but the simplicity and elegance of fixed gear bikes appealed to me. My Condor was ripe for conversion, and on a grey Saturday the drive parts and handbuilt wheels (araya semi-aero rims on maillard and pelissier, double fixed) arrived from the North along with my girlfriend (and a substantial invoice); girlfriend then departed to her flat, to unpack her stuff.