It is a shame the effect seems limited to rides of 2 hours or less. Given all the miles I’ve ridden over a lifetime, I am sure I would otherwise have solved the problem of a unified field theory many times over, putting many a theoretical physicist out of a job in the process.. but I haven’t so I have to content myself with my bicycle merely as a brilliant tool for solving more mundane problems. I do an awful lot of problem solving on my bike.. I always have. Sadly when I was employed as an aero engineer the phrase “I’m off out on my bike to think about this” didn’t really cut much ice with the management, and neither did time on the bike count as chargeable hours no matter how brilliant the resulting insights. It’s a different matter these days however.. if I get stuck with a technical challenge it is the perfect excuse to nip out on my bike for an hour or two in order to free up the gears of inspiration.
I suspect the root of the benefit lies in the rhythmic nature of cycling, almost a form of meditation. I don’t get the same benefit from kayaking or hiking for example, those activities don’t allow me to partition off a section of my mind to explore ideas. The most productive time is the first hour of a ride before any fatigue sets in. The second hour can still be productive but less so. After that my mind fixates on a single idea and goes round and round in circles generating no new thoughts much like a stuck record. Most likely this is attributable to the onset of fatigue and a drop in blood sugar levels. The brain after all can use up to 30% of the total energy requirement of the body, with peak demand being during those times when it is thinking hard. This, I suspect, explains why when I was studying for my Masters, I could eat vast quantities of chocolate every day and not put on any weight. How about that, thinking as a weight loss exercise. I’m going to make a DVD.
Anyway, that’s about it except to say that Einstein, who is generally considered to have been a fairly bright chap, of course did ride a bicycle and was, I suspect ,all the more clever for it…