It’s the feeling that pulls you out of bed to saddle up before anyone else is awake. It’s what beckons you to strap on your shoes and go for a ride when the day is done. It’s that happy, relaxed state of mind we seek when we roll out of our neighborhoods and tick off miles any chance we get.
Runners call it the “runner’s high.” Cyclists feel it, too. And now, researchers are one step closer to understanding why. Like so many of our biological urges, the urge to ride is likely a function of our survival instincts—a primitive signal inside your brain to seek sustenance.
It comes down to two key brain chemicals: leptin, a metabolic hormone, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Leptin, which is derived from fat cells, tells our brain when the body has enough energy. When leptin levels are low—as research has shown happens frequently in people who does lots of endurance exercise like cycling—you get the urge to perform physical activity. When we get off the bike and have our post-ride snack, the brain shoots out the pleasure chemical dopamine to reward us. It turns into a self-perpetuating cycle of happiness that keeps us coming back for more.
Whatever the motivation, we like the satisfaction cycling brings—especially the reward from post-ride beers or brunch.