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The old saying is true: you never forget how to ride a bike. While you likely haven’t touched your bike for years, it may be time to pull the ol’ trusty steed down from the rafters and start ticking off some miles.
Whether you’re looking for a great cardiovascular workout, or you’re simply trying to get some fresh air, cycling promotes both physical and mental health, and has some surprising benefits you may not be aware of.
The Health Benefits of Cycling
The great thing about riding a bike is that it can be as mellow or intense as you make it. Cycling raises your metabolic rate, which when combined with a proper diet, can lead to significant weight loss. If you’re looking for some serious calorie burn, investing in a heart rate monitor is an effective way to monitor and fine-tune your efforts on the bike.
Like swimming, cycling is easy on the joints. Most of your weight is placed on your pelvis, taking much of the load off your ankles and knees. This is great news for people with joint pain or stiffness, but make sure you have a comfortable seat and well-padded bike shorts when pedaling for long distances.
Once you shake off the rust, you’ll notice large improvements in your overall balance the more time you spend on your bike. This translates to more than just pedaling — you’ll see better balance walking, standing, getting out of the car, etc.
Ernest Hemingway was right, you’ve never truly seen an area until you’ve explored it by bike. Cycling allows you to disconnect for an hour or two, get some fresh air and get a new perspective of your local area. Many cities feature a network of connected bike trails that are paved and protected from traffic – perfect for commuting to and from work or unwinding after a long day.
Despite their sometimes serious demeanor, cyclists are a surprisingly social bunch. These spandex-wearing pedal-pushers ban together for inclusive weekend group rides and after-work spin sessions on a regular basis. Ask your local bike shop for information on a group that matches your expertise and fitness level.
Not only do your lungs, heart and blood vessels get a workout while riding a bike, but your back, glutes, and legs get stronger as well. Cycling on a regular basis promotes muscle growth in these areas, and this added strength benefits stair climbing, standing, and other endurance activities, too.
- For optimal efficiency, raise your seat to the point where your knees are slightly bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke.
- Consider buying a new helmet before reaching for the old one stored in your garage. The foam shell in a helmet has about a five-year shelf life before it needs to be replaced.
- Check your tires and tubes. If the rubber has visible cracks or they don’t hold air for more than 24 hours, it’s time to replace.
- Pump your tires up before each ride. The optimal pressure (PSI) will be printed on the side of the tire, and this pressure can vary from bike to bike.
- Double check that your brakes work before each ride.
Tips and Tricks for Hitting the Road
- Brake before you enter a turn, not during it.
- Squeeze your back brake lever (right hand) slightly harder than your front brake lever (left hand) to prevent your front wheel from sliding out.
- Spinning at a higher cadence (lower gear) is more efficient and easier on your joints than grinding in a higher gear.
- Always follow the rules of the road, and stay in the bike lane if available.
- Never ride without a helmet.
- Carry your ID, insurance card, cash and a cell phone in case you find yourself in trouble.
- Know how to change a flat tire before you head out.
- Wear highly visible and reflective colors when riding in traffic.
Boost Your Power
A strong and functional core will allow you to go harder and longer on the bike. We’re not just talking about your abs here — a well-developed midsection can help keep your shoulders, neck, and back healthy while riding long distances as well.
Targets: Abs, back and shoulders
How To: Start in a push-up position with your body parallel to the ground. Tuck your toes and lower down to rest on your forearms. Keep your back straight and hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Targets: Glutes and lower back
How To: Lay on your back and pull your feet in towards your butt. Slowly lift your hips up so they’re in line with your knees and shoulders. Keep your arms flat alongside your body. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.