A Beginner’s Guide to Cycling, Part 1: The Benefits of Cycling
I am gathering feedback on the blog, and an old friend asked me about buying a new bike. She explained in an e-mail that she had read a bunch of information, and she wanted to get into riding but could use some help. I promised to try to help. This might be my toughest assignment yet!
This is the first in a multi-part piece on getting started. Even though the question was about what to buy, I think there is a little background to cover first and a little follow up on how to get started. So, I’m going to try to tackle this as benefits, bike buying, and first steps.
Everyone who is a cyclist has a bike, but not everyone who has a bike is a cyclist.
I see lots of bikes here and there and everywhere. I see Slow Roll go through my neighborhood. I see people at Delaware and Shoshone cruising through the parks. Sometimes at Shoshone, they’re stealing stuff and riding off. True story. I see people on those red IH Bikes. I see those high in the air clown bikes. I see kids on BMX bikes. I saw a kid today that rode to school, just like me. He had a mountain bike and no helmet. I hope he had a lock. I brought my bike inside.
So, what do these people all have in common? To me, probably nothing other than the bike. Bikes are like cars, sneakers, and opinions. Everybody has one and every one is different. Everyone who is a cyclist has a bike, but not everyone who has a bike is a cyclist. I don’t mean that in a condescending way. Bicycles are amazing forms of transportation. People use them to get to work, to do work, and to do everything in between. I will use the term cyclist to describe someone who uses a bike for athletic or sporting endeavors. I understand that any biking is good for you, but I am going to talk about starting into road cycling.
Get healthy on the bike
Cycling is a great recreational athletic activity that can have many benefits. First off, cycling is a fantastic form of exercise. It provides a great form of aerobic activity with very little pounding. I started cycling after having contracted plantar fasciitis while training and running a marathon. I have suffered zero physical maladies since from the bike except for one or two minor crashes that were easily avoidable.
Cycling is a tough endeavor, or as Greg LeMond once said, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” The payoff for all that hard work is that you burn fat and improve aerobic fitness. I am never as light and fit as when I am riding the bike. If I go out and run, hike, or play hockey, the aerobic fitness carries over. It may take a while to get back in the groove, but I can still go for a long run anytime and feel okay. But when I am cycling, I never suffer that constant pounding and soreness that runners face daily. I find the fatigue a lot more bearable.
If you are looking to burn fat, cycling is the perfect activity. Using a fasted training protocol, long easy rides, and some intense sessions every week can really get you some good results. You can teach your body to burn more fat using the bike, and that will help you look better in that Lycra kit. When I played hockey or ran, I never really could keep the weight off like I can when cycling.
I would be remiss though if I didn’t mention that strength training and cross training is important for cyclists to maintain bone density and muscle mass. At the extreme end of cycling you can see the elite athletes who look like greyhounds and have bones as brittle as a bird’s. So, once you start off remember to mix it up occasionally with a run, hike, lifting session, etc…. Weight bearing activities are important for a healthy athlete especially as we age.
Outside is free
Secondly, in addition to providing a fantastic form of exercise, cycling is an activity that costs a good amount of cash up front but then gives you access to an almost free outside activity. Once you have a bike, helmet, and minimal kit, you can ride anywhere for no cost. Unlike sports like hockey, bowling, or golf where you must pay for access, cycling doesn’t cost much more than basic parts and maintenance.
In an ideal year, I could spend hundreds of hours of recreation on the bike on only the cost of one set of tires, a bottle of lube, a few tubes and patches, and a chain. If I rode 300 hours like last year, I could probably pay $225 replacing my tires once and chain. If I spent 300 hours running, I would probably go through two or three pairs of running shoes at about $120 a pop. If I spent 300 hours at the movies (approximately 150 movies at 120 minutes), it would cost me $1500 a year ($10 a film) and that doesn’t even include popcorn!
Make friends and influence people
Lastly, cycling has a huge community of great people that are waiting to ride with you. There are any number of group rides and races that you can join in on. You can even organize your own rides with friends and family. The possibilities are almost endless. You can ride by yourself or you can get involved and stay super busy.
So, now that you have read a little about the fitness benefits, cost effectiveness, and social fun of cycling, we need to find you a bike. Next time, we will look at buying you a first “real” bike.