“Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein
Bicycles were introduced in the 19th century and now number about one billion worldwide. For most of the world, the bicycle is still the most used mode of transportation. In the U.S. there are 100 million bicycles, but most of us don’t use them on a regular basis. Sixty years of car-centered transportation planning have left us with an infrastructure that makes bicycling seem difficult. Only 10% of all trips in the U.S. are on bicycle or on foot.
That’s too bad because, as recently as 2007, less than half of all Americans met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for physical activity from work, transportation or leisure time exercise, and 13.5 percent did not get any physical activity at all.
Getting Americans to increase physical activity during leisure hours hasn’t succeeded. Most people consider physical activity “exercise” that must be worked into their daily routine. So, it’s easy to put obstacles such as time, money or motivation in the way. Reintroducing activity into daily routines is an easy way to overcome such obstacles.
Bicycling is one way to do that. You can leave your car at home, get to a destination and be active at the same time.
Cycling is easy to incorporate into your life. If you’ve ridden a bike before it’s just a matter of getting your balance back, and if not, there is not a steep learning curve. Bicycling doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment (beyond a bike and a helmet). You don’t need a super fancy (or expensive) bicycle unless you are planning on going off road or tackling hilly terrain. In many parts of the U.S. you can cycle year-round, and build it into your daily routine by cycling to work and to do errands. Most people can continue cycling into their 70’s and 80’s.
But, whether you bicycle for transportation, physical activity or pleasure, bicycling is a low-impact, aerobic workout that provides many health benefits and can be enjoyed throughout your entire life. The Well Adult lists bicycling among the most beneficial and effective aerobic exercises because it achieves conditioning and causes few injuries to muscles and joints.
Improves Immune System. The immune system helps the body fight sickness and disease. Several studies have shown that cycling helps strengthen the immune system.
Builds Strong Muscles. Cycling helps strengthen the muscles, especially the legs. According to Swim, Bike, Run, bicycling regularly strengthens three muscle groups: the quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings.
A Healthier Heart. Cycling strengthens the heart, which improves blood circulation and reduces blood fat levels and resting pulse. Riding as little as 30 minutes every other day meets the American Heart Association’s recommendations for a healthy heart. Cycling is one the best low impact aerobic exercises.
Helps Increase Metabolism. Harvard Heart Letter reports that bicycling is an excellent exercise for losing weight. Cycling burns calories and raises the metabolic rate, so you burn more calories while at rest Bicycling more than 20 mph is tied for first place with running a six-minute mile for the best of the 100 exercises listed in the letter’s “Calories Burned In 30 Minutes” chart.
Mental Stress. Cycling not only offers physical benefits it also helps with mental health. Cycling’s rhythmic motion keeps an individual relaxed and helps eliminate anxiety, fear and depression by maintaining hormonal balance.
Improved Stamina. Regular movement strengthens specific body parts and increases stamina. Cycling also improves the overall body balance and endurance.
More Fluid Joints. Cycling reduces the risk of arthritis caused by worn out cartilage. Cycling is gentler on joints and can actually strengthen them because the cycling motion provides nourishment that builds up cartilage. In this regard, cycling is especially helpful for those with arthritis of the lower limbs who are unable to pursue sports that cause impact to the knees and other joints.
Can Reduce Back Pain. Bicycling provides nourishment that discs in the spine need for development. The large muscles in the back develop and become stronger. Bicycling also help strengthens the small muscles that support individual vertebrae.
Using a stationary cycle is advocated as a suitable exercise for rehabilitation, particularly for lower limb injury, because of its low impact on the joints. In particular, cycling is commonly used within knee rehabilitation programs.
Provides a Dose of Vitamin D. Outdoor cycling is a great way to get vitamin D from the sun. 15 minutes of sunshine a day can help prevent prostate cancer, breast cancer and osteoporosis. Don’t forget to put your sunscreen on, though, because too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer.
Other Benefits of Bicycling
- A four mile bicycle trip keeps about 15 pounds of automobile pollutants out of the air we breathe.
- Reduces the wear and tear on roadways and demand for new roads and parking lots.
- Reduces water pollution – bikes don’t require or drip brake fluid, anti-freeze, transmission fluid, toxic dust, etc.
- Reduces noise pollution — bikes are quiet, creating a quieter community.
- Saves Fossil Fuels
- Bicycles increase mobility for those who don’t qualify to drive a car; have access to motor transport due to location or economics; and those who don’t want to drive motor vehicles.
- In congested areas bicycling can be faster than walking, mass transit or motor vehicles.
- Saves money by eliminating some of the expense associated with cars including: gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, etc.
- Allows riders to appreciate the environment around them.
- Bicycling is a great activity for family and friends.
- Bicycling is a great way to meet your neighbors and build community.
- Reduces road kill and saves animals.
- Biking Is Fun.
How to choose a Bike
If you don’t already have a bicycle, you’ll need to buy or rent one. Many large communities have bike rentals or check out your local sporting goods stores – try before you buy. But, three other factors may help you decide what type of bike you want to purchase:
- Where you’re most likely to ride
- Your height
- How much money you want to spend
Road Bikes. are designed for riding on paved streets and going fast. They feature skinny tires, a lightweight frame and bent over handlebars.
Mountain Bikes. have wide tires with knobby treads, a stout frame and are designed to handle rugged trails.
Hybrid Bikes. Is a compromise between road and mountain bikes. They offer the best features of both if most of your riding will be shorter trips on pavement. Hybrids are a good choice for most city riding offering speed, durability and comfort.
Cruisers. or Coasters are bikes that have wide tires, wide seats, upright handlebars and often a single gear. Mechanically simple, they are easy to maintain, but work best with flat terrain.
Whatever bicycle you end up choosing make sure it’s the right SIZE for you. A bike too small is uncomfortable and you won’t want to ride frequently. A bike that is too large is a safety hazard because it creates problems mounting, dismounting and stopping at traffic lights.
In the 15% of accidents that were car/bike crashes, over 90% happened from crossing and turning traffic at driveways, intersections and in bike lanes. With good road awareness those could/should have been avoided.
Under the law, bicyclists are supposed to follow the rules for slow-moving vehicles, the same as farm vehicles, construction machines, antique cars and horse-buggies. Slow vehicles travel to the right IF there is safe space. Faster vehicles wait until they can pass safely. Other than that, everyone follows the same rules.
In most states, the ride-to-the-right rule for bicyclists actually says:
“Ride to the right EXCEPT when passing, turning left, or to avoid objects, parked cars, moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface or other hazards; or when in a vehicle lane too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to pass safely, side by side, within the lane.”
More traffic signs (Thanks to Chris and Morgan @SafeKidsUSA)
Your neighborhood is a great place to start. You are familiar with the terrain and the hazards (maybe even the pot holes!). Riding the first time in an area in which you are comfortable will make the ride more pleasurable.
But, other possibilities abound. Many communities have paved bike paths in scenic locations, near river fronts or in parks. County, state and national parks are also great places to ride – just make sure you’ve selected the right bike for the terrain you want to ride.
An Internet search for bike trails or paths, by region, should provide you a huge list of resources from which to choose. Here are other resources:
Trails.com – walking, hiking, biking trails
Pedaling.com – mountain bike trails
Rails to Trails – nationwide trails multi-use converted old railways