Cycling made easy – tips for the new cyclist.
Cycling may seem like a really involved activity with all the gear you need and the skin tight outfits; but the truth is that cycling is an easy activity to embrace and it has far reaching benefits.
What I can tell you is that because my goal is to get you on a bicycle, not sell you bicycles or cycling gear – I’ll tell you the truth about what you need and what is hype (and with hype usually come a big price tag).
The most important thing you can do for your own health and well being is to decide to embrace some form of daily (or every other day if you cannot find the time) aerobic activity such as cycling, swimming, hiking, jogging, aerobics, etc… The goal is to get your heart revved up for a minimum of 10 minutes and ideally for 20 (if daily) or 40 if every other day.
This is an investment in your own future that you simply cannot put a value on. The simple fact is that without some form of daily exercise you are accepting a future with a much higher risk of several deadly diseases.
But enough of the doom and gloom stuff – let’s talk about what you really need to know about cycling!
- What Type of Bicycle Should You Get? – There are numerous types and styles of bicycles and picking the right one depends on what type of riding you want to do and what types of riding can be done where you live (or where you plan on riding).
- There Are No Rules! – You can ride a beach cruiser bike on the road and a road bike in the dirt (cyclocross bikes are road bikes with off road tires that allow you to go fast on dirt paths) – mountain bikes can be ridden in the city. And fitness/urban bikes are designed to ride anywhere. Find a bicycle style that you are comfortable on. Most likely it can easily be adapted to fit your riding environment.
- Do I Need All That Lycra/Spandex Clothing? – No. Actually you can ride in any comfortable clothes. I strongly recommend that you look into a pair of cycling padded shorts. These come in many forms – for instance I have cycling shorts that look like regular cargo shorts. They’re cut slightly different than standard shorts to allow for better movement. You wear a pair of cycling underwear (with the pad built into them) under this type of shorts. As for shirts – a cycling shirt offers a few benefits such as aerodynamics (which truly is silly if you’re not competing and need all the speed advantages you can get). Other benefits include easy access rear pockets and most have some form of light reflection tech built into them so they are easy to see for drivers. But you can ride in jeans and a t-shirt if you want. I see it done every day on the bike paths I ride.
- Do I Need Those Fancy Shoe – Pedal Clip Thingys? – No. Clipless Pedal Systems were designed for professional cyclists. They do offer some performance benefits and for me personally I find they make intense cycling more safe because your feet won’t slip off the pedals when you are really pedaling hard. But the other side of this argument is that if you are not used to them you can easily fall over when you come to a stop because you “stall” and can’t get your feet free quick enough. Again – you can opt for them but they are not at all necessary.
- Why Do I Need A Bicycle – What’s Wrong With A Indoor Cycle? Nothing is wrong with indoor stationary cycles. Actually most professional cyclists have one or have indoor trainers that they can ride their outdoor bikes on for bad weather days. If you live in a place that has cold winters with icy roads an indoor trainer is a must. What I will say is that while indoor trainers are great for convenience and safety, they are not as efficient a workout as outdoor cycling. When you ride outdoors you have to use your entire body to balance and control the bike. You work muscle groups that you will not engage on a stationary cycle.
- I Feel Bad When I Ride Because Other Cyclists Pass Me – Cycling as a sport is a very competitive venture. But cycling for health and fitness should not be. Don’t put pressure on yourself and certainly NEVER let someone else take your enjoyment or sense of accomplishment away. We are all different with different abilities and conditioning and strengths. The ONLY person who matters when you are riding for your health is YOU. Who cares what anyone else thinks or how fast they are or how long the ride? Your fitness goals and accomplishments should only be about you and your health needs. If I see you on any of the bike paths I ride I’m going to greet you with a smile and a friendly wave. Cycling is a unifying force and as I see it; we are all kindred spirits. Truthfully I find that I am inspired and I have enormous respect for many of the cyclists I come across on my daily rides. They are sometimes elderly – or they are obese – and they are struggling. I want to give them encouragement and support because they are doing something that is healthy and they should be proud. It takes courage to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. There is only one attitude a true lover of cycling adopts; we support our fellow cyclists and we offer encouragement and embrace everyone.
- When Will I See Some Results? – It depends on what sort of results you are expecting and how much work you are putting in. The simple truth about weight loss and fitness is it a matter of elementary math. If you burn more calories than you consume you will start burning into your fat stores and over time you will lose weight. I promise you that if weight loss is your goal then cycling is the RIGHT activity for you. Ride a bicycle for 20-30 minutes every day and watch what happens to your waist size in 90 days. Of course no fitness routine is complete without making sure you have healthy diet habits. Everything in moderation is a good rule if you don’t want to count calories or be limited to specific foods.
- Do I Need To Diet If I Start Cycling? – That’s up to you. Studies have shown that diet AND exercise are key in reducing your risk for CAD. I can say that even before I had my heart attack I had greatly modified my diet to better meet my cycling needs. My general rules for food consumption are: Limited Dairy – Nothing Fried – No Red Meat (Beef, Pork, Dark Meat – I mostly eat fish and limited poultry) – No Soft Drinks Ever (Full of sugar and caffeine) – No Alcohol (that is a personal choice but it’s really not healthy and offers zero nutritional benefit) – No added salt (No MSG) – and nothing solid after 7pm (no late night runs to the kitchen for a snack). Other than that I eat what I want when I want. Everything in moderation; following these rules and cycling daily I have maintained my ideal weight, BMI, and body fat for over 15 years.
- I Have A Bad Back and Cycling Hurts! – I hear you! I too suffer from chronic back pain due to a collapsed disc. I find that cycling actually helps me stay loose and keeps my back from hurting. Depending on where in your back your pain is a standard bicycle may not be ideal for you. That’s where this cool bicycle design called a recumbent bicycle may be just the thing for you! This bicycle design allows you to lay in a relaxed position with your legs in front of you instead of below you. I see more and more of these bikes on the paths each year. They are growing in popularity in the area where I live. And I have to admit they look like a lot of fun to ride! Look at the photo below – doesn’t that look like a great time on 3 wheels (they come in two wheel configurations as well).