Have you always wanted to ride but thought it seemed like too much hard work? Cycling is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise and it’s not difficult to see why. Riding develops excellent cardiovascular fitness as well as muscular strength and endurance. The weight-supported nature of the sport means it is accessible to all ages, has a low injury rate, is a great alternative when cross-training and is beneficial for rehabilitation following injury.
Above all, cycling can be one of the most social activities with the mandatory cafe stop at the end of each ride. What more could you ask for? To help you get started, we discuss what to look for in a bike, what gear to get and how to get started riding regularly so you’ll be spinning your way to better health in no time.
Health benefits of cycling
Anyone who has ever watched the Tour de France knows cyclists are some of the fittest athletes in the world. Competitive road cyclists are recognisable by their lean physiques, muscular bodies and amazing stamina. Yet you don’t have to be a champion or ride a road bike to enjoy all the health benefits of cycling. Three 30-minute rides a week can see you reap the following rewards.
Regular cycling stimulates changes in the cardiovascular system, lungs and muscle cells that improve your overall work capacity. Cycling can lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. It even helped Lance Armstrong overcome cancer! Research has shown that cycling provides greater fitness benefits than walking, as cyclists exercise at an average of 70 per cent of their maximum heart rate versus 60 per cent for walkers — the added exercise intensity leads to greater fitness gains.
Muscular strength and endurance
The repetitive nature of pedalling leads to substantial improvements in muscular endurance, while conquering hills on your bike can lead to gains in leg strength. Upper-body strength in cyclists has been found to be significantly greater than that of distance runners. If you’re not one for the gym, this is a great alternative for toning your body — and the balance required for staying upright helps train your core stability.
Cycling is less stressful on the body as there is minimal impact on the bones and joints compared with the pounding of running. With less impact, there is less tissue damage and therefore muscles recover from a cycling session faster. Being a weight-supported activity, it is ideal for individuals with joint problems, for older individuals and for recovery sessions. Kathy Watt is a great example of a runner who took up cycling to get over an injury and never looked back.
The weight-supported nature of cycling means overweight individuals can get involved without the risk of joint injury. Cycling also burns a high number of calories and, because it’s low impact, you can keep cycling for longer than you can run.
Low injury incidence
Cycling has an injury rate of 0.005 injuries per 100 hours of cycling, compared with an injury rate of 0.11 for basketball and 0.19 for football.
Melbourne’s famous latte set on the iconic Beach Road route will attest to the highly social nature of cycling. Being able to cycle in groups and at a good conversation pace means many a friendship is formed and many a problem solved in the saddle. As with other forms of exercise, the endorphins released while cycling also help reduce the likelihood of suffering from depression.
How much do I need to ride to get fit?
Physical activity guidelines recommend you exercise on most, if not all, days for about 30 minutes. This can be achieved in one session or broken down into smaller sessions. As a general guide, if you can ride three to four times a week for 30 minutes and supplement this with some walking or other activity, that’s a great start. As you get fitter, you can ride further in the same amount of time — or start doing longer rides to combine your exercise with your leisure time and check out one of the many great bicycle routes or rail trails across the country.
Cycling as transport
One of the best things about cycling is it is also a very efficient means of transport for short trips. Victorian research has shown that if you live within a 15km radius of the city, it’s quicker to commute by bicycle into the Melbourne CBD than drive or catch public transport. With an estimated 35 per cent of all car trips in city areas being less than 5km, it’s a sensible choice. You may initially choose to start riding as a sustainable, convenient, alternative means of transport.
So you’re convinced cycling is a great option for you but you don’t have a bike or don’t know where to start. Follow these easy steps and you’ll be enjoying the open road with the wind in your hair in no time.
Buying a bike
There are lots of different types of bikes on the market, so it’s important to choose one that’s right for you. The first question you will need to ask is what exactly do you want to use the bike for? Do you want it for fitness training, to commute to work, to do some recreational riding with your family, or maybe some off-road weekend adventures? Once you’ve determined what you want the bike for, you will be able to scale down your search to one or two types of bikes.
Make sure you shop around and ask for advice on the different types of bikes a cycle shop stocks. Check out cycling magazines or online cycling sites for reviews or ask other cyclists what they recommend. Shopping around will also give you an idea of pricing and the different types of componentry. More expensive bikes generally have better-quality parts that are more durable. They are often lighter and faster, too.
Once you’ve done your research (remember, the internet is a valuable source of information on different manufacturers and costs), set a budget and go back to the store you felt was most helpful and best value for money. It’s a good idea to set aside some extra money ($200–$300) for basic accessories such as a helmet and pump.
If you have an old bike, take it to a reputable bike shop for a service to see if the frame is undamaged and if it is mechanically sound. If it has a solid frame, it’s possible you can add new parts where others are worn or perished, giving you an essentially new bike for half the cost. An old bike is a good way to start and you can always upgrade as you get fitter and keep it for short trips down to the shops (or lend it to a friend to come riding with you).