“Have wheels – will travel”. Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK with an estimated 3.1 million people riding a bicycle each month. In the 1980’s the Mountain Bike with its sturdy frame and wide tyres for added stability and durability was introduced, and cycling surged in popularity. That was when, as an adult I became the proud owner of a bike, and I still love cycling today! Over the years I have “acquired” other friends cast off bikes, and now my garage houses enough bikes to fit my large or smaller grandchildren and visitors. We have great fun cycling and exploring the riverside area where I live.
The success of team UK cyclists in the 2012 Olympic Games had a good effect on cycling and highlighted the completive nature of the sport. The organisers of UK Cycling Events have reported a huge uptake in mass participation events and charity rides since the Olympics. However the majority of those who re-enter the world of cycling are more likely to do gentler family and social rides than long distance sporting events. A major retailer reports that vintage style ladies’ bikes designed by Victoria Pendleton, not sporty bikes, are among its best sellers indicating that people are getting on bikes for non-competitive reasons.
As a form of exercise, cycling has broad appeal and most of us from toddlers to pensioners, the able-bodied or people with disabilities can all enjoy cycling. Cycling is an opportunity to discover places unseen from a car such as woodland paths, unmade tracks, riverside tow paths, and just sometimes – a mountain! The health benefits are enormous, and all from just pushing pedals around!
Cycling is suitable for people of all ages and abilities, including those with back problems or weight problems, since the body weight is supported during exercise. It builds stronger leg muscles, (quadriceps and calf), back, arm, neck muscles, it also strengthens our hearts, expands our lungs and improves our circulation. Unless you are being competitive, cycling is a low-impact type of exercise, so it’s easier on your joints than running or other high-impact aerobic activities.
But it still helps you get into shape! For example, an hour’s ride will burn up 400 – 650 calories, will tone your legs and bottom and keep you looking and feeling good. If you ride up hills or off-road, you’ll also work your upper body, and cycling hard and fast is superb aerobic exercise resulting in a fitter heart and more efficient lungs. The best way to build your cardiovascular fitness on your bike is to ride for at least 150 minutes every week. To achieve this you could cycle to work a few days during the week or do a couple of shorter rides, with a longer ride at the weekend. You’ll soon feel the benefits.
Nowadays thousands, young and old don “go faster stripes” to race off on their bikes at high speed in search of fitness and fun. However we need to keep safe and wearing a cycling helmet is essential, to prevent head injuries if we fall off. Don’t be tempted to buy a second-hand helmet, it may be damaged and not protect you properly. You should replace your helmet every five years. When buying check that the helmet is:
- Marked with the British Standard (BS EN 1078:1997)
- Fits snugly, positioned squarely on your head
- Sits just above your eyebrows (not tilted back or tipped forwards)
- Fastens securely by straps (not twisted) with just enough room for two fingers between chin and strap.
If you intend to cycle at night it’s compulsory to have a white front light, a red rear light and a red rear reflector. For your further safety you should have amber/yellow pedal reflectors front and back on each pedal.
With these safety precautions in place it’s time to go! If possible miss out cycling on busy roads with dirty vehicles belching out fumes, or if you have to take that particular route, wear a mask. Whatever your speed a spin outdoors has the added advantage of fresh air, so no matter what the weather is like, get up and go out! If it’s wet and windy, dress in suitable clothing, don your helmet and be off, the fresh air will clear your head and immediately life begins to look brighter.
Cycling can lift our spirits and will help us put our problems into perspective. The freedom we feel with the wind blowing on our cheeks, gives us time to identify solutions and put our lives back on track. Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it’s also a form of transport. It saves you money and is good for the environment. So don’t delay “on yer bike” and get those wheels turning!