Is Cycling the Perfect Exercise?

Cycling the Perfect Exercise

As an exercise, cycling has a lot going for it. It's enjoyable, it provides a fresh-air aerobic workout and exercises both the upper and the lower body.

Cycling gets your heart rate up almost as much as running and burns a lot of calories, even more so if you're sprinting or hill climbing. Compared to most other sports, it's also gentle on your body. It doesn't put a lot of stress on your joints, which helps if you’re getting into shape or have joint problems.

Cycling combines physical exercise with being outdoors and exploring new views. You can ride solo, giving you time to process worries or concerns or you can ride with a group which broadens your social circle.

10 Rules for Safe Riding

More...

Riding on the Road

No one wants to crash while riding their bike, hit a pedestrian or dog or, worst of all, get hit by a car. You can minimize any risk by taking some sensible precautions.

1. Don't ride at night and don't ride into the setting sun in the evening or the rising sun in the morning. All those situations impair not only your vision but the vision of any motorists coming up behind you.

2. Always wear a close fitting cycling helmet (stack hat). While not perfect, it will give you a degree of protection if you come off your bike and hit your head on a hard surface.

3. Always wear cycling gloves. If you come off your bike, your instinct is to protect your head and body by splaying out your hands in front of you. Cycling gloves will protect the skin on the palms and heels of your hands. They look pretty cool, too.

4. Make sure you have a warning bell in good working order on your handlebars. This is essential if you are riding on a shared bike path, to let pedestrians ahead of you know that you are coming up behind them. It's common courtesy as well as a safety measure.

5. Install a good quality headlight and taillight on your bike and keep them fully charged. Always turn your taillight on when you go out for a ride, including in full daylight. Use its flashing mode. This will ensure that you are noticed by motorists behind you and will protect you from the dreaded SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See Ya) syndrome.

6. When at all possible, ride on roads that have a clearly marked bike lane. Do not ride two or more abreast in the bike lane. If there are roads in your area that could have a bike lane but don't, agitate with your local government body to get it done. They are very sensitive to a letter or email on file warning them of a potential fatality because they know that if it happens, the newspapers will be all over it.

7. Never get into an argument with a motorist. Bike vs Car is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. You're not going to change their attitude, so shrug your shoulders and move on.

8. Before heading out, check that your wheels are on tight, your saddle is correctly height adjusted and your chain is lubed.

9. Always acknowledge courtesy. If a motorist gives way to you on a roundabout, give them a friendly wave of acknowledgement as you go through. That will encourage them to be courteous to other riders in the future. It's a way of paying it forward.

10. One of the best protective habits you can develop when road riding is clear and timely hand signals. Most drivers are perfectly happy to let you change lanes or turn in front of them if you have clearly signaled your intentions. You still need to sight check, of course!

Cycling is Aerobic

Aerobic Cycling Uphill

Cycling is one of the best aerobic exercises available, especially for older citizens.

The problem with running, or any sport requiring extensive running or sudden direction changes like squash, is its impact on the joints.

Every time your foot hits the pavement or the floor of the squash court, an impact is sent up the leg, attacking the integrity of the two components that make your knee and hip joints work smoothly. These are cartilage and synovial fluid and their breakdown is what causes the need for knee and hip joint replacements in later life.

By contrast, both of these joints rotate smoothly when you are riding your bike, no matter how much pressure you are putting on the pedal.

And the degree of aerobic exercise you get is totally up to you.

You can do a nice long ride on a road with no hills, perhaps just gentle undulations, breathing easily the whole time. Even so, your body will take in a lot more oxygen than if you were sitting at home watching television.

To increase your aerobic intensity, you can do either (or both) of two things. Sprint or Hill Climb.

Sprint or Hill Climb

Cyclists Sprint Racing

Both sprinting and hill climbing will get your heart racing and your aerobic oxygen intake up.

As anyone who's climbed a steep hill while cleated on to the pedals will attest, the difference is in the voluntary or involuntary dismount.

Sprinting is entirely voluntary. Assuming you're training, rather than in an actual race, you have a start and an end point, you ride as fast as you can between the two and stop after a set number of sprints or until you're too exhausted to go on. It's fabulous aerobic training and will spill over to improve your everyday ability.

With hill climbing, you have far less control. The start point is the bottom of the hill and the end point is the top. Your only control is the gear you select and the pedal pressure you apply.

The fact is that if you are already in your lowest gear and you stall (i.e., you cannot apply enough pressure to rotate the chain) you will fall. Because you are already applying maximum pressure, you will not be able to uncleat from the pedals when the bike stops and so it will fall over, taking you with it.

Usually, the only hurt you will suffer will be a grazed lower leg and some embarrassment.

The solution is simple.

Choose your hills wisely.

A Muscle Strength Workout

Lifting Bike for Strength

While presumably you could use a bike as a dead lift weight, there are more subtle ways in which cycling increases your strength.

Legs (obviously). There is no better exercise than cycling to increase the strength of your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps without stressing ankle, knee or hip joints.

Glutes. Do you want that firm, shapely butt universally admired by both sexes? Cycling will give it to you.

Core. Professional cyclists spend a lot of their gym exercise time developing their core This is because core strength is an important component of cycling. The reverse is also true. Cycling requires core strength and so the act of riding your bike will itself improve your core strength.

Shoulders. Less obvious, but the act of steering your bike puts a constant load on your shoulders and will contribute to their development. This is less pronounced for road and recreational riders, but mountain bikers can get a real shoulder workout!

About the Author Phil Lancaster

At 76, Phil is an enthusiastic Aussie cyclist who does 100 km bike rides for fun and out-sprints and out-climbs cyclists half his age. He is an enthusiastic believer in cycling for both health and enjoyment and encourages families to take it up with their children from a young age. This website aims to bring you all things bike-related.