When we were young, a bike offered freedom to visit friends, get to school and — for adrenaline junkies — to attempt ill-conceived stunts. In adulthood, a bicycle offers a new type of freedom: from gas prices, gym memberships, dull workouts and, if you work at it enough, freedom from a gut.
Cycling can range from low-speed recreational cruises around the neighborhood to grueling 60-mile endurance rides with thousands of feet of climbing. Getting from one to the other (or, more likely, somewhere in between) doesn't mean you'll have to go through pain. By gradually increasing intensity and duration, even the slowest cyclists can build up to tackling hills and long distances.
Get low-impact exercise
Not only is cycling fun and a great form of exercise but it's also low-impact, meaning it won't be as stressful on your joints and muscles, says Curtis Cramblett, an expert-level USA Cycling coach.
Cramblett, also a licensed physical therapist and bike fitter for Olympic athletes and professional teams, says that cycling creates little joint compression on the knees, hips and back, so it's a good activity for someone on the heavier side.
It's tough to make measureable progress without setting some type of goal. Finding a local cycling event can be a great motivational tool, Cramblett says, but advises cyclists to get some early experience before setting an accomplishable goal.
"Find something that fits into your schedule and see how your body is doing with that; start to progress a little bit, and then set the goal, "Cramblett says. “The most important thing is that it's got to feel good — it has to be comfortable."
Find equipment, expertise
Before your first ride — even if you already own a bike —head to your local bike shop. A quick tune-up will make sure your bike is shifting smoothly, fitting properly and safe to ride. If you're new to cycling in the area, the shop staff can tell you about appropriate routes and group rides.
If you're looking to purchase a bike and you plan to ride mainly on paved surfaces, strongly consider buying a road bike. Though their skinny tires, narrow seats and crouched riding position might look awkward, if you're riding longer distances, you'll be faster and more comfortable than on any mountain bike or hybrid. If you're just getting started, a bicycle with a more upright sitting position will be more comfortable.
Spend time with cycling partners
Though cycling can be done solo, Cramblett thinks it's a smart idea to ride with others. Group rides aren't just for advanced cyclists but include friendly low-speed rides to Starbucks. "There are groups starting at low levels, like a 5-mile coffee ride at 5 to 10 miles an hour," he says. "Facebook is a great way to connect." Finding a riding partner to learn from can be especially advantageous. For example, Cramblett says many beginners don't know how to stand up on the pedals — a key technique to tackling bigger hills — but can learn quickly with a little guidance.
That dreaded hill? It's OK to walk
Unless you live in the Great Plains, you're bound to hit some hills in your ride. If you need to climb slowly or walk the bike, don't be discouraged. "Some people think that if I've got use the granny gear or have to walk, then I shouldn't do this ride," Cramblett said. "Pace yourself, ride in the lowest gear and if you need to, get off the bike and walk." To build up stamina, Cramblett says cross-training activities like walking on hills or doing squats can help.
|Learn the Lingo|
Drop handlebars: Road bike handlebars often curve downward, allowing a rider to assume a more aerodynamic position by riding in the "drops".
Derailleur: The transmission in a bicycle that shifts the chain between gears. Most road bikes include a front and rear derailleur.
Aerobars: Handlebar extensions, often used in triathlons, that put the cyclist in an aerodynamic position.
Recumbent bicycles: Puts the rider in a seated position that can be more comfortable for those with back problems.
Cadence: Revolutions of the crank per minute. Recreational cyclists usually stick between 60 and 80 RPMs.
Drafting: Riding close behind another cyclist within their slipstream to avoid the wind, which is another benefit of group rides.
Dropped: If the group pace picks up or a cyclist can't keep up, they'll be "dropped," and no longer be able to draft. Some group rides might advertise that they have a no-drop policy.
Granny gear: The lowest and easiest gear for climbing.
Road rash: A painful skin injury, caused by crashing and sliding on asphalt. If you're using this lingo, hope you're saying something like, "I'm sure glad I didn't fall and get road rash."