Bicycling can also lead to large gains in physical fitness. For many people, cycling is a pleasant and economical alternative to driving and a convenient way to build fitness.

Equipment and Technique

Cycling has its own special array of equipment, including helmets, lights, safety gear, and biking shoes. The bike is the most expensive item, ranging from about $100 to $1000 or more. Avoid making a large investment until you’re sure you’ll use your bike regularly. While investigating what the marketplace has to offer, rent or borrow a bike. Consider your intended use of the bike. Most cyclists who are interested primarily in fitness are best served by a sturdy 10-speed rather than a mountain bike or sport bike. Stationary cycles are good for rainy days and areas that have harsh winters.

Clothing for bike riding shouldn’t be restrictive or binding; nor should it be so loose that it catches the wind and slows you down. Shirts that wick moisture away from your skin and padded biking shorts make a ride more comfortable. Wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from dirt, small objects, and irritation from wind. Wear a pair of well-padded gloves if your hands tend to become numb while riding or if you begin to develop blisters or calluses.

To avoid saddle soreness and injury, choose a soft or padded saddle, and adjust it to a height that allows your legs to almost reach full extension while pedaling. To prevent backache and neck strain, warm up thoroughly and periodically shift the position of your hands on the handlebars and your body in the saddle. Keep your arms relaxed and don’t lock your elbows. To protect your knees from strain, pedal with your feet pointed straight ahead or very slightly inward, and don’t pedal in high gear for long periods.

Bike riding requires a number of precise skills that practice makes automatic. If you’ve never ridden before, consider taking a course. In fact, many courses are not just for beginners. They’ll help you develop skills in braking, shifting, and handling emergencies, as well as teach you ways of caring for and repairing your bike. For safe cycling, follow these rules:


• Always wear a helmet.

• Keep on the correct side of the road. Bicycling against traffic is usually illegal and always dangerous.

• Obey all the same traffic signs and signals that apply to autos.

• On public roads, ride in single file, except in low-traffic areas (if the law permits). Ride in a straight line; don’t swerve or weave in traffic.

• Be alert; anticipate the movements of other traffic and pedestrians. Listen for approaching traffic that is out of your line of vision.

• Slow down at street crossings. Check both ways before crossing.

• Use hand signals the same as for automobile drivers if you intend to stop or turn. Use audible signals to warn those in your path.

• Maintain full control. Avoid anything that interferes with your vision. Don’t jeopardize your ability to steer by carrying anything (including people) on the handlebars.

• Keep your bicycle in good shape. Brakes, gears, saddle, wheels, and tires should always be in good condition.

• See and be seen. Use a headlight at night and equip your bike with rear reflectors. Use side reflectors on pedals, front and rear. Wear light-colored clothing or use reflective tape at night; wear bright colors or use fluorescent tape by day.

• Be courteous to other road users. Anticipate the worst and practice preventive cycling.

• Use a rear-view mirror.

Developing Cardiorespiratory Endurance

Cycling is an excellent way to develop and maintain cardiorespiratory endurance and a healthy body composition.

FIT frequency, intensity, and time: If you’ve been inactive for a long time, begin your cycling program at a heart rate that is 10-20% below your target zone. Beginning cyclists should pedal at about 80-100 revolutions per minute; adjust the gear so you can pedal at that rate easily. You can equip your bicycle with a cycling computer that displays different types of useful information, such as speed, distance traveled, heart rate, altitude, and revolutions per minute.

Once you feel at home on your bike, try cycling 1 mile at a comfortable speed, and then stop and check your heart rate. Increase your speed gradually until you can cycle at 12-15 miles per hour (4-5 minutes per mile), a speed fast enough to bring most new cyclists’ heart rate into their target zone. Allow your pulse rate to be your guide: More highly fit individuals may need to ride faster to achieve their target heart rate. Cycling for at least 20 minutes three days per week will improve your fitness.

At the beginning: It may require several outings to get the muscles and joints of your legs and hips adjusted to this new activity. Begin each outing with a 10-minute warm-up. When your muscles are warm, stretch your hamstrings and your back and neck muscles. Until you become a skilled cyclist, select routes with the fewest hazards and avoid heavy automobile traffic.

As you progress: Interval training is also effective with bicycling. Simply increase your speed for periods of 4-8 minutes or for specific distances, such as 1-2 miles. Then coast for 2-3 minutes. Alternate the speed intervals and slow intervals for a total of 20-60 minutes, depending on your level of fitness. Biking over hilly terrain is also a form of interval training.

Developing Muscular Strength and Endurance and Flexibility

Bicycling develops a high level of endurance and a moderate level of strength in the muscles of the lower body. If one of your goals is to increase your cycling speed and performance, be sure to include exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks muscles in your strength training program. For flexibility, pay special attention to the hamstrings and quadriceps, which are not worked through their complete range of motion during bike riding, and to the muscles in your lower back, shoulders, and neck.

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