Discover the joy of bike riding for exercise and fun
Thinking of dusting off that bike in the garage and going for a spin? That’s what I did a few years ago. I fell in love with bike riding all over again, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I rode my bike all during my childhood. But as a busy adult juggling family and career, it just fell off my radar and our bikes mostly sat unused. It took a vacation and an injury to bring me back to my cycling roots.
We were preparing for a stay in Ocean Isle Beach, and my husband decided to fix up our old bikes and take them with us on vacation. I’m so glad he did. We rode around the island every morning. It made me remember how much joy bike riding gave me as a kid.
But another reason I was happy about this is because at the time I was having some issues with my feet. I was six years into my healthy living transformation, and power walking was still my primary exercise. But 24 miles a week had taken a toll. I realized that I needed to give my feet a break from the treadmill and the road. So I decided to replace the walking with cycling for the rest of the summer, and see how it goes.
It was a success! My feet improved, and I enjoyed the change in routine. And while today I cross-train with a wide variety of exercises, I’ve kept cycling in the mix.
In the past year, many others have rediscovered the joy of bike riding. The pandemic shutdown created a bike boom. In 2020 there was a 121% increase in adult leisure-bike sales and a 59% rise in children’s bike sales compared to the year before (Washington Post), and some supply shortages.
Benefits of cycling for exercise
The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) reports that cycling is a great type of physical activity for many reasons, including:
- It’s an excellent cardio exercise. Since you are engaging large muscle groups in the legs, it really gets your heart pumping. Cycling benefits your overall health, and improves endurance and fitness. Plus, it’s a workout you can easily scale up or down.
- It builds strength. Muscles that get stronger with cycling include the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Even your abs benefit: To stay upright and on the bike, you have to engage your core.
- It’s gentle on the joints. Cycling is a low-impact activity, compared to running or aerobics classes. It helps build strength around the knee joints in particular and is a good workout choice for anyone with joint pain, notes ISSA.
- It torches calories. The number of calories depends on your weight, speed, effort and time spent biking. According to Harvard Health, a 185-pound person will burn 420 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous bicycling (14-15.9 mph).
- Helps relieve stress and enhance well-being. Feeling stressed or upset? A ride can help you burn off steam, and being outdoors is soothing. My favorite times to ride are sunrise and sunset. It’s beautiful to see, and a wonderful, peaceful way to start or end a day. I’m also more alert and creative on the bike. I get some of my best ideas while I’m riding.
- Cycling is fun!
Gear to get going
Start with what you have. If you have a bike that’s been sitting unused, a bike shop with a maintenance technician can help you get it ready to go.
If you’re in the market for a new bike, do some research on what kind would be best for you. Different types of bikes include road bike, mountain bike, hybrid (a combination of road and mountain), a “cruiser” or comfort bike, electric bike, and recumbent bike.
After using my old leisure bike for a few months, I found an awesome gently-used hybrid model in an online classified ad. Wow! What a difference it made in my ride.
Your most essential accessory is a bike helmet, for safety. In North Carolina, the law requires those under 16 years old to wear an approved bicycle helmet when riding. Even though I mostly ride in my neighborhood and I’m well over the age, I take safety seriously. All it takes is one bad fall or crash to result in a head injury or even death. If I’m on my bike, I’m wearing my helmet.
Other gear worth investing in include padded bike shorts, a gel seat cushion, cycling gloves, lights and a mirror. For details on these and other helpful items, see this post on my blog, “My Must-Have Bicycle Accessories List.”
Decide where to bike
While I enjoyed riding the open roads at first, after some scary instances with traffic and people, I now prefer to mostly limit my cycling workouts to my housing development or a bike trail. I’ll typically do as many 1-mile loops around my neighborhood as I can, and vary the intensity with intervals. That works well for me, and staying close to home is convenient. I also enjoy finding trails to ride.
If you have a bike carrier for your vehicle, you can find a wealth of bike trails across our beautiful state. Here are some resources that detail trails and road routes:
- VisitNC.com biking trails page
- “The Great Trails State: A Guide for Exploring the Trails of North Carolina” digital booklet (pdf)
- North Carolina Parks System trails
- American Tobacco Trail – a dedicated bike and pedestrian trail that crosses through Durham, Chatham and Wake counties
- AllTrails – reviews, ratings and photos of road biking trails in North Carolina and other states
- WalkBikeNC – includes an interactive map to plan your road route
North Carolina has a number of laws that cyclists need to be aware of, which exist for the safety of yourself and others. You can review the laws here. In addition, local ordinances may apply.
Here are a few general safety guidelines and best practices to remember:
- Drive on the right side of the road, in the same direction as traffic.
- Generally, avoid sidewalk riding.
- Seek out routes with bike lanes.
- Avoid busy roads and dangerous conditions.
- See and be seen. Use lights and mirrors, and wear bright clothing.
- Wear a helmet.
- Signal your turns.
- Obey traffic signs and lights. All states require cyclists to follow the same rules and responsibilities as motorists.
- Drive defensively and carefully. Assume other vehicles can’t see you. Watch out for car doors opening, cars backing out of driveways, and pedestrians.
- Be on the lookout for rocks, grass clippings or other debris in the road.
- Read more here.
Cycling is for any kind of body
Perhaps when you think of cycling, an image comes to mind of a group of lean, athletic guys riding in groups on the road, or competing in century races.
The fact is, cycling is for the rest of us, too. It’s for all size bodies, ages and abilities. And you don’t have to be an athlete: You can go your own pace and distance.
As Kailey Kornhauser says in the inspiring YouTube movie All Bodies on Bikes, “To be a cyclist you just have to be a person riding a bike.”
Get out there, have fun, and enjoy your ride!