The Liberating Joy of Riding A Bike
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Spring is here and we are about to shed some clothes. The bulky sweaters and sweat clothes that hid a multitude of sins over the winter are now packed away. We are preparing to expose our arms and legs in all of their jiggly glory.
When Spring arrives in Atlanta, I have no excuse to stay bundled up at my desk sipping warm tea (sadly I have no allergies to fall back on). The sun is shining, and it's time to get my butt moving.
Honestly, I really don't like “exercise.” Although I've done plenty of it, I don't enjoy running all that much. It hurts. I really hate being strapped on to some contraption (elliptical, stair climber, etc.) and staring at a TV just to make the time pass quicker. Walking is quite nice, but it doesn't get your heart rate going unless you speed walk, and then you might as well run.
For the most part, exercise feels like a chore to me. So I avoid it. At least until Spring when the great body revelation begins. Then shame spurs me on to do some form of distasteful exercise.
But this year I discovered something wonderful, or I should say rediscovered. I bought a bike.
The last bike I owned had high handlebars, a white banana seat adorned with flower-power stickers, and something stuck in the spokes to make clicking noises as I rode along. That was in 1970 when I was eleven. I have ridden a bike a few times since then, mostly on family vacations with one kid strapped to my bike and the other two wobbling in front of me. It was more like being a refugee than a free spirit.
But this time it's different. This time it feels like being a kid when I had complete freedom to zip along and get from here to there in lightning speed. Riding a bike is fun and wildly liberating. I'd forgotten how much fun it was until I climbed back on.
In March as the weather got warmer, I went to REI and bought myself a bike. I did this on a whim, which is pretty uncharacteristic of me, but I have no regrets. I love my bike. It's a Marin (Kentfield) woman's hybrid bike. That didn't mean much to me before I bought it, but it's a decent bike for a novice. Real bikers may scorn, but to me it's a thing of glory. Here's a photo of it:
I chose it because it was pretty, but I did ask a lot of questions and test-rode several bikes. This one felt right for me, and the bike experts at the store were great about getting the seat adjusted properly for my height and making sure I knew the brakes were on the handlebars, not the pedals (just kidding). This bike cost around $500.
One thing I love about the bike is that it's lightweight.
I can easily lift it into the back of my car. If you don't have a car big enough to hold a bike inside or if you want to carry more than one bike, it's worth investing in a bike rack.
Also, I highly recommend you purchase those figure-flattering Lycra bike shorts with the padding in the crotch. Invest in a more expensive pair with lots of padding. Your loins will thank you after an hour of riding and hitting a few bumps.
Other things that you must get with your bike include:
- A good, protective helmet. Here's an excellent guide on buying helmets. They make you look like Atom Ant, but one fall on the cement could cause serious brain damage. I like this helmet: Giro Skyla Women's Bike Helmet, White
- A water bottle holder. The bike store can put one on your bike for you. You will need a handy place to put your water bottle.
- A bike bag or something to hold your id, money, phone and keys. I bought a little canvas bag at Target with a Velcro strap to attach it to the handlebars. But if you need to carry more stuff, get a rack to attach to the back of your bike and get a larger bike bag. Serious riders carry bike tools and a spare tire tube in their bags.
- Cycling gloves. I thought these were pretentious at first, but they really save your hands, especially if you fall. They also improve your grip, and the padded gloves provide shock absorption.
- A bicycle bell. I ride on a bike path where I regularly have to pass people walking, running, or strolling a baby. After you've yelled, “On your left” a few hundred times, you realize the the value of a bell.
- Additional accessories. There are all kinds of things you can add to your bike to make it better, including a different seat or pedals, a headlight, fenders, and a helmet mirror.
Fortunately I live less than a mile from a beautiful bike path next to a river, and there are many other bike paths nearby. I like to make an occasion of it and pack a snack and a book if I stop for a rest. Also, it is so much fun to go on a biking trip to one of many beautiful bike trails around the country. Here's a great list of national bike trails.
REI sponsors some amazing cycling trips in the U.S. and all over the world that look spectacular (cycling in Provence – oh my!). They have trips that range from easy cycling to more difficult. There are many other cycling travel tours if that interests you. You could create a wonderful travel lifestyle around riding your bike!
Aside from being fun, riding a bike is great exercise.
Cycling is a low-impact, aerobic workout that provides a myriad of health benefits and can be continued for life without a major time commitment. A bike is a versatile machine that is designed to minimize stress and maximize exercise efficiency.
Here are some ways biking is great for your health:
- Bike riding provides shaping, toning, and firming of the thighs, the calf muscles, and the pelvis region. Some studies suggest it is one of the few exercises that help reduce cellulite from your thighs!
- It strengthens the heart, improving blood circulation and reducing blood fat levels and resting pulse. Riding just 30 minutes every other day meets the American Heart Association's recommendations for a healthy heart.
- Cycling provides increased joint movement and less pounding than other forms of exercise like running. It is gentler on joints and can actually strengthen them as the cycling motion provides nourishment that builds up cartilage.
- If you ride an hour at 12-14mph, you can burn somewhere between 500-600 Calories depending on your weight. You can get a more accurate number here by inserting your own weight.
Taking up bike riding and buying a bike is the best fitness decision I've ever made. I've wasted lots of money on gym memberships and exercise equipment because I just wasn't having fun. Riding a bike doesn't feel like “exercise.” It feels like a joyful escape. If I lose weight and get fit along the way, that's just the cherry on the cake!
If you are considering adopting a new fitness habit, I invite you to check out The Habit Course, coming May 23.
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