The Liberating Joy of Riding A Bike

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 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.
  • 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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Comments

  1. Man. I wish we had bike trails (or even sidewalks) in my area. A stationary bike is as close as I’ll come around here, so I choose to walk for exercise instead. Props to you for finding something that you like, though – enjoy this beautiful Georgia weather!

  2. Stephen gaudet says:

    I’m in the exact same situation as you! Just bought a new bike yesterday, have a log of nice trails near by and am looking forward to hitting them. I’m a little worried about my knees, cuz they really bug me if I go for a run….so we shall see. Tomorrow, I get me some biker shorts I think 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Stephen,
      Congrats! You are going to have so much fun. It is so much easier on the knees than running. The biker shorts aren’t cheap, but they are well worth it!

  3. I just bought myself a bike, last week. I saved for a while and got a really nice one. I have exams this week so I’ve only ridden it one (will ride more next week) but I know the unbelievable flying feeling you’re talking about, wanted to write about it myself.
    And I chose my bike because it looked pretty =P but my Dad and brother came with and they helped me choose one that was mechanically sound, and I did test-ride a lot of bikes too.
    Thanks for this lovely post, it resonates well with me =)
    Happy tripping 😀

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Tracy,
      I guess this weather brings out the bike lover in all of us! We might as well have a pretty bike if we’re going to buy one, right? Glad you had some help. It was overwhelming when I first walked in the store and saw all of those bikes.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more! I have been adding biking to my usual exercise routine (I hate that word – exercise) of swimming 3x week in the warmer months. As an arthritis sufferer, biking is an excellent choice for regular cardiovascular activity. In fact, it actually helps! And I can emphasize enough how much I recommend the padded shorts. Everyone makes a face when you say it, but anyone who has ever tried it has a Cheshire cat grin. Thanks for the great post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Lee,
      Thanks for the reinforcement about the benefits of biking — and padded shorts! So glad you liked the post.

  5. Good for you, Barrie
    The best exercise is the one that you think is the most fun. That way, you’re more likely to stick with it…
    Have a great time on that new bike!

  6. So happy you found this new exercise!

    My husband bought me a bike last summer, and I fell in love with riding! It’s the one sport we can do together, and actually provides some good talk time when we’re on a more leisure ride. This year’s birthday wish list: bike bell, cycling gloves & a helmet mirror.

    Will you bring your bike on your next visit and ride with me?

  7. It’s great to see someone else enjoying a good bike ride! I have to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my company’s product…the NuVinci N360. It will make your cycling experience that much more enjoyable. Installing the N360 on your bike can be done easily at your local bike shop and once it’s on, it provides seamless shifting…no more obnoxious “clicks” as you switch gears with your bike’s current set-up. I think it’s worth looking into and please feel free to email me with any questions.

    Have fun!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thanks for sharing Kate. We always love a good product that makes things easier. 🙂

  8. Justin | Mazzastick says:

    My Uncle has MS and he doesn’t like to exercise either. I suggested riding a bike as a form of exercise for him as well.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Justin,
      I hope he tries it. I’m assuming his balance and coordination are sound. It’s low impact (except going over bumps), so it is less stressful on the joints. That should be great for an MS sufferer.

  9. Fortunately, I live where bike riding is a normal thing and where there are lots of bike paths. Another suggestion to encourage those who are out of shape or have MS, arthritis or another limiting condition: e-bikes (electric bikes). You still have to pedal, so you get exercise. But it’s like having the wind at your back. You get less tired and put less stress on muscles and joints, while still being able to work on your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. They’re more expensive than regular bikes, but so worth it if buying one means you’ll bike more often. I love mine and have put about 2700 miles on it since I bought it 1-3/4 years ago. Not bad for a couch potato. 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thanks Catrien! That’s a wonderful recommendation. There’s something for everyone, right?

  10. How ingenious, amazing how many people claim they don’t have the time to exercise because of work. Well, how about getting a bike, and riding to work?

    It doesn’t even have to be a fancy modern bike, it can be dirt cheap as long as it holds together. Your body doesn’t care whether your bike has the latest doohickeys, it just wants exercise! 😉

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Very good point Stuart — although that may be easier for men than women. Most women don’t want to appear at work with helmet hair and sweaty armpits! I love to ride at the end of the day right before sunset. It’s really pretty outside then.

  11. With this post and one of your previous comments to me, you’ve almost inspired me to dust off my bike. My problem is that whenever I’m feeling out of control in my life, I have dreams that I’m on an out-of-control bike, so the thought of it makes me nervous. 🙂 But if my 7 year old can do it, so can I! And my knees would definitely enjoy it. 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Amy,
      I’m so delighted I inspired you! I once dreamed that I was on a plane crash going to Hawaii. For years, I said I wouldn’t go to Hawaii because of that dream. But now I know it was just a dream, not a prediction. So Hawaii is on my travel list. Your out-of-control dream is symbolic. You have a lot of control over a real bike, so hop on! 🙂

      • I clicked on the link to this post from your post today. I’d forgotten about it, and was surprised to see my comment. Just wanted to tell you that (I realize it’s two years later 🙂 ) I am going out today to buy a bike! So excited!

  12. Peppy | The PeppyWrites Chronicles says:

    Barrie,

    Ahhh, what a refreshing article … a smile hit my face as I started to read and it remained throughout.

    My response may seem odd – but, as one who loved bike riding, it has been a silly ‘yearning’ I’ve been trying to quell since our weather started whispering spring! Illness has taken such enjoyments away from me – thus the ‘yearnings’ that hit me every now and then – so I truly enjoyed the way you shared your bike purchase because, for a brief moment, I was picking my bike out, too!

    I hope you will be able to share some of your biking ventures as that will be the only way I will be able to “take my bike out for a spin.” Ahh, the power of imagination … and Barrie, the way you write makes it very easy to ‘imagine’ myself there. Thank You.

    Peppy

  13. Jane Rochelle says:

    Aaaah, forget about exercise … my bike is my seat for transformation! I, too, bought my bike at REI 2 years ago. It does spend the winter sitting in a quiet corner of the garage … don’t like cold air in my face. But in the spring and fall, especially, I love the freedom I feel when I hop on and go for a gentle ride. We have amazing greenways in Raleigh! The world looks different … I feel different. Good for you, Barrie, enjoy!

  14. Hi Barrie
    Ah, the discovery of the bike! I have been settling for walking everyday with the traffic and all, other than the dogs it is a much safer mode of transportation for exercise. Have had my husband out walking most everyday for the past eight months, we try for an hour. He has managed to loose 32 lbs and feels a whole lot better. But the bike reminded me of the old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike. I had left home and returned for a visit about 6 months later. Not sure what the reason was but my brother wanted me to try his bike out. On I jumped and headed down the driveway, applying my feet to the pedals to slow down. Yikes, nothing happened. Luckily my parents lived in a rural area with very little traffic. I looked to the left and there were no cars, but the right I could only count on my youthful hearing. Didn’t hear any cars so I prayed a lot and shot out into the middle of the road. Other choice was the possibility of being hit by a car or over the bank (about a 30 foot drop) on to the beach or hit the ditch. I figured once on the road I could get the bike under control and coast to a stop. After the wild ride and heart racing just as fast, I got my composure back and wow a beam of knowledge ….Hand Brakes. Didn’t tell my brother why I was so reckless. But that was many, many years ago. That is a very valuable lesson in whatever I do, remember where the brakes are!
    Have a great day riding.
    Mary

  15. Camille says:

    Hi Barrie,
    Riding my bike is my second favorite form of exercising, next to walking. It reminds me of the days when I was a teenager with no car – my 10-speed was my form of transportation and I loved it. Now that spring has finally appeared (I hope!) in Michigan (after all, it IS May 1st) I can get my bike out and hit the trails. Oh, and thanks for the padded shorts suggestion – I’m going to invest in those.