Healthy Cycling: A Beginner’s Guide

By Summer Banks Feb 14, 2017

For all of its simplicity, bicycling is a multifaceted form of physical activity. For this reason, it appeals to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Since its first incarnation as the draisine in 1817, the bicycle has become useful for many things, such as a source of fun, a form of exercise, or a means of transportation. While people most often learn to ride a bicycle as children, there are some who learn at a later age or do not pursue it as a regular activity until they are adults. For these individuals, a guide for beginners can provide valuable information that will help get them started in a manner that is safe and responsible while also allowing them to reap maximum health benefits.

Getting Started

Starting out, a new cyclist will require the right type of bicycle. It should match with their skill level and the type of cycling that they plan to participate in. There are many different types of bicycles available; some of the more common ones include touring, mountain, and trail bikes. Road or touring bikes are designed for riding on pavement, distance riding, and speed. People interested in rugged off-road riding will want mountain bikes. These are designed with low gears and fat tires that offer greater traction. Trail bikes are similar to mountain bikes but are designed for trails rather than more rugged terrain. Yet another type of bicycle that is designed for pavement and less-rugged dirt roads is called a hybrid bike.

Comfort is also crucial when biking, and wearing the proper attire or gear can help. Clothing should be breathable but not restrictive, and it should be appropriate for the weather conditions. A bike jersey with short sleeves for the summer and longer sleeves for the winter is one option. Bike shorts or tights, depending on the weather, are best to accommodate freedom of movement and reduce the amount of chaffing. Often, they come with a soft, padded chamois liner that provides cushioning, and they reduce friction and wick away moisture. During cool winter weather, the right cycling jacket will keep cyclists warm yet prevent them from overheating during their ride. A waterproof jacket is ideal for rain and may include a hood to cover one’s helmet and head. Learning to layer one’s clothing is also important. When layering, wear material that wicks away moisture closest to the skin, followed by a middle insulating layer and then a jacket or other shell that provides protection from wind or water. Full- or partial-finger bike gloves, depending on the season, will protect the hands, while a helmet is necessary to prevent head injury.

Health Benefits of Cycling

As a form of cardiovascular exercise, regular bicycling can have a number of positive health benefits. It is also a simple way to get the recommended daily amount of activity necessary for the health of adults and children. Cycling can help reduce one’s risk of developing certain diseases and forms of cancer. This includes reducing one’s risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions that are associated with or exacerbated by being overweight or obese. In addition to helping one lose weight, it can also help them maintain a healthy weight, strengthen their muscles (particularly those of the lower body), and prevent joint pain. Because many people find the activity to be a freeing and enjoyable experience, it also helps to relieve stress.

Safety

Propelling one’s body forward on the two wheels of a bicycle can result in minor to serious forms of injury if not careful. These injuries can be prevented to some degree by taking the right safety precautions before and during one’s ride. Protecting oneself means wearing the right type of protection, ensuring visibility, and following the rules of the road. When choosing gear, safety should be considered as well as comfort. Helmets must meet the CPSC standards for safety, and they must fit properly on the cyclist’s head. Clothing should be light or bright enough in color to maximize visibility and may be reflective in certain areas.

The bicycle itself should receive proper maintenance and be in good working condition. It should also feature reflectors on the tires or other visible areas. Before riding the bike for the first time, a cyclist should understand the rules of the road, including hand signals that can help alert other vehicles to their intentions. Safety means always being aware of the cars, pedestrians, and other bicyclists on the road and not making sudden, unexpected moves. Riding with the flow of traffic is also important to ensure that drivers can plainly see cyclists.

Maintenance

The maintenance of one’s bicycle involves regular inspection, cleaning, and replacement of parts. Bikes should be inspected before they are taken for a ride. Cyclists may start by checking the tires to ensure that they are properly inflated and undamaged, making the proper adjustments or replacements as needed. To start, check the brakes before riding. If they do not properly engage, they may require adjustment, which can be done by following the bike’s manual or entrusted to a professional. Look over the chain and gears. Keep them clean and properly lubricated, but do not overly lubricate them. The bolts on the bike should be neither too tight nor too loose, as this can cause damage or even failure.

Staying Motivated

People who have started bicycling as a form of exercise, as a way to commute, or for competition may find that there are times when they feel less motivated to take a spin. When something is fun, people often find that they look forward to it and are more likely to continue. For some people, exercising alone is not something that they consider fun or enjoyable. If this is the case, inviting a friend to join in on daily rides can help keep them motivated, as will joining a group. Searching for and riding on new or different trails can also help keep motivation high. Keeping a log book that documents the number of miles traveled daily, weekly, or monthly can be highly encouraging to some and may inspire them to set new goals. Staying motivated when it comes to bicycling to and from work can be as simple as charting the amount of money saved on gas and wear and tear on one’s vehicle.

Additional Resources