Cycling has never been more popular. Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns (thankfully we weren’t completely locked down) have pushed us all to vary our activity and diversify. I am a relatively recent convert, having cycled indoors for many years, I started using my son’s bike in 2019 and wanted to get my own. After much procrastination, largely down to being unsure which bike would best suit me, I finally took the plunge and bought a bike in November 2020. It has been nothing but joy ever since.
Freedom is something we shouldn’t take for granted, must crave and hold on to. The alternatives can sometimes be a drain in more ways than one. Driving often feels like a curse in a big city, stuck in traffic, trickling along, time wafting away before our eyes, public transport… well let’s not go there.. the contrast of being on a bike, pedalling freely along, intermittently stalled only by an occasional traffic light, and generally able to travel from A to B faster than the alternative options.
Our time is precious and we should try to use it wisely. The joy of cycling is that it is multi-functional, acting as transport, activity and an opportunity to engage with the surrounding environment, heightening our senses and allowing for enjoyment of nature around us. Cycling is as sustainable an activity or transport choice as we can have, in a world where we must wean ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels and the combustion engine. It’s a sociable choice which can be undertaken either with friends or family, and to spice it up an added element of competition for those so inclined. The pleasure of cycling with my kids, watching them grow up, passing down a bike to a younger sibling and moving onto something bigger and better, is priceless.
Cardio-vascular activity is the primary fitness pursuit, the knock-on effects being the greatest for our health and wellbeing. On the average cycle journey our heart rates will rise above 70% of maximum and this is the region above which aerobic capacity is maintained or improved. Regular exercise above this level will help maintain a healthy weight and metabolism. A daily commute of 10 miles round trip will burn enough calories equivalent to 5 burgers per week.
Cycling can build substantial strength in the legs, the thighs, glutes and calf muscles especially, which is heightened during hill climbs, is naturally low impact particularly when compared to running, and is also great for balance & co-ordination, which are major considerations, especially in an older population.
Injuries to watch out for
The cycling position, which bends at the hip and extends at the neck, can cause lower back and neck problems, as well as hip and knee injuries. Care should be taken when setting up the bike, to ensure that you have accommodated your postural and injury prevention needs.
Whilst there are plenty of strength benefits for the legs, the constant force can lead to tightening of the muscles and structures around the knee and hip which can lead to repetition injuries. Stretching and short routines using foam rollers can help to reduce the risk of or alleviate discomfort to these zones. Try to ensure you warm-up and warm-down whenever cycling and stop if you experience discomfort.
A noble steed indeed..
Although a bicycle does have an embodied carbon footprint from it’s manufacture and a cyclist gives off CO2 emissions whilst cycling, they are very small, it is by some distance the most sustainable form of transport (apart from walking). If you are changing your mode of transport from a car to a bike, and your commute is an average of 10 miles round trip daily, you will save 178 kg of CO2 each year, for the tube traveller it’s 78 kg, bus 132 kg, and train 89 kg.
This cycling boom may not last but every person who has recently started cycling will likely have changed their habits for a lifetime and will influence others to do the same.
What bike is best for me?
When buying a bike, take into consideration a few factors before you make up your mind. Consider what you will use the bike for:
· Will you use it daily, weekends only or less frequently?
· Do you have back pain and other postural considerations?
· Are you riding solely on the road or will it be over a variety of terrains?
· Are you competitive and need a little more speed?
Whether you will get a road bike, hybrid, mountain or gravel bike depends on your answers to the above questions.
If you are starting from a perspective of relatively poor fitness or you have a longer commute you may want to explore a hybrid-electric option. This can speed up your commute and you can ride as normal on the flat with the benefit of increased power up hills. Swytch is an ingenious e-converter kit which can be applied to most bikes, avoiding having to buy an expensive e-bike, and giving you the option to maintain your self-powered version whenever you want it.
If you are concerned about your balance and your safety on the roads, you can also consider the option of an e-trike, which will give you more stability on the road.
For any questions our friends at Balfe’s bikes are very helpful, knowledgeable and can advise a suitable route. Having competed in the Decathlon, I’m naturally drawn to the French store of the same name, and they also have a great range of options to choose from.
At home choices
Many experts predict that our activity habits have changed to a hybrid of gym, outdoor and digital fitness options. We would recommend that if you have the space and can afford it, exercise options from home are incredibly versatile and useful. A spin bike takes up a relatively small space and as a tool to help maintain fitness, can be invaluable.
Our sister company FitFor offers over 100 cycling workouts and well over 700 total workouts, the digital membership is available with some physical memberships at ESPH, and virtual classes will be available on site soon. Peloton has been a big fitness choice winner in 2020-21, offering a broad range of options including hardware.
Turbo trainers & gamification can turn your outdoor bike into a spin bike with an extra dimension, with the addition of lifelike and competitive experiences like Zwift or Strava, you can hit the road, without ever stepping outside.
Whilst the benefits are obvious, riding on the roads next to cars, buses and lorries, carries its risks. If you are starting out or if you are returning to cycling after a long lay-off, preparation is the key to success. A cycle training course can be essential and some free options are available at TFL.
Always make sure you are easy for a motorist to see by wearing hi-vis clothing, using lights and reflectors, wear a helmet and if you need to store your bike outside get a Sold secure lock (or 2), Cycleplan insurance and register your bike on the national police database.
Where to ride
If you are stay-cationing this summer, perhaps you will consider a cycle holiday.
If you would like a more competitive experience, joining a cycle club might be for you. Heading over to your local velodrome would also be a good plan. Herne Hill velodrome has a range of courses, experiences and facilities for you to try.