Pedal power: A beginner’s guide to cycling
Whether you’re looking to try out a new hobby or work some extra activity into your daily commute, here are all the bicycle basics you’ll need. Starting with three great reasons to get cycling…
1 Cyclists save time
How often have you sat in a tailback, wishing you were that person flying by in the cycle lane? Taking two wheels isn’t always faster, but it definitely uses your time smartly—and you’ll have sneaked in some exercise without even thinking about it. Plus you might save money, too, and by burning less gas, you’ll also help save the planet.
2 Cyclists live longer
Commuting by bike can help to reduce your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease compared to traveling by car or train, according to a British study. While it’s natural to worry about accidents, it’s often said that the extra “life years” cyclists gain from being healthier outweigh the risks by 20 to one. (See our safe cycling pointers below.)
3 Cyclists smile more
Exercising outdoors in green space, such as on a leisurely countryside ride, can be great for your mental health. And even everyday cycles to work can bring some subtle benefits. One US study suggests that people who commute by bike feel happier than those who take public transport.
Ready to get geared up?
Check out our three steps to safe cycling before you go.
1 Choose the right bike for you
Urban dwellers might have access to bike-share programs, which allow you to rent a bike for a fee (usually hourly). Live in a small town? Visit your local bike shop. They may have loaner bikes to check out and can give you tips on the best bike for you, says Steve Taylor, communications manager for the League of American Bicyclists. “A bike shop can help you personalize the fit and make sure you’re going to have a comfortable ride,” he says. Regardless of where you’re riding, a well-fitting helmet is a must—even if it’s just around the block!
2 Tune it up
“Think of the ABCs,” Taylor says. “Make sure you have air in your tires, your brakes work well, and your chain is properly aligned.” If you have a bike that hasn’t been used in a few months (or years!), it’s smart to get a tune-up at a professional bike shop to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.
3 Go for a practice ride
You know that cliché, “just like riding a bike”? While you may know how to ride a bike, it makes sense to give yourself some no-pressure time to practice, especially if it’s been a while. If you plan to commute to work, it may be worth mapping out the route and giving it a test drive on a weekend, Taylor says. If you haven’t ridden in a while or want to refresh your skills, a bike path can provide a place where you can practice without worrying about traffic. “Any ride helps strengthen your lower body,” Taylor notes. Before you commit to riding, get your doctor’s OK and start slowly: Gradually build up in blocks of 10 minutes on a flat or mostly flat road.
If you’re planning to start a new exercise program, it’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider first—especially if you have an existing health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma.