Get on your bike and ride!
Bike Week 2021
May 30 – June 5 is Bike week, and even the weather has come out to participate! The sun is shining, its warm out, everything seems a bit brighter…. What a perfect time to dust off your bike if its been a while, get in some extra miles, or try out cycling if you’re new to the sport.
And this year, the theme for Bike Week is Health and Wellbeing. I think we all know how important these are, but this last year has really highlighted this with many of us experiencing a decline in both our physical and mental health, while others have been fortunate to experience an improvement in both.
Exercise is vital for both physical and mental health, both which form integral components of wellbeing.
Physically, by exercising we can benefit from a reduction in the risk of cardiac issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, weight loss/management, stronger bones and improved pulmonary function to name but a few while mentally, exercise releases endorphins (the feel good hormone), improves sleep quality, reduces depression and anxiety, it assists brain health and memory and much more.
These are very desirable benefits, and with this glorious weather, what better way than to start experiencing them by getting out, topping up our vitamin D levels (many physical and mental benefits in itself) and having some fun.
Cycling can be a low impact sport (although extreme riders would beg to differ) and offers many people the chance to get moving who may otherwise struggle to do so. It is a fantastic way to start or get back to your fitness journey and you don’t necessarily need a lot of fancy equipment to get going. Cycling can be enjoyed on your own, as part of a club (a great way to meet likeminded people) or as a family activity. There are also many different types of cycling from road to mountain biking and lots in between, from downhill racing to cross country. Maybe you are cycling to get to and from work, on a single speed or Brompton, you may be on your trusty steed from 20 years ago or have just taken delivery of the newest model of your chosen bike (count yourself very lucky if you’re one of these given the high demand this last year).
Here are a few top tips for you to consider if you are new or returning to cycling to make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable for you:
• Although cycling is generally low impact, it is pertinent to mention that if you are struggling with any niggles, do get them checked out as these can develop into injuries when ignored and this in turn can affect both your physical and mental health. The longer these are left, could mean the longer your recovery takes which could decrease your motivation to get back out riding again.
• Make sure the bike is the correct size for you, this may sound obvious to some but many people ride ill-fitting bikes and develop chronic injuries from them.
• Likewise, it really is worth getting a bike fit, especially if you are going to be spending lots of time on your bike. This will ensure that you are in the optimal position, your seat is at the right height, your handlebars the correct width and distance, etc. These are all important in mitigating injury and also contribute to how much you enjoy your ride.
• Although I mentioned above that you don’t need a fancy bike or kit, if you know the bug is going to bite and that you will be spending long hours in the saddle, you’re doing yourself a favour by investing in a decent pair of bib shorts, lightweight waterproof and correctly fitted shoes. I learnt all of this the hard way and ended up spending way more on kit than I’d ever dreamed I would. And ill-fitting shoes can be unbearable on long rides.
• Cleats are, in my opinion, the most efficient when riding, but again it depends on what riding you would like to do. The advantage of cleats is that you can recruit more muscle groups during each pedal stroke which makes you much more efficient. Flat pedals make it very difficult to use your hamstrings. However, if cleats terrify you, then perhaps you could consider toe cages which allow you more of an opportunity to engage muscles in the pull phase of the stroke. (Your knees will thank you for this as you won’t necessarily be relying fully on your quads, which can lead to, for example, quad tendinopathy).
• Most importantly, have fun and find the style of riding that suits you best and brings you the most enjoyment. This is what counts at the end of your day, not your Strava segments or King/Queen of the Mountain titles.
As someone once said to me when I first got on my bike (as a terrified 35year old in cleats and having last ridden as a kid on an old banger of a bike)…. It’s just like riding a bike! I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry! But looking back he was spot on!
Some of you may be driven by Greg LeMond’s famous quote “it never gets easier, you just get faster” while others may prefer John F Kennedy’s “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike”
Whatever your reason for riding, I think Eddy Merckx (Belgian road riding legend) sums it up best with “ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
Safe miles out there and remember…. Exercise really is medicine.