The bicycle still remains the most energy-efficient machine designed by man, and it’s just as enjoyable at age 60 as it was at 6. Although you may prefer walking or jogging, bicycling provides a number of benefits, especially as we age.
Do you remember the first time you rode a bicycle without training wheels? The unbelievable feeling of balance and the incredible freedom of rolling down the road on two wheels.
The bicycle still remains the most energy-efficient machine designed by man, and it’s just as enjoyable at age 60 as it was at 6.
Although you may prefer walking or jogging, bicycling provides a number of benefits, especially as we age. Premier among these is the lack of landing forces and shock absorption that can be problematic for older feet, knees, hips and backs. Unlike ambulatory activities, cycling has no contact between your body and the ground.
Another advantage of bicycling is total body support, provided by the seat, pedals and handlebars. Unlike walking and jogging, which alternately lifts and lowers your center of mass, your body stays in essentially the same stable position throughout your cycling session.
Whereas walking and running can be somewhat stifling activities on hot and humid summer days, the faster speed of bicycling provides a wind-cooling effect that greatly reduces the risk of overheating.
From a psychological perspective, you can cover a lot more ground and see considerably more scenery during a 30-minute cycle than during a 30-minute jog. Whereas you might jog 3 miles (10 minutes/mile), you can probably cycle 6 miles (5 minutes/mile) quite easily in a 30-minute period.
Like other aerobic activities, cycling is an excellent conditioner for your cardiovascular system. And bicycling outdoors is much more interesting than stationary cycling indoors. With uphills, downhills, curves and straightaways, you frequently change gears and experience harder and easier cycling segments. Outdoor cycling is more interesting, challenging and enjoyable.
Of course, outdoor cycling does pose potential problems. First, you need to find a safe road where you can cycle on wide paved shoulders, well to the right of passing cars (always ride with rather than against traffic).
Second, you need to purchase a modern cycle, rather than pull your childhood model out of basement storage. Today’s bicycles are extremely well designed with superb gearing and braking systems. They are safe and smooth, but be sure to work with a cycling specialist (present at most cycle stores) to make sure the bicycle matches your body proportions and cycling objectives. Frame size is the critical factor, and you don’t want one that is too large or too small.
Although bicycle tires continue to improve, you can expect a flat once in a while. There are many ways to deal with flat tires, but quick and easy is always a good choice. Flat fixers will usually get you home or to a bike shop where you can replace the damaged tube. I carry two extra tubes in a small seat bag and change tubes immediately when I experience a puncture. However, this is not always an easy task. If you watch where you ride you, can usually avoid the glass, nails and other road debris that is responsible for most flat tires.
There are many types and models of bicycles available, and you should try them out before you buy one. Road bikes, mountain bikes and combination bikes all have advantages depending on your cycling goals. However, a good rule of thumb is to select the bike on which you feel most competent and confident.
If you’re simply cycling for fitness, you probably don’t need clip-on cycling shoes. In fact, you may not want cycling shoes at all. For most practical purposes, a pair of running shoes works just fine.
If you find the bicycle seat uncomfortable, a pair of padded cycling shorts may be in order. And open-fingered cycling gloves can reduce road shock to your hands on bumpy street surfaces.
However, the one piece of cycling equipment that you must have is an approved helmet. In the unlikely event of a fall, head protection is absolutely essential. A perfectly fitted bike helmet may be hard to find, but don’t give up until you get one.
As you increase your physical fitness and cycle longer distances, you will want to add a water bottle carrier to your bike. Staying hydrated during your ride is very important, both for better cycling performance and physiological well-being.
The main injury risks for cyclists are intersections and driveways in suburban areas. Having been hit by cars twice (once by an oblivious driver turning into a driveway and once by a car cutting across an intersection), I have learned to slow down and expect cars not to see me in these potential trouble spots. Always be prepared to stop in congested areas, and always obey traffic signs and lights.
If you’re just getting back into cycling, spend sufficient time learning how to use your bicycle. For example, leaning to make your turns rather than over-manipulating the handlebars. Start with short rides to gradually build both your confidence and your fitness level. Systematically increase your cycling speed and distance until you are satisfied with your bike training program. As a general guideline, if you can cover 7 miles in 30 minutes (14 mph pace), you are doing pretty well.
Riding with a partner is safer and more enjoyable than riding solo.
Once you give cycling a try, you may find yourself joining a bike club for group outings or doing bike tours. Just follow the safety rules, apply common sense, and never try to ride beyond your ability.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy (Mass.) College and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has written 24 books on physical fitness.