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Cycling: A beginner’s guide

A full-time writer and multi-published author, when not penning paranormal tales of suspense or romantica under the pseudonym Adrienne Kama, Heather writes articles for print and online publications on travel, human interest pieces and h...

Cycling tips for the beginner

Are you in a daily struggle to start that exercise plan you've been putting off for months? You have all the excuses to procrastinate - running doesn't feel good, you don't have a swimming pool to do laps, yoga isn't your thing - but in forgoing regular exercise, you're not doing your health any favors. Why not take up cycling? Cycling is a non-impact, fun physical activity that is appropriate for nearly everyone. Here's what you need to know to get off the couch and get on your bike.

Woman Riding Bicycle

According to the US Census Bureau, adults and teens will spend nearly five months (3,518 hours) next year watching television, surfing the Internet, reading daily newspapers and listening to personal music devices. Scary thought. Though most people enjoy television and the Internet, it's difficult to imagine ourselves spending five of twelve months engaged in such sedentary activities. There's so much more we could be doing with our time, particularly getting off the couch and getting active.

Health benefits of going from couch potato to cycling enthusiast

If you can sit on the couch, you can certainly sit on a bike. And cycling is going to deliver far more benefits than any reality TV show.

Cycling is relatively inexpensive, is easy to begin and it serves the dual purpose of providing a great workout while giving the rider a good time.

Bike riding is a great way to manage your weight; it burns calories while giving you a full body workout. It also gives the rider the same aerobic results as jogging without causing damage to the joints.

The World Health Organization says that, "Compared with walking, the health benefits of cycling are somewhat greater because the intensity of effort is greater. Cycling uses the large skeletal muscles of the body in a rhythmic pattern, with periods of active work alternating with rest periods. In addition, longer periods of rest occur in normal urban cycling, determined by such factors as traffic lights and other road users. The rest periods allow recovery from high levels of activity when in motion. These factors make it a highly suitable activity to provide aerobic exercise and thereby to improve physical fitness".

A beginner's guide to cycling

You can jump on any bike to get a workout, but getting the right bike with the right fit and learning about bike safety are all essential to making your biking experience the best it can be.

1. See the professionals

The first thing you need is a bike. Though seems an obvious assumption, it's not as simple as you may think. If you plan to make bicycling a regular part of your routine, a department store bike is probably not the best choice. Although department stores are great at providing a variety of merchandise, the employees don't typically know the different types of bikes that are available or how to help you find the best bike for your riding needs. To purchase a bike it is best to go to a bicycle retailer who specializes in bike sales.

Davy Hazlegrove, owner of the Blackwater Bike Shop in Lynchburg, Virginia, suggests that new bicycle buyers get their bike from an authorized bike shop instead of a department store because bike shops offer different caliber bikes. When a new rider buys from anyone other than an authorized dealer, they risk wasting hundreds of dollars and may end up with a less than satisfactory cycling experience.

2. Determine the type of biking you want to do

Before stepping into a store, you need to know the kind of cycling you want to do. Do you want to ride off road, on road, or both? The type of riding you plan to do will dictate the type of bike you buy. While there are multiple types of bikes, the three most popular are road bikes, mountain bikes and hybrids.

Road bikes: These sleek bikes are for going fast and riding on paved roads. Road bikes have a light frame, slender tires and drop handlebars. The drop handlebars allow you to hunch forward, offering less wind resistance when riding. 

Road Bike

Mountain bikes: Designed for off-road riding, these bikes feature a more robust frame that is better suited to handle rugged terrain. Mountain bikes have wider tires than road bikes, with knobby treads that maintain traction on rocky paths or jaunts through a forest. Mountain bikes can't go as fast as road bikes, but their sturdy build enables them to traverse rock-strewn trails without being worn out the way a road bike would be if ridden over such a landscape. Due to their ability to travel off road, most mountain bikes come with either front end shocks, called "hardtails" or full suspension, called "softtails". Shocks are important for mountain bikes because they will cushion the rider when cycling over rough terrain. Mountain bikes also offer lower gears than a road bike, allowing the rider to climb sharp inclines with more ease. Their flat, straight handle bars will also give you an upright, more comfortable riding position.

Mountain Bike

Hybrid bikes: For both on and off road cycling, hybrid bikes combine the features of road bikes and mountain bikes. With wheels narrower than mountain bikes, these bikes are designed to go faster than mountain bikes, but not as fast as a road bike. Hybrid or "cross" bikes have mountain bike gears to make it easier to navigate on different terrains. They also have handle bars that are straighter and upright, similar to the handle bars of mountain bikes

Hybrid Bike

3. Get properly fitted

When purchasing a bike it is important to do a test run so you'll know if the bike is a good match for you. Getting fitted includes having the bicycle sales professional adjust the seat to your height and you then taking a practice spin in the store's parking lot. You should feel comfortable and confident on the bike you buy. If a bike doesn't feel right, keep shopping.

4. Safety is always important

A good helmet will protect your head and remain in place during a fall. To ensure this standard is enforced, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has created safety standards for all helmets made or imported into the United States. Look for the CPSC label when shopping for helmets. Though they're not required by law, Jack Parker, owner of Bikes Unlimited in Lynchburg, Virginia, says helmets are, "the most important piece of safety equipment."

Avid road and mountain bike rider, Dana Glover, also brings extra tubes, tire levers, a frame pump and CLIF bars (all natural energy bars) with her on her rides. When feeling adventurous and ready for an off road trip she never leaves home without her Camelbak water pack (important to prevent dehydration), a pump and tubes. Before you leave the cycling shop with your new bike, have the sales associate demonstrate how to change a tire; cycle shops usually provide this service at no cost to the customer. According to Hazlegrove, flat tires are the most common maintenance issue for riders.

In addition to these safety precautions, Parker advises, "Let someone know where you're going and how long you'll be gone." He adds, "Having a phone is important."

Next page: Bike trails and road safety tips

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