You say you haven’t been on a bike since you were a kid? Don’t despair.
Even if you think you’re too out of shape, too old or too busy coping with aches and pains due to arthritis or some other chronic health problem, cycling is one of the best forms of exercise…and popular electric bikes and three-wheelers make it accessible for everyone. Here’s the lowdown…
Why cycling gets the nod
Especially as we get older, cycling is much easier on our bodies than a high-impact cardio exercise, such as jogging. When you jog, your foot hits the ground with a force that can break bones and tear muscles. When you cycle, you pedal with a smooth rotary motion that is gentle on your joints while effectively working your muscles—including your heart.
My path to cycling: I used to be an international marathon runner and now, at age 84, I can no longer run…but I do ride my bike seven days a week for a total of 150 to 180 miles.
Note: If you have any medical problems or disabilities, always check with your doctor before biking.
Though it’s said that you never forget how to ride a bike, you may be worried about your balance or the safety of riding outdoors. If your coordination or balance is questionable—or if you need greater protection against injury because of a condition such as osteoporosis or other medical problems—try a recumbent three-wheel bicycle that is low to the ground.
If you’re not comfortable riding on roads, try a stationary bike in your home or gym. You can get all the health benefits from a stationary bike, and it will also strengthen your muscles and coordination so that you will be more comfortable if you decide later to ride outdoors. However, if your balance is so compromised that you are in danger of falling off a stationary bike, it may be safer for you not to ride at all.
To determine the length of your cycling sessions, listen to your body instead of relying on other measures such as tracking your distance or time. If you’re out of shape or have arthritis pain, you may be able to pedal a stationary bike for only a few minutes or less at first—I’ve had patients who could do only five or 10 seconds before they felt pain in their leg muscles, joints, shoulders or back, but in a few weeks, they were up to 20 minutes or more of comfortable riding.
If you experience pain anywhere in your body that does not go away when you stop pedaling, you should end your workout immediately and try again the next day. If the pain goes away but returns when you resume pedaling, also call it a day. You can expect to be injured if you do not listen to your body.
The right bike for you
The wide range of bike styles for the road means that there’s a design for just about everyone and for every budget. Among the newer options…
A recumbent three-wheeler is designed for easier mounting and dismounting because the center bar is just one foot off the ground. But this is not a kid’s trike—some of today’s fastest riders are using three-wheelers. Prices range from $200 up to $2,000.
An electric-assist or e-bike works well if you’re out of shape, have weak muscle tone or simply want to be able to ride with faster riders for longer periods of time than you could on your own. Even though an e-bike has an electric motor, it doesn’t mean you aren’t working out—you can pedal with or without the assistance of the motor so your muscles and heart still get a great workout.
Most e-bikes can reach speeds of 18 mph with the motor alone to 28 mph with pedaling. E-bikes are available in two- and three-wheel models in both upright and recumbent styles. Prices of e-bikes start at around $1,000 and top out at $5,500 or more.
A stationary bike can be a recumbent, upright or spin version. Stationary bikes also are available with an Internet-connected screen that displays trails around the world or puts you in virtual classes led by a trainer. Prices range from $400 to $2,000 or more. For Internet-connected classes, popular options include Peloton, NordicTrack and Echelon. Compare prices, monthly fees and the number of live and prerecorded classes offered.
Put safety first!
If you’re biking outdoors, dedicated bike trails (check local and state parks) are safer than riding in bike lanes on the street. Scenic and historic bike trails can be found in many parts of the US via the Great American Rail-Trail, RailsToTrails.org/GreatAmericanRailTrail.
To avoid head injuries, you must wear a helmet. Helpful: When you open your mouth as wide as you can, the helmet should press against the top of your head. If the strap feels tight on the bottom of your chin, it is too tight and should be loosened a bit. Also…
Never ride without lights, even in the daytime. Outfit your bike with a white light in front and a red light in back. Use 1,000 lumens lights, which give the best visibility—both to be seen and to see what’s ahead.
Wear a jersey in a bright color like yellow. Most accidents involving cars are due to driver distraction, so grab drivers’ attention with a bright color.
Consider using shoe cleats or toe clips. Your feet are far less likely to slip off the pedals if you use shoe cleats or toe clips. However, if you have to dismount suddenly for a traffic stop or emergency, you may not be able to disengage your foot from the pedal and you can fall. Ask a qualified bike specialist for advice.
Practice the ABC check before every ride—air, brakes and chain. Squeeze the tires to make sure there’s adequate tire pressure…make sure the brakes work…and check that the chain moves smoothly.
Then start biking!