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Fitness comes in cycles.

Remember when you first learned to ride your bike without training wheels? As you pedaled down the sidewalk with the wind in your face, you felt almost as if you were flying.

If you'd like to experience that feeling again, go ahead! Bicycles aren't just for kids or hard-core athletes. They represent a great opportunity for shaping up aerobically while enjoying the outdoors.

Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise: it gives the heart and circulatory system an outstanding aerobic workout; it can burn 400 to 700 calories per hour; and it conditions not only your legs but, if you ride a touring bike with drop handlebars, your upper back and shoulders as well. For injured runners, cycling is ideal because it develops aerobic capacity while imposing far less stress on joints than running. You can ride indoors on an exercise bike---one of the most convenient forms of aerobic conditioning--or ride outdoors, which offers more variety and mobility than almost any other form of exercise.

To get the most from cycling for fitness, consider both your location and your bike.

If you ride in stop-and-go traffic in a suburb or a city, gaining any aerobic benefit will be difficult. On the other hand, riding in the country over hilly terrain may be too strenuous for beginners. When you begin cycling, it's best to ride on a paved roadway that varies from level to gently rolling; this allows you to ride in low to moderate gears at a good, even pace without straining. Then, as you become stronger, you can increase your cadence--the rate at which you pedal--and also try climbing long hills.

To ride for any significant distance, especially if you tackle hills, you need a bike with at least 10 speeds.

Such bikes have sturdy but lightweight frames and usually are equipped with drop handlebars that alleviate back stress. Prices for these bikes range from $200 to $250, depending on construction, weight, quality of components, and workmanship. "All'terrain'' bikes offer 18 speeds, and, while these tend to be heavier than 10 speeds, many of the newer models are suitable for riding on paved roads.



Many inexperienced cyclists think that the higher the gear the better the workout. But, in fact, riding in high gears increases the force needed for pedaling and can lead to injuries such as biker's knee (a generic term usually referring to pain around or under the kneecap). Pushing hard on the pedals also places stress on the sole of the foot and can interfere with blood circulation in leg muscles.

On the other hand, pedaling fast at a very low gear (one with low resistance) requires your muscles to contract quickly, which can make them sore.

Follow these guidelines to avoid injury:

* Maintain a cadence of 60 to 80 rpm (revolutions per minute). Studies show this is the optimum pedaling rate for most cyclists; however, racers cycle in the range of 80 to 100 rpm-- even faster when they sprint. Optimal cadence does vary somewhat from person to person, depending on training level, speed, and the use of accessories, such as toe clips.

* Save high gears for terrain, and save the highest gears for riding downhill or with a good tailwind.

* Use very low gears when climbing steep grades, carrying heavy gear, or experiencing a knee problem that's aggravated by strenuous cycling.

* Maintain a comfortable and efficient riding posture to sustain a constant pedaling effort. Bend from the waist, but don't slouch; your back should be slightly curved, not hunched.

* Don't ride in the racing "drop" positions (with your hands on the curved parts of the handlebars) for an extended period of time. Although this position does make your pedaling more efficient, it may cramp your hands and shoulders. Instead, switch hand positions frequently to the top of the handlebars.

* Keep your arms relaxed, and don't lock your elbows. This technique helps you better absorb bumps. Also, when you see bumps ahead in the road, rise slightly off the seat to prevent painful bouncing.

* Wear shoes with rigid soles. These promote efficient pedaling because they transmit more power to the pedals.


When you ride outdoors, road conditions, traffic, and weather can pose hazards. Bicycling is generally a safe activity, but more than 1,000 people die annually in the United States because of cycling accidents. Take these steps to improve safety:

Equip yourself. Always wear a helmet, and, when cycling at night or when visibility is poor, wear brightly colored reflective clothing. Don't wear headphones--not only do they block out the street sounds you need to hear, but wearing headphones also is a misdemeanor in some places. Carry packages only in baskets, handlebar- or seat-bags, or panniers (side pouches made especially for bicycles). A heavy backpack can throw you off balance.

Brake carefully. For most road conditions, use both brakes; using one or the other alone can be hazardous. Remember that each of the two hand brakes has a specific function. The front brake (the left lever) has the power to stop you more quickly than the back (the right lever); given enough pressure, it can throw you over the handlebars. The back brake, with strong pressure, may cause the bicycle to skid.

On long, steep downhills, as well as in wet weather, you should "feather" the brakes--gently tap them, applying intermittent pressure. For a quick stop, as you firmly press the brakes, slide to the back of the saddle. This will keep the rear of the bike down so you don't flip over the handlebars. Be careful not to jam the brakes, however, or you may lose control of the bike.

Remember cycling road sense. Use hand signals so drivers around you can predict your actions. Learn to change gears without taking your eyes off the road to prevent swerving into traffic, and don't ride side by side with another cyclist.

Year-round Biking

Working out on an exercise bike is a great year-round conditioning program. Any well-equipped gym or health club will have exercise bicycles. Many people have them at home; the stationary exercise bicycle is the most popular item of home exercise equipment in the United States.

Pedaling an exercise bike is great for aerobic condition if done at least three times per week for 20 minutes. An exercise bicycle is also a great conditioning tool for beginners because they can start by setting the pedaling resistance at an easy level. As their fitness level improves, they can prolong workouts and increase the difficulty by adjusting the resistance of the flywheel. A 170-pound man pedaling at 20 miles per hour burns about 700 calories an hour. These bikes also are excellent for toning calves, thighs. and buttocks--although they don't exercise the muscles of the upper body.

The two basic kinds of exercise bikes are standard stationary bikes and ergometers. Both have just one wheel-- a heavy metal flywheel at the front. The wheel turns against a strip of fabric or some other resistance that can be tightened or loosened to adjust the workload. Don't buy a bike with unadjustable tension.

Ergometers have indicators that calculate work output. Some, for example, calculate output in watts, others show calories consumed. These devices make ergometers more expensive than standard stationary bikes.

By meashring exactly how much work your body does, you can duplicate and then exceed that output m your next workout. But output is not as important for measurmg aerobic fitness as your heart rate. So even when riding an ergometer, take your pulse regularly as you pedal to make sure you are reaching, but not exceeding, your target heart rate.


Many people grow bored with their exercise bikes, often because the bike is poorly designed, the seat is uncomfortable, or the pedal motion is uneven. The two keys to a good bike are a heavy flywheek which ensures smooth pedaling, and a comfortable seat. In the long run, a more expensive bike is a better investment than a bottom-of-theline model.

To get maximum efficiency from leg muscles while putting minimum strain on the knees, adjust the height of the seat so that, with the heels on the pedals, you can pedal backward without swaying from side to side. Keep the seat level, or tilt it up a little at the front--this takes the strain off the wrists and arms.

Start sessions at about 45 pedal revolutions per minute. and work up to 7090 revolutions per minute at moderate tension. Pedaling slowly at a high-tension. setting actually puts an excessive load on the legs, heart, and lungs; this cannot be sustained long,


* Never buy a machine without a test ride. It could wobble or be the wrong size for your body. Some bikes are also noisy.

* Use toe clips to prevent your feet from sliding; this keeps equal upward and downward force on the pedals.

* Buy a padded seat and handlebar pads for comfort.

* Wear lightweight, absorbent clothing.

* Play a radio, read, or watch television if you find yourself getting bored. Use a fan if you get too hot while pedaling.


If you already own a conventional bike, you can convert it into an indoor exercise bike--one that you know will be comfortable--and for far less money than a store-bought exercise bike. Purchase a device outfitted with rollers that support your bike while allowing you to pedal; you can adjust the rollers as well as the gears on your bike to control the resistance.

Or buy a wind-load simulator a round, cage-like device that simulates the wind resistance of actual outdoor bicycling. Put your regular bike on a frame with the simulator: the harder you pedal, the greater the resistance-- just as if you were pedaling into the wind.

Whether you choose to exercise outdoors or in the comfort of your home. you'll find cycling a healthy challenge. And you may feel like a kid again!

Helpful Helmet Hints

A recent study found that 80 percent of all cyclists believe helmets offer effective protection, but only 2 to 10 percent of all cyclists actually wear them. As a consequence, head injuries account for 85 percent of the nation's 1,000 annual cycling deaths, 34 percent of which claim the lives of children ages five to 14. If you're moving as slowly as 20 miles an hour and your unprotected head hits something solid, you have little chance of surviving.

Reasons for not wearing helmets usually are based on aesthetics or comfort. But such objections don't hold up against the attractive lightweight designs now approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation, which has test standards accepted nationwide.


Whichever style you choose, check for the ANSI approval sticker, meaning the helmet meets reasonable laboratory standards for ahsorbing severe blows. An ANSI sticker should be adequate for most cyclists. A Snell sticker means the helmet meets even stricter standards (though this helmet has not been proven any safer). Only about a dozen models have both stickers. A good helmet may cost from $30 to $70.

Conventional helmets with a hard outer shell and an energy-absorbing interior made of polystyrene foam weigh one pound or less. The new ultralight models that weigh as little as eight and a half ounces are made of very dense foam and have no outer shell, which makes them cool and comfortable. However, such helmets may suffer more damage from daily wear than helmets with hard outer shells.

Replace helmets every five years. The plastics used in both their inner and outer layers deteriorate under the stress of weather and hard knocks. If you have an accident. send your helmet to the manufacturer for inspection, even if it appears undamaged. Many manufacturers will replace damaged helmets free of charge.


When buying helmets, look for these features:

* SHOCK ABSORBENCY. The liner is as important as the shell, A good liner should be at least a half-inch thick and made from crushable expanded polystyrene (the foam used for picnic coolers and packing material). Although it is stiff, the liner will give under impact, absorbing the shock of a collision or fall.

* COMFORT AND FIT. You are less likely to wear an uncomfortable helmet. Sponge rubber or fabric pads should hold the helmet firmly to your head. The helmet should allow ventilation. which is crucial on summer days.

* IMPENETRABILITY. A rigid outer shell can stand up to abrasion and collision with sharp, hard objects like car doors and handles. The usual materials are polycarbonate or fiberglass.

* SECURITY. A snug-fitting strap, fastened with a D-ring or buckle, will keep the helmet secure.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:bicycling; excerpt from book 'The Wellness Encyclopedia'; includes related articles
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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