Fitting in a daily exercise routine in our busy lives is increasingly becoming more challenging than ever. But if you could do it regularly by simply swapping the car, train or bus with a bicycle on your daily commute?
Australia’s wonderful climate makes it ideal to ditch the gas-guzzler and take up cycling – even if there are a few more hills than Holland to deal with. There’s a reason people say something is “just like riding a bike” because even if you haven’t cycled since childhood, you’ll quickly pick it up again.
These 7 cycling tips will help you get the most out of cycling.
This has to come first and be your biggest priority. Cycling deaths are still rising in Australia, despite falling in nearly every other developed country. Many cyclists are also seriously injured every year.
Invest in the right helmet, wear proper clothing and make sure you have bright lights on your bike and that everything is in good working order. Consider a road safety course to help you anticipate the poor and often dangerous driving of the motor vehicles you share the road with, and how you can maximise your safety.
Regular riders tend to get tight hamstrings and calves. You should try to stretch out after a ride, but many people are too exhausted, or they’ve just reached the office and there’s no suitable place to do so. Consider doing a couple of yoga sessions every week to ensure you do the flexibility work you need.
Pedalling in high gear for long periods can increase pressure on your knees. Shift to lower gears and faster revolutions to get more exercise with less stress on your joints. Between 60 and 80 revolutions per minute is the best cadence for most cyclists, unless you’re a racer.
Even it takes you on a more meandering journey than as-the-crow-flies, planning your route can transform a daily bike commute to a wonderful ride. Work out where the bike lanes are, what parks you can ride through, and what side streets you can take to avoid main roads. Try it out on the weekend first so you’re not late for work on Monday.
You can also split it up – bikes can be carried on some public transport, so you could do half the route on wheels and half by train, or ride in in the mornings and take public transport home. If you can leave your bike safely overnight at your office, you could even alternate transport choices.
If you don’t eat properly before a ride the glycogen in your muscles will deplete and you’ll run out of energy. If you can’t increase your breakfast size, take healthy, easy-to-eat snacks such as a banana. There are also energy bars, gels and snacks designed specially for cyclists.
Don’t forget the fluid either – it’s critical to drink enough water. You’ll need 600-1,200ml for ever hour you cycle. You may not feel you’re sweating as sweat evaporates on the bike, but you’ll quickly dehydrate. For most morning commutes – up to 25km or so – plain water is fine, but if you do get into doing longer rides you’ll probably want to take a sports drink.
If you’re commuting by cycle, scope out shower facilities at your work or nearby gyms. Keep fresh clothes at the office, or if you bring them with you, roll them to avoid creases. Some cyclists just get dry cleaning done close to work and use it as their “wardrobe”. The good news is that certain cities are starting to introduce cycling centres with shower, change and bike storage facilities.
It’s ok to have a lazy day! In fact you’ll only get stronger if you do, as muscles need time off to rebuild. Given this only happens while you’re asleep, make sure you get plenty of shut-eye or your muscles won’t grow. Overtraining also leads to injury so don’t overdo it.
Even cycling at a leisurely pace burns a lot of calories, and at a moderate speed you’ll burn as much as jogging. You’ll also be giving your mind a work out: researchers found that each 5% improvement in cardio-respiratory fitness from cycling improved mental acuity by 15%. And a study of identical twins found that those who cycled the equivalent of three 45-minute rides each week were nine years “biologically younger”.
Chloe Quin is wellness expert with online health insurance provider Health.com.au, whose mission is to help Australians access affordable healthcare that’s easy to understand. Also a qualified yoga instructor, Chloe is passionate about empowering women to boost their health and fitness in fun, family-friendly ways.