“To me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun is shining… as long as I’m riding a bike I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world”
– Mark Cavendish MBE
Vive la Tour!
In July, twenty teams of nine riders take part in the Tour de France. The 21-stage race will start in Mont-Saint-Michel and end after 3,519 kilometres of cycling, in the capital of Paris. With only two days rest and up to five and a half hours of cycling in one sitting, cyclists will have to face and conquer all kinds of terrain, all kinds of weather and all kinds of unexpected obstacles. Sound tempting? Maybe not. Don’t let it daunt you – every cyclist had to start somewhere, and there are some great reasons why you might like to start too.
Learning to ride
Riding a bicycle without stabilisers for the first time is, for a lot of people, one of life’s biggest achievements. Often passed down through the generations, it can provide a huge bonding experience for parents and their children. But what if you never learnt in the first place? Not everyone will need or perhaps want to learn how to ride a bike when they’re young, but if it’s something you are regretting in your adult life, it’s never too late to give it a go. Equally, if you haven’t been on a bike in years, jumping back on will be easy; it’s a skill that can never be unlearnt, and a little bit of practice will get you right back to where you once were.
Easy peasy pedalling
Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK with an estimated 3.1 million people riding a bicycle each month. It is also one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it’s also a form of transport! Try as you might, exercising on the bus or train won’t bring you the benefits that cycling to work will. It’s hard to compare walking and cycling in terms of calorie burning, as it will all depend on your pace and intensity of both activities. However, one thing is almost certain; you’ll save time if you get on your bike and ride.
Use a bike, save a buck
A brand new road bike can set you back as little as £200, and once you’re kitted up with your bike and helmet, you are pretty much ready for the off. With far less money spent in terms of upkeep and maintenance than a car, your bike will not only be a great investment, but a cheaper vehicle for life.
If you trade your four wheels in for two, you’ll also be helping the environment out in a big, big way. Pedal bikes don’t require batteries or motor oil, which means no harmful emissions, less polluted air and therefore better air quality for us all. There will also be a reduction in noise pollution and energy use. Even compared to a hybrid or electric vehicle, more carbon and other materials need to be produced in order to make the car, as it’s significantly bigger (depending on the size, 70-100 bicycles can be made from the resources needed to build a single car). So start biking for a leaner and greener you!
Put your safety first
Unfortunately, the figures of road accidents involving cyclists, and motorcyclists do not make for pleasant reading. These two groups (along with pedestrians) make up the “vulnerable road users” category. Although, thankfully, the number of cycling fatalities did not show much of a rise in 2014 compared to previous years, the number of those seriously injured showed an 8.2 per cent rise. It’s hard to find an exact reason for this and of course an accident of this kind doesn’t always mean it’s the cyclist’s fault.
Use your head, use a helmet
There’s a divide in opinion when it comes to helmet regulations. There is in fact no law requiring cyclists to wear a helmet whilst cycling, despite the Highway Code suggesting that riders should. Organizations like Cycling UK fear a compulsory law might put people off cycling, and that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove the effectiveness of wearing a helmet (as standards only require helmets to withstand an impact equivalent to someone falling from their bike at about 12mph).
A study by the Transport Research Laboratory suggested that cycle helmets are effective at reducing the risk of skull and brain injuries. In 2010, British Olympian James Cracknell was cycling across America when he was hit by the wing mirror of a petrol tanker travelling at 70 miles per hour. Although he suffered huge injury to the frontal lobes of his brain, changing his memory and personality forever, he puts his survival solely down to the fact that he was wearing a helmet.
“When I came out of intensive care”, said Cracknell, “I wasn’t me any more, but if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet I’d be dead.”
A safety checklist
If you are planning on riding a bike out on the main road, you must make sure you are keeping yourself as safe as possible. You can’t always predict who else will be on the road, but you can take responsibility for yourself. Here are the guidelines for cycle safety, according to the NHS website:
An exercise for everyone
Cycling really is an activity for everyone. Think simply of all the different types of bikes that are out there: road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, electric bikes, tandem bikes, track bikes, fixed wheel bikes, to name a few. Cycling is one of those activities where you get out what you put in, which is great news if you aren’t at the peak level of fitness. No matter your age, ability or even size, you can find a bike and style of cycling to suit you.
Exercises that are referred to as “low-impact” are those that bring great improvements to your health and fitness, without causing strain or damage to your joints. It has been suggested by scientific research that low-impact activities have just as much positive effect as high-impact; the important thing is just to keep moving!
Aerobic exercises, meaning that you need to use oxygen, will strengthen your lungs and therefore improve how deeply you can breathe. This will in turn extend your stamina when exercising. As well as these benefits, aerobic exercises have also been shown to lessen symptoms of depression, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and aid your immune system and function.
If you cycle on a regular basis, you will get a great cardiovascular workout. This will reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, which include stroke and heart attacks, as well as improving your heart health. If your heart is healthier and stronger, it will be able to work more efficiently to stimulate good circulation and deliver oxygen to your cells so that they can function at their best too.
Cycling IS an all-seasons sport; if the weather looks gloomy or rainy outside, simply saddle up inside. You’ll find standard exercise bikes inside most well-equipped gyms, but they aren’t your only option. At Active Nation, we have a number of classes available for those who want to reap the benefits of cycling. Here’s the low-down on what they are and what you can gain from giving them a go:
Studio Cycling is a group class taught on stationary bikes. You may have heard of the most popular type of studio cycling, which is called Spinning. During a class like this, your pedalling speeds will change, but as you pedal, you will also be instructed to carry out upper body movements (taking advantage of the fact that the bikes aren’t moving!). Although pretty exhausting, Studio Cycling is a brilliant cardiovascular workout as well as improving your aerobic fitness. If you already enjoy cycling then this is a great class to motivate you and reach your goals.
To find out more about our Studio Cycling classes, click here.
Are you wondering, what is a wattbike? These bikes are designed and used by World and Olympic champions, and are the first factory calibrated indoor bike to deliver accurate and consistent performance data, and technical feedback, which means you can keep track of your performance, as well as planning ahead for your future goals. Unlike a studio bike, using a Wattbike actually feels like you’re riding a bike or a road or track. This is a brilliant piece of exercise equipment if you want to measure your ability and progress, helped by the Active Nation coaches who are on hand to offer help and advice.
To find out more about our Wattbike sessions, click here.
Want to achieve a fantastic workout whilst having fun? Yes, it is possible! RPM sessions involve great interval training, but to energetic and rhythmic music to keep you motivated. You’ll burn some serious calories as you discover your inner athlete, tackling time trials and inclinations that represent different outdoor terrains. If other classes haven’t quite proved enough of a challenge, RPM is for you.
To find out more about our RPM classes, click here.
So whether it’s inside or outside, uphill or down at the gym, why not consider getting on your bike this summer?