As I write this blog for the benefit of cycling based fitness enthusiasts, my Smartphone Runtastic Road Bike Pro App confirms a history of over 3,500 Kilometres of road cycling and gives me confidence that readers of this blog will immensely benefit from my recent past personal experiences. Whereas I do not claim to be an expert in cycles, I believe that reading through real world experiences of real people, who have been there and done that before is far more handy and useful than browsing through widely available free access to information.
Although a major part of this blog has been written from experiences gained in riding on reasonably high quality of paved roads in city conditions, where the cycle tyres do not lose ground contact avoiding unsafe jerks and impact on the human body, appropriate modifications with additional safeguards can always be made to suit an altogether different road and climate conditions, so that injuries can be avoided. From a big picture perspective, difficult terrain demand higher investment in bikes which is likely to give better fitness results in the medium to long term.
CAN CYCLING BE USED TO BOOST FITNESS AND / OR ASSIST IN WEIGHT LOSS?
This is possibly the most relevant question crossing the minds of most young to middle age fitness enthusiasts looking forward to embarking on a new journey of road cycling. The straight answer to the question is yes. However, my recent experiences confirm what has possibly been said a multiple number of times by most personal fitness trainers-what is needed the most is consistency, discipline, enthusiasm and adherence to a properly scheduled action plan backed by quality Nutrition. I do not necessarily mean completely giving up on demands of our sugar craving or high calorie food teasing our taste buds but rather a progressive staggered reduction, moderation or elimination of sugar and high calorie food which will go a long way in achieving individual weight management or body fat elimination goals. Needless to mention excessive Alcohol, Tobacco, Poor Sleeping Patterns and Poor Hydration are a strictly prohibited when moving towards regular cycling.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CYCLE
My recently purchased Bicycle Owner’s Manual has about fifty pages of information and starts with a general warning which reads
“Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility of for that risk, so you need to know-and to practice-the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance”
Whereas all modern manuals come with reasonably detailed information on the safety and maintenance drills to be followed, they are not intended to provide guidance on what kind of bike is most suitable to each one of us based on our variable set of individual circumstances, height, weight, time and intended use. It is therefore best to discuss personalised goals with an approved and qualified bike dealer who is in the best position to answer personalised questions on your bike selection.
Modern Bicycles come in a wide range of shapes, size, quality and costs and therefore choosing the right bike suitable to individual needs can be a far more daunting task than it might appear.
Personally, I started on a simple no frills no suspension mountain bike with easy to use 3-4 gears and subsequently moved on to a better quality lighter road bike after gaining sufficient paved road cycling confidence. Some of the categories of bikes which one might wish to consider before making a final purchase decision after obviously gaining some confidence with a basic form of cycle are as follows:
· Category-1 High Performance Road- Bikes designed for riding on a paved surface where the tyres do not lose ground contact and therefore intended to be used on paved roads only.
· Category-2 General Purpose Riding – Like Category-1 plus smooth gravel roads and improved trails with moderate grades where the tyres do not lose ground contact
· Category-3 Cross-Country, Marathon, Hard tails- Bikes designed for Category-1 and 2, plus rough trails, small obstacles and smooth technical areas, including areas where momentary loss of tire contact with ground may occur.
· Category-4 All Mountain- Bikes designed for 1-3 categories listed above plus rough surface areas, moderately sized obstacles and small jumps.
· Category-5 Gravity, Free ride, Downhill and Dirt-Jump - Bikes designed for jumping, high speeds, or aggressive riding on rougher surfaces or landing on flat surfaces
Regardless of individual choice, we must consider our choice of purchase as a reasonable long term fitness investment vehicle making it vital that quality is not compromised just to save a little bit of money at the cost of loss of safety, loss of interest and loss of motivation.
RULES OF CYCLING ON LOCAL AUSTRALIAN ROADS
Under Local Australian Road Rules, a bike is considered a vehicle and riders are required to obey road rules, including stopping at red lights and stop signs.
-Pass other vehicles on the left, except when those vehicles are indicating and turning left.
-Travel to the front of traffic on the left-hand side of stopped vehicles, except when those vehicles are indicating and turning left.
-Take up a whole traffic lane.
-Travel in Bus Lanes and Transit Lanes
-Ride on Shared Path (Image of a pedestrian and bike on the pavement) with Pedestrians
X Ride on the Footpath, unless the rider is under the age of 12
X Ride on the Footpath unless accompanying a rider under 12 or the footpath is a designated shared path.
As I have mostly ridden my cycle on weekends or outside peak business hours in the recent past, I would recommend readers to complete one of the various free practical cycling courses/ traffic safety classes should they wish to regularly ride to work or for recreation purposes in peak traffic conditions.
HANDY TIPS TO AVOID INJURIES
1. Familiarise yourself thoroughly with the bike including choosing the Right Size. A Bad sized bike is likely to lead to fall and cause injuries.
2. Perform Stand over height test which is the basic element of bike fit. It is the distance from the ground to the top of the cycle’s frame at that point where our groin is when standing with our legs wide apart. A Road bike should give a minimum stand over height clearance of two inches or five centimetres
3. Gain full understanding on how to operate the bike’s gear changing mechanism. A Shift to a lower or slower gear makes the cycle easy to pedal on a hill.
4. A Gear position should be easy enough to let riders start from a stop without the handle shaking which is highly likely to cause a fall based on my personal experience. This safety precaution is essential particularly when riding together with other vehicles and moving forward after the Traffic lights signal from Red to Green where we don’t have the luxury of moving too slow.
5.When stopping in Traffic ensure both the feet are on ground and gears are on the right comfortable position to help the cycle move forward without applying too much of pressure. Despite being an experienced cyclist, I recently made an error of judgement by attempting to move forward in a difficult set of gear position leading to loss of balance due to handle shake and an easily avoidable fall on paved road with bruises.
6.Make yourself visible through reflective vest particularly in low-light conditions also ensuring the cycle is fitted with working lights and bell.
7.Set yourself Smart (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound) Goals to maintain consistency, enthusiasm and measure weekly progress. A wide range of modern fitness gears and smart phone applications can easily keep records and help achieve personal targets progressively.
8.Strictly avoid wet and slippery conditions particularly when in the initial stages of cycling journey as the road grip of cycle tyres is significantly reduced in wet conditions. Muddy conditions in Paved Roads are particularly dangerous and likely to cause a fall even if the speed is slow.
9.Wear Dry Fit Clothing as excess sweat or humidity can cause skin infections easily leading to significant loss of time and loss of motivation to continue after an injury gap.
10.Never ride a Bike with long toenails or without closed footwear as a fall can lead to the toenail rupture and significant pain and suffering as experienced by me personally when learning to ride a bicycle in my childhood days. Cycling, while wearing thongs is a perfect recipe for serious injury should you experience a fall.
While Points numbered 1 to 10 provide a short list of safety precautions to be taken while enjoying stress free bicycling, one of the best form of outdoor sport activity in pollution free and moderate climate conditions, they are not intended to be exhaustive. Simply knowing how to ride a bicycle will solve little purpose especially when viewed from a long term body fitness maintenance perspective. What is needed is sound education about road conditions, climate and constant adherence to highest level of safety to avoid mishaps, injuries, loss of time and costs.