During the colder months, you may have been getting your cycling fix by peddling away indoors, but now with spring in full bloom, it’s time to get outside and hit the open road. NEBH Physical Therapist Scott Taylor shares a few benefits of cycling and some ways you can safely go from a stationary bike to riding outside.
Health benefit: Cycling is great exercise
Cycling outside provides a high intensity workout. You may have been participating in an indoor cycling class and think transitioning to biking outdoors won’t provide the same high intensity workout. Cycling outdoors provides an efficient cardio workout, similar to indoor training but with the added benefit of being out in the fresh air and sunshine.
When you are in a cycling class, you are in a fixed position in a climate controlled atmosphere. When riding outside, you must factor in a variety of different elements, such as winds, variable temperatures, different elevations and road conditions. Similar to indoor training, you will still be challenging your leg muscles, but you will find the additional movement of the bike itself engages more of your core and upper extremity muscles. Unlike a stationary bike, riding outdoors also requires a different skill set for handling the bike such as allowing it to rock side to side when climbing or leaning it into the corners.
By going outdoors you will naturally be inclined to go longer and can start working on your endurance. Another way to increase the intensity of your workout is to speed up over a known section of road to see how fast you can go, or to try a route with more hill climbing. If you want to challenge yourself against other local cyclists, you can sign up for an app that can be used with your smart phone such as STRAVA or Garmin to compare virtual times over known local road “segments”.
Practice good posture
In an indoor cycling class you may have been moving back and forth or from side to side. On an outdoor bike things are almost opposite in that your bike will move more relative to you. Try to hold a steady position for increased efficiency that also will allow for variations in the terrain. To practice good posture you should keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest open, with your head and eyes looking up the road. To do this put your shoulder blades down and back and put loose pressure on the handlebars to absorb shock. Sit comfortably in the saddle (make sure you have a good saddle that fits you) and change hand positions often to keep from developing numbness or tingling in the fingers.
The number one rule for cycling outdoors is to always wear a helmet. You will want to dress appropriately and pack the proper gear. Depending on the duration and weather during your ride, wear adequate layers that you can remove if necessary. You will want to bring a flat kit and a small tool for potential repairs and the inevitable flat tire. Pump up your tires to the recommended pressures and if you have been using your road bike on a trainer all winter, change that back tire as it will have been worn paper thin by now. Always stay hydrated.
Practice Road Cycling Etiquette
Whether you are in a rural or an urban area, pay attention to traffic and know the rules of the road. Be alert at all times, which can be particularly challenging as you start to get tired. Use hand signals to let other riders or vehicles know where you are going. It is a good idea to make your self visible to vehicles and other riders by attaching blinking lights to your bike or dressing in bright colors. Ride smoothly and behave predictably with no sudden swerves or unexpected jerky motions. Remember, if you look toward it, you ride toward it, so be conscious of this fact when checking over your shoulder for oncoming traffic.
Whether you are cycling inside or outside, biking is a great form of exercise. You can participate all year by making a few adjustments to your conditions.