Last weekend, I had the privilege of watching the final day of the Exergy Tour – a five day cycling event in the Boise area, with the world’s top professional cyclists in attendance. It was like watching a Tour de France of women – in Idaho! This year’s tour was especially significant because, for many, it was an Olympics qualifier. I was mesmerized by the ladies’ muscular physiques and how incredibly fast they were riding. And I must admit that seeing Patrick Dempsey at the finish didn’t suck either.
Another great moment came when American Evelyn Stephens took home the trophy for overall title. A Dartmouth grad, Wall Street dropout, she bought her first bike only three years ago. Proving it’s never too late to start a new sport and pursue a dream, I’m glad she no longer uses her bike to hold purses. Apparently, she was excited to see McDreamy, too.
Benefits of Cycling Though I will never possess the talent of Evelyn or local favorite, Kristin Armstrong, I am a big fan of cycling. For starters, there are many health advantages to cycling, including the following:
- Increases muscle tone – not just the legs! Over time, you will see an improvement in the muscle tone of your legs, thighs, rear end and hips.
- Strengthens leg muscles and is great for the mobility of hip and knee joints
- Improves energy level
- Builds stamina
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
- Burns calories
- Improves heart health
- Improves coordination
- Helps reduce stress
The Sky’s the Limit There are so many ways to enjoy the sport of cycling. You can race on a bike, tour the landscape or get to work! It’s hard to say that about many other sports. When I lived in Boston, I participated in a number of mountain bike races — which were incredibly difficult but so much fun. There are triathlons and centuries (100-mile races/events), too, if racing is your thing.
Another way to enjoy cycling is to participate in multi-day events like Seattle to Portland or the Pan Mass Challenge, wonderful experiences to see the sights and hang out with old friends and make news ones (I have completed both and can’t say enough good things!). There are week-long events like RAGBRAI, the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world, held in Iowa.
Biking vacations are a blast, too. Companies like Backroads and Vermont Bicycling Tours are guided expeditions in which the host will carry your bags while you tour amazing places all over the world. Years ago, I mountain biked from Telluride to Durango for 5 days with Western Spirit Adventures, a trip I’ll always remember for its beauty and challenge! Maybe all you want to do is cycle to work, and that’s commendable as well. According to the BBC, if all commuters in the UK left their cars at home for one day a week for a year, there would be enough gas to travel to the moon and back 35,000 times. How’s that for helping save the environment while getting some exercise, too?
To Get Started
To get started, no surprise, you’ll need a bicycle. You can pay anywhere from $100 to thousands, all depending on your objectives. If you want to tool around town, there’s no need to spend a fortune, but if you have a need for speed or plan to do some racing, think about spending a bit more for a lighter, more aerodynamic bike (or one with fine-tuned brakes and suspension forks if purchasing a mountain bike).
To save money, consider buying a demo or used bike – from sites like Local Bike Trader, Google, ebay and Craig’s List. This article has some great tips for buying a used bike. Local bike shops are tremendous resources for pretty much anything you need to know. Other mandatory items include a helmet and bike shorts, if you want to stay comfortable. Over time, you may wish to purchase some gloves, too. I believe in hydration, so don’t forget a water bottle or hydration pack.
According to About.com, the lucky seven items you should always have with you on a bike ride are a spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, pump/CO2, ID card, multi-tool and cell phone. Don’t go biking alone if you don’t know how to change a tube (it’s not hard)! I can’t ride without my beloved pedals and biking shoes but admit there’s a bit of a learning curve, should you wish to partake. Here are some other accessories you might consider.
Play it Safe
Biking is wrought with a few perils, namely the potential for accidents. If your coordination is not improving as advertised, or if you live in a metro area where it’s more dangerous to bike, you may try a safer option. Spinning is great way to enjoy the benefits of cycling without worrying about cars, flat tires and other mishaps. It’s also a way to save money on all the necessary equipment.