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Cycling Guide for the Young at Heart

By New You Editorial
Posted On Jul 22, 2014

The Spin Crowd

Whether you’re an avid cyclist or haven’t hopped on a Schwinn since you were a kid, now’s the perfect time to suit up and bike like you mean it.

BY Valerie Latona PHOTOGRAPH by John Huba/Art + Commerce

In the late 1990s, mary bemis—then a Manhattan resident—repeatedly attempted to ride her bike through the traffic-clogged city streets safely. “Riding a bike in New York City at that time really scared me,” Bemis says. “Add to that my bike ended up being stolen.”

Fast-forward to present-day New York City—with its dedicated bike lanes, bike rentals (or “bike shares”), and cyclist-friendly attitude. The metropolis—like many other urban centers across the country—offers a positive experience for bike enthusiasts. Not that Bemis, founder of Insidersguidetospas.com, would know firsthand.  She’s since moved to Oregon, where you can find her riding along the Rogue River in the mornings on a restored 1971 pale-green Schwinn Breeze. She has dubbed it “Celeste.” “I regularly do an eight-mile loop to an old dam,” says Bemis. “It’s like a dream, coming from a place like New York. It’s so pretty. I’ve even seen salmon jumping in the river while I’m riding.”

Bemis uses Celeste as her primary mode of transportation around her small town. “Having lived in New York City for so long, I just never got a driver’s license,” she reveals. “While I love my beautiful morning bike rides, my bike is how I get around to my local post office and grocery store. Sometimes I even ride with my husband to brunch on the weekends.”

Bemis’ routine is music to Tara McKee’s ears. A cycling advocate based in Salt Lake City, McKee’s goal is to get people out of their cars and onto their bicycles. “You’re outdoors in the fresh air, getting a workout, and having a great time,” says McKee. “You also feel a connection to your area so much more than you’d get from riding around in your car.”


The benefits of biking extend far beyond a meaningful connection with your surroundings. New research points to significant benefits of bicycling, and an increase in well-being for riders of all ages. (Do remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.) Biking boosts your mood. One survey in the Netherlands found that people who bike tend to be more joyful. This doesn’t surprise Palo Altobased physical therapist Curtis Cramblett, a US Olympic cycling coach and founder ofRevolutions in Fitness (revolutionsinfitness.com).

“Biking gave so many of us that first feeling of freedom as kids,” Cramblett explains. “There’s an inherent joy we get from being on a bike. You’ve got the fresh air on your face, and as you’re moving through your environment, you feel the tension melt away from your shoulders and neck. It’s like your body is saying ‘Wheeee.’” Ms. Bemis enthusiastically agrees.

“I feel like a kid on my bike,” she says. “I have so much fun on it. Add to that, it really tends to clear my head.” Given that biking is such a mood booster, it’s not surprising that it also increases energy levels. One study in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that bicycle riding—at a low to moderate pace, three times a week— increases energy by 20 percent and decreases fatigue by 65 percent.

The reason: Cycling triggers your brain to release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are linked to energy, according to lead researcher Patrick O’Connor, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia at Athens. “Being outdoors in the sunlight provides additional energy,” adds O’Connor. Biking is smart for your heart. Any exercise, including bicycling, benefits your ticker. According to Katherine Roberts, a master trainer at Equinox in New York, biking gets your heart rate up and therefore strengthens the heart, which is, in itself, a giant muscle.

Biking bolsters the cardiovascular system, improves circulation, helps facilitate oxygen intake, and lowers blood pressure—which is a risk factor for heart disease. Researchers at Purdue University found that regular cycling can cut your risk of heart disease by 50 percent. “Some of the biggest gains you get from cycling are cardio benefits,” explains Cramblett. “Research shows that a bit of cycling atlight intensity can improve cardiovascular fitness by five to ten percent without putting undue stress on your joints. You never forget how to ride. You probably already know how to do it.”

Intensity is a factor that Roberts always preaches, particularly if you are looking to improve your fitness level after doing low-intensity rides for one to three months. “Try pushing yourself safely for a minute on the bike, going faster than you typically would, then slow it down for a few minutes,” Roberts says. “If you keep doing this, you’ll be burning plenty of calories and body fat.” (A 145-pound woman who is pedaling at a moderate pace of 12 to 14 miles per hour can burn approximately 600 calories in an hour.) Biking will help you gain less weight as you age.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who didn’t bike and then, 16 years later, started biking for at least five minutes a day, gained less weight than women who didn’t bike at all. Anne Lusk, PhD, one of Harvard’s research scientists, found that biking, by nature, forces your body to work harder than it would with other activities like walking.

The unit of exertion is measured in a unit called a “MET.” “The METs for walking are two to four, while the METs for bicycling are four to sixteen,” explains Lusk. “When you walk, you can slow down. If you slow down too much on a bike, you fall over.” Biking strengthens your muscles, without stressing your joints. The heart isn’t the only muscle that benefits from biking— it strengthens your thighs, hips, and rear end, too. “You’re really working your leg muscles when you ride,” says Roberts.

“But you’re also getting in a great butt workout, too.” Biking is an intense workout, so it’s essential to stretch after riding to prevent injury, says Nadya Swedan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in New York City. “When you bike, your entire body is moving or leaning forward,” Dr. Swedan says. “You want to gently stretch your body in the opposite direction.”

One of Swedan’s favorite post-cycling stretches is the “upward facing dog” (or “cobra”) position from yoga, which stretches the chest, legs, and hips. Pilates, swimming, and court sports—anything that gets you out of that bent-over position—will also help. Consider this: Cyclists take about 15 percent fewer sick days, according to a study in the journal Preventive Medicine. They also sleep better (thanks to fresh air) and live—on average—two years longer than non-cyclists.

“If you haven’t biked, try it,” says Lusk. “Rent a bike on vacation. Borrow a bike and go for a ride with a friend or your child. My daughter rode with me from Boston to DC when she was only thirteen years old—and she credits that ride with helping her get into college.”

Biker Must-haves

SADDLE: Not in the market for a new bike, but want to find a more comfy seat? Try the Terry Cite X Gel Saddle ($49; terrybicycles .com), made with a cushy layer of gel across the top.

BIKE HELMET: Get creative with this must-have accessory, opting for Nutcase helmets, which come with magnetic buckles that allow for onehanded operation. We’re partial to the Daisy Stripe, but there are plenty of options from which to choose. ($60, nutcasehelmets .com).

BIKE BASKET: Looking for a sleek (i.e., not wicker) basket for commuting? Opt for the black Basil Cento Curve Rear Basket ($30, amazon. com) made from steel, with reflector stripes for safety. It’s roomy enough to store your bag (and shoes).

BIKE SKIRT: Not loving the idea of wearing Spandex bike shorts? Hide them beneath the Cruiser Bike Girl Skort ($84.95, teamestrogen. com), with comfy chamois and built-in bike compression shorts.

IPHONE/IPAD HOLDER: Never get lost on your bike again with these convenient holders to guide you to your destination—and dial out in case of an emergency. We like the Topeak iPhone DryBag ($24.99, performancebike .com), which attaches easily to your handlebar.

BIKE-TO-WORK PANTS: It’s hard to find a decent looking pair of bike pants that can double as office pants. But the Black Bike to Work Pants by Betabrand ($108, betabrand.com) feature cuffs that roll up to reveal super-bright reflective material, a higher back rise, and stretchiness for better mobility.

BIKE BAG: Your best bet is a versatile bag that you can use as a messenger style bike bag and a handbag.

Bikes for Every Rider

An “around town” bike for women: Schwinn Midmoor women’s bike ($370 to $400, schwinnbikes .com) is a hybrid bike with 21 speeds and a super soft saddle. It’s good for all riding levels and can be ridden on any surface.

A commuter bike: Trek Pure ($490, trekbikes.com for locations), with seven speeds, comes with a comfy saddle and is available with optional fenders— essential for protecting work clothes from road mud.

A beginner road bike: Specialized Dolce Triple ($800, sidsbikes.com) is designed for women, has eight speeds, and can be used for a weekend workout or longer rides.

A mountain bike: Diamondback Women’s Lux Sport 29er ($599, diamondback.com) has a rugged frame with low-rise bars (built for a woman’s frame) and eight speeds. (Available in 3 sizes: 15″, 17″, and 19″.)

A three-wheeled bike: Schwinn Meridian ($280 to $480, schwinnbikes.com) comes complete for cruising with a comfy seat, fenders, and a rear basket. For young kids: Strider ST-4 Balance Bike ($109, striderbikes.com) is designed without pedals to help preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) learn to balance and ride a bike, sans training wheels. the Blossom Twig Double Bicycle Bag ($80,6/3/13

All in Good Form

Maintaining proper bicycle form is key to preventing injury, says Nadya Swedan, MD. f Seat height should be positioned so there’s a slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of the stroke.  Experts like Swedan and Curtis Cramblett of Revolutions in Fitness agree: Seat height is one of the most important things. If it’s too low, you’re going to feel more pressure in your knees. f Try to maintain a flat but relaxed back, and keep your elbows bent and relaxed (which helps absorb shock when you hit a bump). “Go a little higher with the handlebars, so you don’t have to bend your body over as far,” says Swedan. “This will protect your back and neck.”

When in doubt, get a professional certified bike fit at your local bike store. If you have discomfort, it’s worth seeking out a professional fitter with medical training like Cramblett. App-ed Up When you’ve got your phone strapped to your handlebars, these apps can be lifesavers:

Bike Doctor 2 ($4.99, iPhone) features 29 of the most common bike repairs you might need to make while out on the road, including how to change a flat. Visit bikedoctorapp.com.

BioLogic BikeBrain ($1.99, iPhone) turns your phone into a computer with GPS and is able to measure speed and distance. Visit thinkbiologic.com.

Everytrail (free, iPhone and Android) allows you to see your route and your current position on your phone via Google Maps or satellite view. Visit everytrail.com. basil.com for dealers), outfitted with reflective Get Race-y You’re ready for the next step: a race!

Here are some of the best women-friendly (in some cases, women-only) road races around the country, open to all levels of riders. For more, visit Tara McKee’s website: cycleandstyle.com.

Harpoon Point to Point: Saturday, August 10 (harpoonpointtopoint.com) in Windsor, Vermont. Start in Williston and finish at the Harpoon brewery. Barbecue and Harpoon beer finish your day, and proceeds benefit the Vermont Food Bank.

The Chocolate Tour: Saturday, August 24 (pennstatehershey.org) in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Choose between an 8-, a 35-, a 64-, and a 100-mile route, and raise money for cancer research at Penn State.

Le Tour de Femme: Saturday, October 12 (letourdefemme.org) in Cary, North Carolina. You can do a 15-mile, 31.2-mile, or 62.4-mile ride. All money raised goes to cancer research.

Outdoor Divas Women’s Sprint Triathlon: Sunday, August 11 (withoutlimits.co), in Longmont, Colorado. This is great triathlon for first timers with a warm, 750- meter swim and a 12-mile, no-traffic bike course. It finishes with a 5K run.

Escape New York 2013: Saturday, September 21 (nycc.org/eny) in New York, New York. Join the vibrant New York City bike community for a day of food and fun, not to mention four scenic routes along the Hudson River and the Palisades. safety straps. (You can also attach it to the handlebarsSafety Musts Here are some do’s and don’ts for the road: It is advisable to wear a helmet. “We have a saying in the business that if you don’t wear a helmet, you must not have much up there to protect,” says Olympic Cycling Coach Curtis Cramblett.

Obey traffic rules. Ride single file and be aware. “I always recommend that people take a bike safety class,” says Cramblett. “You’ll learn to signal, watch for cars, and be attentive when motorists are not [e.g. when they’re texting].”

Avoid wearing sandals. Wear shoes that protect your feet and toes from getting caught in the spokes—or getting injured on rocks and from other road debris. or rear rack.)