Cycling for fun and fitness…

Cycling is by far one of my favorite fitness activities. The thrill of the speed on the bike. The wind in your face. The possibility of covering huge distances in short periods of time. The feel of your lungs exploding and muscles burning as you labor up a hill and then the sense of utter liberation when you joyously sail down on the other side.

You can burn up to 500-600 calories an hour biking depending on your weight, speed and incline covered. Here’s a link to calculate calories burned:

One of the major advantages of biking is that it is low impact and rarely places undue pressure on the joints. Unlike running which poses a problem for the knees due to the incessant pounding, biking is more knee friendly. You have to adjust your seat and pedal height to suit the length of your legs however. Inappropriate seat height, which leads to excessive flexion of the hip joint while pedaling can place stress on the knees.

The major muscles that are used while biking are the Quadriceps and Hamstring muscles of the thighs and the Gastronemius and Soleus or the calves. The maximum effort is placed on these muscles as you ride uphill or against the wind which creates a drag that essentially almost pushes you back as you ride.

On long slow rides, especially on flat ground the muscles concerned are working Aerobically that is with the continuous supply of oxygen to create the energy source, Adenosine Tri Phosphate or ATP which fires the muscles. As the workload increases and one rides uphill, the muscles begin to demand more oxygen than the lungs can supply and therefore create an Anaerobic environment (where the muscles function without oxygen by tapping into the glycogen stores instead to supply energy for the working muscles). The problem with Anaerobic activity however is the by-product of the anaerobic cycle which is lactic acid, accumulates in the working muscles. This accumulation of Lactic acid is what causes that intense burning sensation in the muscles which makes you want to jump right off the saddle and lie down on the road.

A combination of lower intensity riding on flat ground and some sprints or incline riding works best to improve ones stamina and muscle endurance.

In a place like Ooty one is blessed with the natural inclines. A good gear bike is essential. Gears on a bike help ride the inclines easier. I said easier not easily! You still have to work those muscles, but it is easier that when trying to ride a hill without gears.

Accessories on the bike like a good quality helmet, a water bottle holder, a mileage tracker, headlights are essential. You also get great seat covers to increase saddle comfort, riding gloves to protect the hands and elbow and kneepads to protect you in the event of a fall.

You get some great clothes for cycling too. The fitted tights, tracks, t-shirts and jackets are better suited to ride. Synthetic material, like Dri-fit from Nike is great for all-weather and to keep friction to the minimum for a smoother ride.

Obviously, your sun glasses and a good sunscreen should be on your list of necessities depending on the weather and the time of day one is riding.

Much as I love biking however, that cannot remain the only form of exercise. Weight training to strengthen the leg muscles improves your ride. Biking does not involve the upper body, which is essentially stationary and sometimes hunched over the handlebars to reduce drag. All this necessitates training the upper body with weights to bring balance to the body’s musculature. One will otherwise end up with great toned legs and a flabby upper. Strengthening the core and low back are also important to avoid strain in these areas. The position on the bike sometimes compromises the back and can cause muscle imbalance and pain if the muscles are not strengthened appropriately. A good stretch after every ride is essential if you want to keep riding! Tight muscles that remain that way after a long ride will tighten further. The next day will find yourself barely walking, leave alone riding if this is not addressed.

Staying safe is priority in any sport. There is no point courting danger by riding in high traffic or dangerous terrain and ending up injured. I for one cannot afford to be laid up and am certainly not a competitive cyclist to take risks that the professionals do. So for me, a clean ride, with some hills thrown in are sufficient to keep me happy.

I wish we could all ride more often. It is certainly an eco-friendly way to get about especially with the cost of gasoline the way it is not to mention the shortage. Every place should have cycling tracks are separate from the heavy traffic areas. It’s fantastic that school children in Tamil Nadu have been given bicycles by the chief minister. This may be one good truly thing she has done to improve health of children.

Cycling is a great way to stay fit. I have ridden through some beautiful countryside in the Nilgiris. Another memorable ride was in the gardens of Versailles in France where a friend and I hired bikes and rode through the dazzling backdrop of the palace gardens for hours.