Bike your way to a better body

More and more Americans are taking up biking as a new way to get in shape. Not only is it healthy and effective, it’s also cheap, and easy to learn. If you’re thinking of joining the pack, now’s the perfect time. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Biking is one of the most versatile activities around—it can be a sport, a pastime, a way to get around, or even a career. For most American cyclers, however, it’s simply a great way to get in shape. Next to walking and running, bicycling is the most popular form of exercise. And the reasons are obvious: it’s fun, cheap, convenient, and easy enough to learn, no matter how young or old you are.

Anyone can bike, but biking for fitness is a field all its own. Here’s how you can get in shape and bike your way to a better body.

Choose a good bike. It all starts, of course, with a good bicycle. Comfort should be your top consideration; if you’re not comfortable sitting on a bike, it’s not too likely you’ll be comfortable riding on it. Gel seats and ergonomic handlebars are a must for beginners, as the constant friction can cause chafing and hip discomfort. Adjustable seats are also important, especially if you are shorter or taller than average. Try on several different bikes to see which frames feel the most comfortable.

Dress properly. Biking clothes are designed to absorb moisture and keep you well ventilated during your ride. Wear light, breathable fabrics and comfortable footwear. Look for moisture-wicking fabrics to keep your sweat from cooling on your skin, and put on extra layers when cycling in cold weather. Polyester blends usually work best. Avoid clothes that fit too tightly or loosely. Cycling shoes aren’t necessary, but they offer some unique advantages that can come in handy as you get more advanced.

Start slowly. If you’re new to biking, or are picking it up after several years, don’t push yourself too hard on your first try. Start on an easy, paved trail, at a speed that’s comfortable and on a trail you’re familiar with. Most beginners can easily hack 20 miles a day, but feel free to stop or slow down when you feel like it. When you get used to the pace, you can try out other trails and speeds.

Maintain good posture. Biking for three hours straight is no good if you’re in the wrong position. Learn the right biking posture before hitting the road. You should be only slightly hunched over, with your leg resting on the pedal when relaxed. A common mistake among beginners is gripping the handlebars too tightly—this can result in unnecessary strain on your arms and shoulders. Keep your arms relaxed and tighten your grip only when needed, such as on difficult turns.

Find a companion. It’s a lot easier to stay on track if there’s someone on the program with you. Find a cycling buddy, or better yet, join a cycling group. Most states have local cycling clubs that accept beginners and even provide training assistance. If you can’t find one, try taking your kids with you and make it a family affair. Experts suggest taking a family cycling trip to a local park, or even going somewhere new every week.

Wear protection. Cycling is not without its risks, so always keep safety in mind. Remember, bicycles are vehicles and are subject to the same traffic rules as cars and trucks. Always stay on the bike lane when passing through major highways, and always signal your intentions to neighboring cars. Don’t forget to wear safety equipment such as a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and protective footwear.

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