Cycling in the 'Meda: Cycling for fitness (part one)

Cycling in the 'Meda: Cycling for fitness (part one)

Marty Beene

Photo by Cameron Beene.

One of my favorite non-running fitness activities is cycling. While I do enjoy running errands and using my bike for transportation when I can, I'm talking about using cycling for a workout.

I got started with recreational/fitness cycling back in 1986 while working at Stanford. One of my co-workers was an avid cyclist and showed me the ropes, even helping me purchase a decent bike for longer distance rides. The Peninsula has always been a great place for cycling, and I loved going on 40-, 50-, or 60-mile rides through the redwoods over to the ocean and back. I even bought my wife (then girlfriend) Pamela a bike for Christmas the first year we were dating (1988) so we could ride together.

When we moved to Alameda in 1992, it took a while to learn where to ride for recreation, other than around the Island - which, by the way, is a great place to start. We had other "distractions" too, like grad school, buying our house, and having a baby (in 1995). Then, in August 2006, I went for a ride up to Lake Chabot with Team Alameda, a large recreational cycling club here in town. I started riding with them regularly, learning the best routes through Oakland, San Leandro or Berkeley, to get to the hills and beyond. I found that there are many, many miles of fantastic cycling roads here in the East Bay to rival those I had ridden on the Peninsula.

With my new knowledge of the longer, more challenging rides, I was finally able to incorporate cycling as a significant cross-training component within my spectrum of fitness options. Not only that, but in certain respects, I like cycling more than running. I can ride for longer than I can run, so I can be out in the fresh air exercising more. Since I'm traveling around 15-20 m.p.h. when riding (for a workout), I can cover a lot more ground and see a lot more scenery than when I'm running at around 8 m.p.h.

So why don't I ride all the time instead of run? Nothing's perfect, and there are some negatives to using cycling for exercise. For one, you have to have a bike instead of just a pair of running shoes, and that can involve a significant expenditure. There are also the clothing and shoes to consider. People may think cyclists simply enjoy wearing flashy Lycra clothing because it looks cool, but, like the cowboys of the Old West, every article of clothing actually serves an important purpose.

So how can you get started using cycling for fitness? I could write 10 blogs guiding new cyclists, but instead, try this: Simply go to your local bike shop and talk to people there. The shop I usually go to (where I've bought three bikes) is Alameda Bicycle on Park Street at Webb Avenue, but I will also go to Cycle City at High Street and Santa Clara Avenue. Both places are staffed by great people who know everything you would ever want to know about cycling and are happy to share that with you.

For a cycling information teaser, here are a few brief tips - next week, I'll expand on these:

  • Safety: This is absolutely the most important part of cycling. Wear a helmet; know and follow the traffic laws.
  • Bike: Almost any bike will do, but it's important to keep it in good repair. Buying a new bike is a great investment in your health.
  • Clothing: If nothing else, invest in a good pair (or two) of bike shorts. Bike shorts come with a pad in the crotch area to avoid pain in sensitive parts of your body.
  • Group rides: Once you feel confident enough on a bike, seek out group rides. There are several clubs in the area that offer group rides, which anyone can find using the Internet. If you have trouble finding one, leave a message in the comments, and I'll help you out.
  • I'll leave you with my favorite cycling advice: "Wheels down, helmet up!"

    Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.