Britain’s greatest Olympian ever retired yesterday. Chris Hoy took another gold medal in Cycling, and then called it a day. Tearfully, he said his career and these racing competitions weren’t just about winning gold, they were about seeing more people get on bikes. More cyclists, more roads with bikes, more, more, more.
Cycling isn’t just about exercise, it’s not just a way to get where you’re going. Cycling is a complete change in lifestyle. It’s pretty much the only sport that can change your life, in every way, on a daily basis.
When you park that car and ride your bike, you’re saving money, you’re saving the environment, and you’re saving your life.
It costs, on average, about $10,000 a year to run a car. Just riding a bus daily for work can cost you over $1,000, and that doesn’t include lost productivity in all those hours waiting for connections.
Cycling doesn’t cost a cent once you’re in it. Yearly maintenance costs are pretty low, especially if you know how to clean your bike chain and do some of that yourself. Quality bike maintenance and parts can likely be done for under $200 per year, and a good bike should last well over 10,000 kilometres.
Me, I changed cities and lifestyles entirely so I could ditch busing and other forms of motorized commute. I’ve gone from 60 hours a month to only riding a bus for 15 minutes in the last 30 days. The rest of the time, I walk and I cycle. I’m happier, healthier, and less inclined to want to slap the masses.
Change Your Thinking
When I was new to Victoria, I was busing a lot to get a sense of the world. My chiropractor was just under an hour by two buses. Turns out his office is close to one of the nicest bike routes I’ve ever ridden. Total time to cycle there? 25 minutes each way.
With my saddle bags attached, I can hit up some of the great food shops, save $5 on return bus fare, and get an hour of cardiovascular exercise in, reducing my need to find time to “exercise” at some point in my week. How is that inconvenient in any way? Well, it isn’t.
Once you turn all those wasted commute hours — because, by bus or car, you know you ain’t getting anything done but reading or emails — into exercise, that too is where you change your life. It’s killing two birds with one awesome stone.
Cycling is a low-impact, high-result exercise that does amazing things for your body, IF you’re riding the right kind of bike with a good fit. If your bike shop isn’t concerned about “fit” and how a bike performs with YOUR body, then you need a better bike shop. This is not frivolous “entitled customer” thinking, as bike fit is absolutely critical to your enjoyment of the sport, and whether it has negative effects for you.
With the right gear, the right fit, and a little conditioning, you will be amazed at the way cycling simplifies your life.
Tired of getting home angry after a 15km commute by car? Try cycling it. It only takes a month or so to be conditioned to cycle 15kms (10 miles), and I’m telling you that as a girl over 200 pounds. If I can do it, what is YOUR excuse?
Here are considerations for getting started in cycling:
Saddle Bags Will Change Your Life
I pick different areas to shop in every week. My saddlebags will hold 70 litres of goods, which is actually a lot for a single girl like me. I can get beer, veggies, meats, condiments, and more, for over a week.
In one area, I get Mediterranean foods, stellar produce, and Indian ingredients. I plan meals ahead and get things from all three on the same day.
For routine staples and bad weather, I have a closer network of shops for more mundane goods, an 8km circuit I can easily do year-round in about 90 minutes including both cycling and shopping, that sees me hitting 4 to 6 great food purveyors downtown, from Italian to organics.
Then there’s my elaborate “gluttony ride” out to Oak Bay, a beautiful seaside area, where there’s an artisan salumerie, specialty wine shop, and great cheesemonger’s, and I hit that up once a month with a mind to enjoy a fantastic cheese & wine platter after that ride — and getting 75 minutes of beautiful flat touring ride makes it a guilt-free gluttonous night.
Now, I never, ever leave home without my saddle bags because I’m either packing my camera and a lunch, or I usually make use of my excursion by grabbing things on my way home.
When you do, buy heavy-duty saddlebags, because they will last for YEARS. Mine are 5+ years old already, from Canada’s MEC, and cost me about $75 when I got them, and they’re not the expensive ones. If I replace them this winter, it will be for larger ones, not because of wear. Make sure they’re weatherproof, clasp into place, and have reflective surfacing, extra pockets, and easy-to-carry handles. These will be the best things you ever put on your bike.
If you could exercise AND save money AND get all your out-in-the-world chores done at the SAME time, why wouldn’t you?
Pick the Right Bike
There are lots of styles, and more than you likely think, when it comes to bikes. From step-through Dutch bikes to hybrids, road bikes, and mountain bikes, to beyond. Each has benefits, and it’s why most lifelong cyclists have more than one bike.
If you’re looking to be a commuter and use your bike for recreation, then a road bike’s probably the last thing you want, oddly. Get a good bike shop, talk to friends about why they like their bike (as opposed to what YOU should ride, just find out why it works for them). Plus, use places like bike swap meets, used shops, and cycling organizations to gain some good insight from people who use cycling as a whole-life endeavour, because they’re the ones who know.
Know Your Paths
Cycling on the road isn’t a death sentence, but I sure as hell don’t enjoy it as much as I like a pedestrian/cyclist trail, like the great paths here in Victoria, which include the Galloping Goose and the Lochside. Most North American cities are designating paths for cyclists now, but they’re not always where you’d know to look. Ask at your local bike shop to see if they’ve got maps for your region, Google routes, or scan the app stores to see if there’s a cycling app for your area.
The Google (the web version only) now has a “bikes” feature in Beta testing on Maps searches, and you can select that to see the most bike-friendly route. Bike routes are often better, and different, than walking routes as elevation tends to be a big factor in riding. Here in Victoria, the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails are on an old train track, so the elevation grade has been smoothed out very nicely despite all the dips and valleys of living on an island. This makes for a much less intimidating ride than heading up car-friendly hills and other steep grades, and makes it the perfect place to get accustomed to distance rides.
Another plus to Googling places for your travel route is you can also get an approximate cycling time and distance. From my experience, the times tend to be for the “semi-conditioned” rider — not experts, but someone who’s cycling more regularly, so if you’re new, add some cushion time there.
Cycling, like motorcycling, is very much a skills-based pursuit. The more confident you are, the safer you’ll be. You need to know you’re a victim in the making every time you get on your bike, because Car vs. Bike almost always has the same outcome. But that’s not to say you can’t be more prepared to avoid these situations entirely.
Most cycling organizations have Skills-based rides where they teach you how to ride smarter. Here in Victoria, there’s a 3-hour basic skills course that’s free, and there’s an 8-hour one that costs $30, where you go on a ride through the city and they teach you in situ what skills are suited to what scenarios, and how to be a proactive, safe rider.
Gear is pretty much the be-all end-all with cycling. You get what you pay for, and, trust me, when your life is on the line in a mid-winter chores ride near dusk, cheaping out isn’t the way to go.
Whether it’s great-quality raingear that keeps your head in the game, rather than you shivering and thinking how awful you feel, or lighting for evening rides, quality counts.
For lights, you want to check out the brightness rating. How many watts? Anything less than 2 watts should be a throwaway. And if it’s only 2 watts, you likely want to double up. Obviously, you need a front and back light, but most cyclists never think to put spoke lighting on their wheels. The only seriously close calls I have ever had have been from cars on side streets not seeing me in front of them and nearly T-boning me. For $15, you can get a couple sets of spoke lights to make your wheels light up and give yourself 360-degree visibility on the road at night. Trick yourself out with lotsa lights, because being a Christmas tree means being seen.
A helmet is a no-brainer, but most people don’t like them. I’ve been saved by helmets twice — once preventing a head injury, and once preventing death. But, hey, if your haircut’s that important to you, fine — just opt out of my medical system if you choose the no helmet route.
And That’s a Starter
Cycling will change your life. That’s inarguable.
If you get hooked, it will be your drug of choice. It will clear your mind, improve your health, bolster your finances, charge your creativity, and mellow your mood. It will save the planet, too.
If your arguments are “It’s too hard,” well, that’s because you’re new. Cycling on the road, your conditioning improves faster, better, than probably any sport I’ve ever tried. If you think “It’s too far,” that’s also because you’re new. Trust me. Give it one month of 4-5 rides a week, and you’ll be stunned.
There are really no good reasons to stay off your bike. I’ve seen parents taking kids to school on bike trailers, children as young as 6 years old cycling 10 kilometres around a city with Mom and Dad during a day, and more.
Cycling is more flexible than you imagine, more rewarding than you could dream, and it’s something you can do today to change EVERY part of your life.
Give it a shot. You’ve got more power in you than you think. Change your life, ride a bike.