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Today's Family Magazine

Biking to better health

By Nina Polien Light

Remember getting that first bicycle on your fourth or fifth birthday or waking up to a shiny new two-wheeler on Christmas morning?  You likely couldn’t wait to go outside and hop on the saddle.  If nurtured properly, a child’s initial excitement for pedaling up and down the driveway can turn into an activity the whole family can pursue together.  It can also set the stage for a lifelong commitment to fitness.

“We’ve had the best times riding around the neighborhood and also riding to the parks and enjoying time as a family,” says Steve Breininger, manager of Cycle Sport and Fitness in Mentor, about biking with his children and grandchildren. “It’s an activity that anybody can enjoy.”

Mark Huss, owner of Red’s Bicycle Sales & Repair in Eastlake, says cyclists tend to be “at ease” from the sense of well-being they experience when endorphins are released during a ride.  Families can bike together without pitting one member against another, he says, which adds to that tranquil feeling.

“You’re mostly competing with yourself to do your personal best,” he says.  “It’s also an activity that’s healthy.  You’re getting exercise away from the computer and Xbox and PlayStation.”

Adds Matthew Schieferstein, sales manager at Mountain Road Cycles in Chagrin Falls, “It’s an accessible sport and there are not many restrictions on it.  It can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be based on where you’re riding and what your goals are.”

The health benefits are many.  It’s a low-impact pursuit, so joints aren’t pounded relentlessly like they are during a run.  That doesn’t mean cycling is a passive activity.  On the contrary, pedaling gets the heart pumping and climbing hills helps build strength, endurance and lean muscle mass.  Riding outdoors on sunny days exposes riders to vitamin D, which, in tandem with endorphins, promotes cheerfulness.  Many cyclists ride in groups, which reinforces relationships and can, in some cases, ease or alleviate symptoms of depression.  And, because many bikers enter community rides that support health-based charities, cyclists may be contributing funds to research that eventually leads to curing debilitating diseases and disorders.

Bicycling is considered a low-risk sport, but it’s still important for you and your children to take precautions.  Accidents, injuries and illnesses can and do happen, but you can minimize the chances of a ride in the park turning into a ride in an ambulance by following some basic guidelines. Breininger, Huss and Schieferstein offer these recommendations:

  1. Wear a helmet.  Every. Single. Time.  It can save you from a concussion, brain injury or even death in the event of a fall or collision.  If you’re riding a mountain bike or a freestyler-type bike, consider donning elbow and knee guards, as well.
  2. Fit the bike to the rider instead of the other way around.  Handlebar widths and depths, saddles, pedal technology, frames and other components can always be changed to accommodate the size and ability of the rider.  It pays to go to a bike shop that specializes in fit services.  In addition to the actual fitting, professionals can advise you on proper maintenance.
  3. Follow the rules of the road.  Bikers are legally mandated to adhere to the same traffic laws as motorists—and can be fined for breaking them. That means ride with traffic, stop at stop signs and traffic lights and signal when turning or changing lanes.  Cyclists are permitted to ride two abreast in many locales, although some communities require single-file riding.  Riders should also stay as far to the right as possible.  Ohio requires motorists to maintain at least a three-foot distance from cyclists.
  4. Yell, “Passing on the left!,” when approaching folks on all-purpose trails.  They may be listening to music and not be aware of your movement.
  5. Stay unplugged.  Listening to your favorite podcast while pedaling diverts your attention from your surroundings.
  6. But carry your smartphone.  If you get lost, you can pull to the side and use your phone’s map app.  If your bike has a mechanical issue you can’t fix on the spot, you can call for a ride.  And in the unlikely event of an injury or medical emergency, you can summon help.
  7. Be prepared.  Stow a few bucks in a pocket along with an insurance card and a list of emergency contacts.  The latter is especially important if you’re riding alone and become incapacitated.
  8. Speaking of which, bring a buddy.  Don’t go it alone on long rides, especially in secluded areas.
  9. Mount a mirror and lights.  Reflector lights are required on wheels, but add front and rear lights—preferably flashing ones—if you will be out before dawn or after dusk (which is not recommended, by the way).
  10. Stay hydrated and fueled.  Even on cooler days, biking causes sweat.  Replace lost fluid with water on shorter rides and electrolyte drinks on longer ones.  Carry a protein- and carbohydrate-rich snack, such as a good-quality sport bar, to replace calories lost on longer rides.
  11. Wear sunscreen.  Even on cooler and cloudier days, UV rays hit your skin.  Wearing wraparound glasses can help protect your eyes from damaging rays.
  12. Choose attire wisely.  Never ride barefooted.  Clip-in shoes are fine for experienced riders, but newbies may find them difficult to disengage from quickly, if need be.  Long shoelaces can get caught in pedals, so make sure kids’ shoes are tightly tied and sufficiently short.  Likewise, don’t wear baggy pants that can get caught in spokes. Form-fitting bike shorts or tights are recommended.  Dress in layers to accommodate for changes in air and body temperature.
  13. Learn basic maintenance.  Get your bike professionally tuned-up annually, but know how to inflate and patch a tire or tighten gears, too.  Check tire pressure regularly because tires lose about four pounds each week.  Carry a small tool and patch kit with you.
  14. Strengthen your core.  Do abdominal crunches, pushups and other exercises to reinforce your muscles.  This will help prevent neck, shoulder and leg pains and cramps while riding—and go a long way toward making rides more enjoyable.
For more information, contact:
Cycle Sport and Fitness
Mentor: 440-257-2170
Cleveland Heights: 216-321-4977

Red’s Bicycle Sales & Repair
Eastlake: 440-463-2349

Mountain Road Cycles
Chagrin Falls: 440-247-7662
Chardon: 440-279-0374