Road biking is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise, and is probably my favorite form of exercise (you’re talking to a long-time runner here).
What makes biking so great? Lots of things! The most important fact about it is that it burns a lot of calories. You burn about 5.5 calories per hour per pound of body weight, when you ride between 16 and 20 MPH. That means I burn about 1,100 calories per hour (maybe a bit less as I average about 15.5 MPH).
You burn about 3.6 calories per pound of body weight per hour at 12-14 MPH. So, a 130-pound woman will burn 715 or so calories if she bikes 17 miles in one hour. That’s a lot of calories.
Running also is great exercise, but I only burn about 800 calories per hour, figuring I can run about 7.5 miles in an hour without killing myself. Biking burns more calories, and I can definitely tell the difference in my body after biking for 4-6 weeks.
I also like biking a lot because it really gets you out in nature in a way running usually doesn’t. Unless you are a marathoner, you probably are not usually running 20 miles out into the country. With biking, it’s very easy to get 20 or 30 miles out in the sticks and enjoy the sounds, smells and sights of nature.
So, if you are interesting in taking up biking, follow these beginners’ tips!
1. Buy the Right Bike
First of all, understand that when I am talking about biking for exercise, I don’t mean strolling around the neighborhood at 7 MPH on your 15 year-old Walmart special. There is nothing wrong with that, but that kind of bike will not withstand serious road biking.
When you are going to be putting 15, 20, 30 miles or more on a bike per outing, you need a serious road bike. What you need to do is go to a couple of good biking shops in your city. I generally recommend trying to find the owner of the bike shop – he or she is usually the most knowledgeable person in the store. Have the owner measure you and put you on a few bikes to determine the appropriate bike size for you.
You want to make sure that the reach down to the pedals isn’t too long or short, and also whether the handle bars are the proper distance for your arm length. Remember: It is very important for the bike to fit you well – you are going to be on that thing for hours at a time, so it has got to fit. If the bike shop guy does not spend much time with you on fit, go to another bike shop.
Some of the good, serious road bike brands out there are Trek, Scott, Giant, and Bianche.
Be prepared to spend $700-800 for a decent starter road bike. Trust me – it’s absolutely essential to get a serious bike for a serious hobby. The good news is that you can use that bike for years. I’m in the 5th season on my Scott bike, and it’s still fine. I finally had to rebuild the drive train for $200 this season, but it’s still in good shape after at least 3,000 miles on the dial.
So you need a good bike, but don’t let anyone push you to buy the $4000 racing bike. You don’t need to spend more than $1000 for your first road bike.
2. Don’t Skimp on Safety
When people think of ‘biking,’ they tend to think of pedaling slowly around the neighborhood. Again, nothing at all wrong with that. But serious road biking means speed. A healthy man is going to be trucking along at 20 MPH or more much of the time. That’s fast. So you want to make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment.
First of all, don’t go 10 feet without a good biking helmet on. Every biker will tell you his or her ‘fall’ stories. Everyone falls sooner or later. In my case, I was attacked by a dog in 2007 when I was cruising at 15 MPH. I fell backwards, right on my head. I was uninjured solely because of my helmet.
There are other pieces of safety equipment I strongly recommend. I like to have a red or white flashing light on the back AND front of the bike. I cannot tell you how many times I had cars almost pull out in front of me. Drivers are usually not looking for bikers. You have to get their attention. A flashing light on the front of the bike eliminates that problem.
You should carry a spare tire tube, repair kit, and portable pump, too. Like falls, a flat tire happens sooner or later as well!
I also like to wear biking gloves. When you have your first fall someday, you’ll thank me because your hands won’t get torn up. Also, make sure you wear a bright red or yellow running or biking jersey. You want drivers to be able to easily see you. Remember – drivers are not looking for bikers. You have to get their attention.
3. Other Essential Biking Gear
You will also need to purchase biking shorts. These are special spandex, padded shorts. There is a lot of padding in the crotch. You will want to have these, because your crotch will get sore from the seat without them. Your body will get used to the seat, but the padded shorts makes it a lot more pleasant.
Another item I would buy when you can is biking shoes, and clipless pedals. These special pedals are ones that you ‘snap and lock’ your biking shoes into. Your feet are locked into these pedals as you go along. This gives you the ability to pull as well as push, which is hugely helpful on steep hills. Also, the biking shoes have a hard plastic bottom that makes it much easier to pedal over several hours. In regular tennis shoes, your toes get pinched and numb after an hour of pedaling.
Oh and don’t worry – you ‘unlock’ yourself out of the pedals when you stop your bike by twisting your foot outward.
Road biking is a really fun form of exercise and you will be quite pleased to see the difference in your body after a month of biking 3-4 days per week. I suggest starting out easy – ride around your neighborhood for an hour and get used to shifting and getting in and out of your clipless pedals. Then do an easy 10 mile ride for a few days and build yourself up over time to 20-30 miles. Good luck and happy biking!