It is worth it having a bicycle helmet ruin your hairdo every morning. Cycling, after all, is healthy -- but only if the cyclist has a suitable bike and cycles with the proper posture.
Having a healthy attitude is important, too.
Cycling is a good way to incorporate “measured” amounts of exercise into your daily routine, said Detlef Detjen, spokesman for the Campaign for Healthier Backs (AGR), a German association dedicated to fostering research into preventing backache.
The two other main aerobic sports are swimming and jogging. So why should leisure-time athletes choose a bike over running shoes or a bathing suit? Andreas Strack, educational director of the German University of Applied Sciences for Prevention and Health Management in Saarbruecken, offered two compelling arguments: You go farther and you go faster.
“They get around a lot more,” Strack said of cyclists, which is a motivating factor. Experiencing the thrill of speed is another.
Cyclists know -- quite literally -- what it is like to be on a roll.
Riding a bicycle strengthens mainly the leg muscles but also has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, Strack said. It is also easy on the joints.
“If you’re not well conditioned, jog too often and for too long, and maybe are overweight to boot, at some point you can develop minor or major orthopaedic problems,” he said. Cycling’s risks are much lower because the bike carries your weight. But other sports outpace cycling in efficiency.
“With cycling, you’ve got to allow for substantially longer workouts,” Strack said, pointing out that cyclists needed about twice as long as joggers to achieve the same cardiovascular benefits.
Swimming is roughly comparable to jogging in this regard. The reason: Cycling does not work as many parts of the body simultaneously.
According to Detjen, the key to healthy cycling is having the right bike. The wrong bike, or a wrongly adjusted one, can negate the positive effects of exercise, he warned.
Since “there’s no bike fit for everyone,” as Detjen said, the AGR has put together a list of bike—buying tips. One of them is: Don’t be afraid to buy a lady’s bike, even if you’re a man.
“A conventional man’s bicycle has a crossbar, but it doesn’t have to,” Detjen remarked. He said that building a bike with a crossbar made it structurally sounder. Getting on requires swinging a leg over the bar, which puts a strain on the back. A lady’s bike with a “step-through” frame is easier to mount, especially for older people.
The best sitting posture is not completely upright but with the upper body bent slightly forward at a maximum angle of 30 degrees, according to the AGR. The ball of the foot should be directly over the pedal axle, which puts less strain on the joints.
Cycling for an extended period on the wrong kind of bike, and with the wrong posture, can lead to acute problems, Strack said, adding that those who constantly cycled incorrectly could even develop chronic joint or back problems.
To keep this from happening, cyclists should take care not to overdo it. Regular rides of moderate distances are healthier than mammoth tours, advised Bettina Cibulski, spokeswoman for the German Bicycle Club. “Thirty minutes a day will definitely make you fit,” she said.