Cycling is a great workout for the heart and lungs, builds stamina, and prevents obesity and arthritis. Moreover it alleviates stress and promotes family bonding – K.P. Malini
“Cycling is excellent physical exercise, great way to relive childhood days, explore local neighbourhoods, meet like-minded people and promote family bonding,” says Abhishek Tarfe, cycling enthusiast and founder of Velocrush India (estb.2012), a Mumbai-based company which offers bicycle learning classes, organises biking expeditions and rents a variety of bicycles and related accessories.
Advertised and flaunted in the new millennium as an aerobic activity, bicycles were introduced in the 19th century as a mode of transport. Though now they are used mostly for exercise and recreation, many people around the world, particularly in the West, continue to use bicycles for short distance commuting for a variety of reasons including physical fitness, carbon footprint reduction, parking convenience, frugality, and enjoyment.
The physical benefits of cycling are numerous. It’s a great workout for the heart, blood vessels and lungs, builds stamina, and prevents obesity and arthritis. Latest research highlights that cycling aids in the release of endorphins — happy hormones — which has a positive effect on cyclists’ mental well-being and alleviates depression and stress.
Tarfe believes cycling is a great stress buster and one of the best available options for urban families to change their sedentary lifestyles. “In the past few years there’s been a big rise in the number of adults and children signing up for cycling classes. Many parents want to enrol their children with us because it’s also a good way to keep them away from digital devices. Learning to cycle and continuing with it is one of the best investments you can make in your health and wellbeing,” he says. Currently, Velocrush offers its services in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore.
Chennai-based exporter Gautham Rajashekharan believes a family which cycles together stays together. “We started cycling as a family activity when my children were young. We would load our cycles, food, and mats into the car and drive to the city outskirts, where we would spend all morning cycling followed by lunch. Continuous conversation on these cycling trips have helped us bond as a family. We have kept this family cycling tradition alive and my daughters Shruthi (15) and Sharika (13) still look forward to these weekend biking expeditions,” says Rajashekharan.
Getting the right cycling gear
To derive the full benefit of this physical activity, it’s important to invest in the right cycling gear. There are three basic bicycle models — mountain, hybrid and road. Tarfe advises newbies to choose a bike from whose saddle the feet can easily reach the ground when brakes are applied. This helps reduce injury risk, especially while riding in mountainous terrain. “When riding on inclined routes a geared cycle is preferable because it reduces stress on the thighs and prevents muscle tear. Begin with half hour sessions and then gradually increase your riding time. Most important stay hydrated, throughout all rides,” advises Tarfe.
Moreover to ensure safety, invest in a sturdy helmet, front and rear lights and bell. Choose helmet and clothing of fluorescent colours to enable visibility in dull lighting/night time. Many cycling enthusiasts also recommend using neon-bright coloured wheel stripes to improve visibility, the lack of which is the prime cause of accidents. When embarking on long rides always carry a puncture repair kit comprising a spare inner tube and air pump.
Comfortable clothing is recommended for short distances but for long rides it’s advisable to buy a good quality cycling jersey, padded shorts, tights and gloves. Opt for clothes which are aerodynamically designed and made of dry-fit materials. Gloves are mandatory for long-distance biking as they provide cushioning to hands, protect them from the sun and injuries during a fall. A lightweight windcheater protects from harsh winds and rain while cycling shoes with cleats keep your feet firmly on the pedals. Reflective vests are important to improve visibility during night and on stormy rides. Special cycling glasses protect eyes from dust and grime.
A popular bikers’ gadget is the cyclocomputer, a device mounted on the handlebar to measure distance travelled, average and maximum speeds during long rides. Some cyclocomputers also display cadence and heart beats while others have GPS. Among the popular cyclocomputer brands are CatEyeVelo 9, Btwin 100 Wired Cyclometer, Garmin Edge 200 and Sunding SD 548 Speedometer.
Fitness enthusiasts also wear smart watches which provide a full health-analysis as well as monitor distance travelled and speed. Well-known brands are Garmin Vivoactive Smartwatch, TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch, Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch, Suunto Ambit3 GPS Smartwatch and Moov Now Multi-Sport Wearable Coach.
As the popularity of this sport is rising across the country, numerous cycling events and competitions are being staged in India with professional cyclists from around the world participating. They include the Tour of Nilgiris, Brevets, BBCH (Bangalore Bicycle Championship), Deccan Cliffhanger, among others. In addition in several cities biking groups regularly organise recreational group rides on pre-determined biking trails.
In particular, Bangalore is emerging as a favourite city of bikers with several well-mapped biking trails sited just outside the city. Among them the most popular are the Nandi Hills trail, Kanakpura Road to Bheemeshwari through Muthathi Forest, Ghati Ghats and ride to the dodda alada mara or the Big Banyan Tree.
“Cycling is becoming professional and organised. For those who want to pursue it as a beneficial pastime and adventure sport, there are numerous biking trails and events. I strongly recommend making cycling expeditions a weekly family activity to stay fit, healthy and happy,” advises Tarfe.
Cycling health benefits
Increases cardiovascular fitness
Boosts muscle strength and flexibility
Strengthens body joints
Promotes good posture and motor coordination
Decreases body fat
Releases endorphins — the happy hormones
Alleviates stress and depression