In praise of two-wheel drive

Remember when you rode everywhere? Here are 10 reasons to get back in the saddle.

by JILL BARKER, The Gazette
Tuesday May 20, 2008

Remember when you and your bike were inseparable? It once was your primary form of transportation, but all that changed when you got your driver's licence and the car usurped your bike as the preferred way to get around town.

Too bad. A bike has a lot to offer. Just in case you've forgotten the joy of pedalling, here are 10 reasons to get back on your bike.

Out and about: Bruce Baldwin gets some exercise, fresh air and a lovely view along Cherrier Rd. in le Bizard last week.
You'll get in great shape

Cycling provides the exercise needed to decrease your risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer, lower blood pressure and burn calories. At a modest 15 miles an hour, a 150-pound cyclist burns about 31 calories per mile. So if you spend an hour on your bike three times a week, you'll burn almost 1,400 unwanted calories (heavier cyclists burn more). Not bad results for touring around your neighbourhood at a modest clip a few hours a week.

You'll get great gams
The butt, hamstrings and quadriceps gain muscular strength and endurance every time you hit the flats, climb hills and power through your weekly rides. After a few weeks of regular riding, your legs will have more stamina. Keep it up and you'll see muscle where there used to be flab. Before you know it, you'll be wearing your cycling shorts with pride, showing off legs that look nothing like those you kept hidden just a couple of months ago.

You'll see more of your neighbourhood
A long leisurely Sunday ride can take you through streets you never thought of travelling by car. As you wind your way around town, you'll see stuff you don't notice in a car. Admire your neighbours' gardens, see what houses are for sale and get to know the sites and sounds of your neighbourhood. Make every ride different and don't be afraid to explore new neighbourhoods and towns every weekend.

You'll see more of the world
Take your bike farther a field and explore the world. Bicycle touring is gaining popularity with guided trips available through southern France, Italy's wine country, the rugged beauty of Canada's maritime provinces or a castle-tour of Britain. Anywhere there are good roads and great scenery, chances are there's a tour for the taking. Choose a route that best suits your riding preference - rustic or first class, hilly or flat, full or half days in the saddle. Once you try it, you'll realize there's no better way to see the world

It's family friendly
Lead by example and get everyone in the family on a bike. Pedal to soccer practice, school or out and about one or two nights a week. Cycling as a family not only keeps everyone fit, it creates an exercise habit that can last a lifetime.

It's easier on the body than running
Cycling has all the fitness benefits of running without the impact stress of pounding the pavement. That means novice exercisers can spend more time on a bike than they can running and still feel okay the next day. So if it's fitness and calorie burning that you're after, cycling makes it easy to achieve your goals.

It's eco-friendly
Choosing two wheels instead of four reduces the use of fossil fuels and releases less smog into the air. A British study titled Bikes not Fumes: The Emission and Health Benefits of a Modal Shift from Motor Vehicles to Cycling estimates that replacing 20 per cent of car trips with bicycle trips could eliminate more than six per cent of vehicle-produced carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons and four per cent of nitrous oxide. Who knew that such a small shift in lifestyle could have such a significant environmental impact?

You can get outside
Revel in the sunshine, gentle breezes and fabulous weather that is yours to enjoy during cycling season. Not to mention that when you're on your bike, you're nowhere near the TV, fridge, email or cellphone. And on less than stellar days, getting out for a bit of fresh air and exercise can turn your day from dreary to delightful.

It's cheap
You can't beat the savings of taking your bike instead of the car. Bikes don't cost $1.30 (and counting) a litre to run, or require insurance and an annual licensing fee. And the cost of a tune-up and repairs is a fraction of what it costs to maintain your car. Cyclists don't need to feed parking metres or pay for a spot in a lot. Bottom line: cyclists have more money in their pocket than motorists.

You can get off the beaten path
Cyclists don't need to stick to the streets. Off-road cycling gets you close to nature and away from cars, traffic lights and smog. You can get your thrills by speeding downhill or wind through a trail that takes you places you'd never go on foot. There's a whole new world to see on a bike, not all of which needs to be viewed from the road.
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© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008