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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

6 reasons to make cycling your New Year's Resolution

Yes, I'm talking to you there, sitting behind the screen. Here's why you should take up cycling:
  1. It's fun. Cycling on a lightweight road bike is like flying without leaving the ground. So much so that in Pat Murphy's novel, The City, Not Long After, one of the characters exclaimed this after learning to ride, and said to her friend, "Why didn't you tell me it was like flying?!" That's how you'll feel if you've not ridden a nice road bike before and try one for the first time. Mountain biking is like hiking, but at 10 miles per hour. Long mega-hikes that are only for the masochistic are now easy for you to do in 4 hours.
  2. Cycling makes you smarter. There's strong evidence (see Brain Rules or this New York Times article) that aerobic exercises increases cognitive capability. While this goes for all aerobic exercise, aerobic exercise is cycling's forte. Note that cycling at 10mph on a bike path will not grant this benefit. You actually have to go hard enough that you feel a little bit out of breath.
  3. Cycling makes you feel better. Professor Csikszentmihaly wrote a book called Flow, the psychology of optimal experience. In it he describes happiness as being completely absorbed in a task. Cycling, where you're climbing, descending, or picking your way through traffic, demands that you completely absorb yourself in it. My friend Phil Sung says it's an extremely meditative experience for him.
  4. Cycling improves your balance, since by its very nature, you have to stay on two wheels. If you regularly challenge yourself on dirt roads or by riding a mountain bike off road, you will increase your sense of balance dramatically.
  5. You can cycle until you're very very old. Aerobic activities like running have many of the same physical and mental benefits, but cycling is unique in that it's a low impact activity, so it won't wear out your joints prematurely. My bike club's full of runners and former tennis players who took up cycling because their doctors told them that they cannot pursue their former sport any more, usually due to joint damage. These folks weren't casual tennis players. They were competitive, and they used to say sentences like, "Winning a match isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that!" I sat down with some of them over lunch and asked them if they had any regrets about having to take up cycling. One of them said, "Yes. My regret is not taking it up sooner." One of the middle aged members of the club once observed, "You know, the old guys in the bike club are different. They learn things quickly, they're flexible, and they're optimistic and not crotchety."
  6. Cycling is far more time efficient than almost any other sport because you can commute to work by bicycle. Tennis players can't play tennis and magically arrive at work after a tennis game. Cyclists, however, regularly get in some cycling just going to the local grocery store, or getting to work. If you're enthusiastic, you can even travel the world by bicycle and find places most non-cyclists don't know about. For instance, I recently rode a section of road today that was closed to all but cyclists and pedestrians:
    From BayArea

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