Ultimate Guide To The Benefits Of Biking
The major part of the worldwide cities is noisy, polluted and uninhabitable. The main cause? Vehicle traffic. Traffic that literally paralyzes the vast majority of the urban centers, increases harmful emissions of greenhouse gasses and produce noise pollution, not to mention the significant economic disbursements and increasing stress level it causes.
The fact is that in the rush societies we live in we tend to use the car even for the most simple tasks, such as taking short trips to the mall or driving through the city during a warm spring afternoon, to relax after work. Most of the times we find ourselves stuck up in traffic, waiting in long queues at the traffic lights or struggling to find a parking space, but we often don’t realize how many resources we consume when choosing four wheels over more practical and environmentally friendly transportation means.
In fact, getting behind the wheel translates in spending a lot of fossil fuel, thus causing environmental pollution, spending a lot of money on fuel, thus reducing the economic availability and increasing the stress level, causing health issues and further financial loss.
For all those reasons reminded above it is essential to return to a more sober and healthier lifestyle. And the best thing to do, if using public transportation doesn’t appeal to you, is to start cycling.
Cycling has many advantages. It is healthy, accessible, fun, cheap, environmentally friendly and efficient from an energetic standpoint. If you need more reasons, read this Ultimate Guide To The Benefits Of Biking to find out why you should ride a bike instead of driving a car.
Benefits Of Biking: Health Benefits
Since the health benefits are probably the most important benefits of biking, it is clear why they are the first to talk about in this Ultimate Guide To The Benefits Of Biking. However, before talking about these benefits, we should first understand what happens to our body when riding a bike.
Cycling engages our body as a whole. Various groups of muscles are used when pedaling, and the human-bicycle system is achieved by using five contact points. First of all are the hands on the handlebars, then the feet on the pedals and then the pelvis on the saddle. The legs and buttocks, with their cyclical movement, provide the driving force, while the trunk gives the stability to both cyclist and bike. Finally, the arms and the shoulders contract to keep the position of the system.
Therefore, if you are new to cycling, you should focus on strengthening all these sets of muscles through various exercises. In fact, it is a common mistake especially among the newbies to focus on the lower part of the body alone when training before cycling. This will produce fatigue for your upper body part and the overall cycling experience will not be one of the bests.
If you want to transform cycling into a usual activity, including to use the bike for the daily commuting and for leisure activities, you should understand that it is essential to develop all your body in a harmonic way, without focusing only on certain muscle groups.
You should also keep in mind that cycling is a resistance sport that uses the body as a whole. Cycling can be defined as a global sport because all the muscles interact between them to transmit the power to the pedals, maintain the balance, and resist against the gravity force that would make us fall. Each muscle has a determined function and understanding its activity can help you evaluate your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
So, here are the main muscle groups and how they are involved in biking.
- Legs: as you can imagine, the legs do the dirty work. They transfer the power emitted by the muscles to the pedals and provide the moving force. Basically, when you pedal the hip joint stretches and flexes cyclically, while the knees move in a sort of elongated eight. The ankles rotate to allow the pedaling while the tight muscles are working to create the energy that will be transmitted to the pedals. The pedaling task is finalized by the calf muscles.
- Neck, shoulders, and arms: often forgotten, the neck muscles are exposed to a lot of tension while cycling, as they maintain the position of the head. Without proper workout, the neck muscles suffer and often stiffen while trying to overcome the gravity force. For this reason, many cyclists complain about neck pain. The shoulders, on the other hand, bear the weight of the head and neck, providing stability when pulling the handlebars. Finally, the arms operate the steering and provide stability as well. They also absorb the vibrations transmitted by the front wheel.
- Chest, abdomen, and back: most of the times the chest muscles are contracted to support the effort of the arms and of the shoulders and to maintain the balance, especially while riding uphill or during sprints. For this reason, even if it might not seem so, the chest muscles are always active when cycling. The abdomen muscles are also involved in maintaining the balance, together with the back muscles. However, you should know that the back muscles are also involved in achieving the pedal movement, therefore it is essential to have strong abs to sustain the stability. If the back muscles get overloaded, you may face unpleasant consequences. The lumbar muscles are also very important in achieving balance and stability.
As you can see, almost all the muscles are involved in the cycling movement, therefore it is clear why bike riding is so benefic for the overall health.
However, bicycle use is not the same for everyone. Different cycling styles use the muscles in slightly different ways. Whether you ride your bike on the roads, on dirt paths and mountain routes or if you are a touring cyclist, you should find out how your muscles will be used.
- Bike racing: the philosophy that stands behind bike racing is simple: ride the bike at maximum speed for various miles. Seen under a physical-mechanical point of view, bike racing or road cycling is the one that takes the most advantages of the closed kinetic chain of the moving force. By using the muscles in a rhythmic way you will notice decreased levels of fatigue on flat surfaces, but increased levels on the uphill and downhill roads. In fact, while going up and down the muscles start producing lactic acid and for this reason, many road cyclists prefer riding the bike without standing on the saddle while climbing on ramps. On the other hand, to maintain an aerodynamic position on the bike, cyclists put their back under a lot of pressure.
- Off-Road Cycling: in the case of the off-road cycling the riding style changes completely and the muscles are also used in a different way. On a bumpy terrain, the cyclists are constantly trying to maintain the stability and balance. This put a lot of pressure on the abs and back muscles, muscles that are normally used to maintain the balance of the body in almost any situation. The legs muscles are also put under a lot of effort because of the constant change in the terrain’s characteristics. The changing movement finally impacts on the knees, diminishing blood flow and increasing fatigue. The chest muscles, the arms and the shoulders work hard to maintain stability and absorb the vibrations transmitted by the bumps on the terrain. Therefore, the hands and the arms also work a lot during off-road cycling.
- Utility/Touring Cycling: this category actually refers to those cyclists that ride both on and off roads, being basically hybrids of the two categories described above. However, the cyclists in this category typically don’t reach the speed of the road cyclists and don’t face the technical difficulties of the off-road cyclists. The back feels less fatigue in this case, thanks to the raised position of the body, while the upper part of the body struggles less to maintain the balance. However, the cyclists in this category usually use the bike on a daily basis, mainly in crowded towns and in many cases in heavy traffic conditions. This cause them to stop many times while commuting and this has a major impact on the hip muscles.
Keeping in mind the information above, you will be able to decide which muscle groups need more workout and how to maintain the good fitness of your body. However, as you can see, cycling has a huge impact on all the body muscles, helping you maintain your health through regular workout.
In addition to all the benefits given by the movement, cycling has many other health benefits worth mentioning. Here are some of the most important:
Cycling lowers stress and diminishes the symptoms of depression. As all the other sports, cycling stimulates the endorphin production. This hormone reduces the fatigue and pain and has a positive effect on the mood. On the other hand, riding a bike boosts the energy and improves the mental state, therefore those who practice cycling regularly not only maintain their body fitness but they also seem to be younger than those who don’t practice any sport at all. Lastly, cycling is an outdoor activity that keeps you in contact with nature, thus it can further reduce stress.
Cycling is indicated for those who want to lose weight or just keep their current one. How many calories are burnt during a cycling session depends on how you pedal and for how long, but if you maintain a good rhythm you will probably be able to burn as much as 500 calories per hour. However, if you want to achieve a good result in terms of weight loss and control, you should ride the bike regularly. Keep in mind that only with a regular physical activity and with a correct nutrition you will be able to lose weight.
Keeps You Fit
Cycling will help you maintain the muscles tone, including calves, buttocks, and lower back muscles. Furthermore, you will also strengthen the back muscles involved in maintaining the posture, therefore the spine will also benefit from this sport. Actually, because of the particular position that one must maintain while cycling, the sport is indicated to those who suffer from spine affections such as low back pain.
Cycling is an excellent sport that can be practiced by those who want to prevent cardiac diseases, including the elderly people who want to keep their heart in a good shape. The cardiac muscle increases its strength and resists more under fatigue when a constant physical activity is undertaken. A regular low-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling, controls the blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as the level of the fatty acids present in the blood, with demonstrated benefits on the prevention and management of diseases such as high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Furthermore, cycling also increases the lung ventilation capacity, increasing the oxygen level and optimizing the sugar consumption. These bring further benefits to the heart, not to mention that the overall vascular and lymphatic systems enjoy a better blood and lymph flow.
Maintains The Joints Healthy
Some sports, such as running, gradually consume the joints, especially the knee joints, because of the constant impact of the body with the terrain. Cycling, on the other hand, keeps our body at a distance from the terrain. For this reasons, knee, ankle and hip joints are protected from the impact shocks. Furthermore, in addition to not putting any pressure on the joints, cycling has a protective effect on the cartilages thanks to the constant rotary movement of the legs.
Generally, cyclists, despite the presumable fatigue, are able to ride long uphill trails and boost more energy than those who don’t practice this sport. According to a study published by Georgia University in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics magazine, riding a bike for at least three times a week at a moderate rhythm stimulates the dopamine production, increasing the energy levels with about 20% and reducing fatigue with as much as 65%.
Rises The Expectancy Of Life
As we showed above, cycling has many benefits for the heart and circulatory system. Avoiding heart diseases the life expectancy rises. A Danish study claims that regular cycling can raise the life expectancy with four years for men and five years in the case of women. To confirm this is another study published in 2011 in the International Journal Of Sports Medicine that revealed that cyclists who participate in the Tour de France typically live about eight years longer than other athletes.
As you can see, we can say that the health benefits of biking are systemic, having a positive impact on the overall well-being. However, if you want to make sure that cycling remains a pleasure, there are a few precautions to take:
- First of all, make sure that the height of the saddle is adjusted to your own height before hitting the road. You should be able to extend the legs almost completely during pedaling and the wrong size of the frame or the wrong position of the saddle can damage your leg muscles or joints.
- Secondly, pay attention to your clothing. You should choose adequate clothing that is suitable for the outdoors temperature too. Ideally, the clothes you’re wearing should allow the vaporization of sweat and protect you from the wind.
- Use a helmet, goggles and gloves every time you go cycling. These will limit the injuries in case of accidents.
Now that you know what are the health benefits of biking, let’s see a few of the other benefits of this beautiful sport. As the environmental benefits of biking are probably the most important after the health ones, we are going to discuss them in detail.
Benefits Of Biking: Environmental Benefits
When thinking about the environmental benefits of biking, we mainly refer to the benefits of riding a bike on a regular basis, especially as an alternative to the motorized vehicles. In fact, biking can help resolve major environmental problems, from lowering the pollution levels to traffic reduction.
Many of you will probably think that commuting by bike is not an option, but statistics say that about 50% of car commuting is made for distances up to three miles. Furthermore, other 30% of the commuters use the car for distances shorter than 1.5 miles. This means that at least in 80% of the cases, riding a bike to work or school is a valid alternative.
To make you better understand why commuting by bike is a better choice and how it can help protect the environment, let’s discuss a few other numbers.
Basically, to pedal, cyclists use the energy coming from the sugar. Our metabolic system transforms sugar in calories and uses them as energy. The energy that comes from 100 grams of sugar is transformed in about 500 calories, calories that can fuel a cyclist for up to 23 miles. With the same energy consumption, a long-distance runner can run for four miles while a pedestrian can walk for about nine miles.
If we speak about fossil fuel, 500 calories are the equivalent of about 55 ml of gasoline. This quantity of gasoline, on average, can fuel a car for only 0.62 miles.
A brief look at those numbers clearly highlight the benefits of commuting by bike over motorized vehicles. In fact, by reducing the fossil fuel consumption the waste gasses are also reduced. Not only your city will become cleaner, but the multinational companies will also have to reduce the fuel production.
This means that the natural resources will be less exploited and air pollution will be reduced at a global level as well.
Commuting by bike is also faster in most cases than commuting by car. In fact, for distances up to three miles, the majority of the routes are inside the urban centers. In most cases commuters who use cars to go to work or school get stuck in traffic, wasting a lot of time waiting at traffic lights or in traffic jams. There is no doubt that biking is faster than commuting by car.
Furthermore, commuters who use both bikes and the public transportation help reduce the overall traffic and pollution even more. In fact, some statistics show that the commuters who use the public transportation systems usually live in a range of about 10 minutes (about half a mile) away from the public transportation stops. Those who instead prefer to pedal to the bus stop or underground station increase the range to about two miles. This not only increases the number of potential public transportation users with the subsequent effects on the local economy but also decreases the number of those who would rather commute by car.
Other environmental benefits of biking are related to the production process. The resources and costs needed to manufacture a bike are fewer compared to the resources and costs needed to manufacture a car or another type of motorized vehicle. On the other hand, bikes generally last longer in time compared to the motorized vehicles.
A simpler manufacturing way generates less pollution, therefore biking is beneficial for the whole world.
The use of bicycles for daily activities also reduces the space needed for parking facilities. In fact, on the space needed to park a car can be parked as many as ten bikes. The reduction of parking facilities can subsequently increase the green areas of a city with all the additional benefits related to this aspect. Locals will have a cleaner air, more leisure spaces, and a good-looking city.
As it is shown above, the constant use of a bicycle can effectively improve the quality of the environment by reducing the harmful emissions and improving the quality of life not only locally but globally.
Benefits Of Biking: Financial Benefits
Lastly, using a bike has many financial benefits as well. What should be underlined is that biking doesn’t have financial benefits only at a personal level, but it also has a positive impact on the local economy. To understand how using a bike is benefic for both personal and municipal finances, we will discuss these aspects separately.
Personal Financial Benefits Of Biking
At a personal level, it is clear how biking helps boost our finances. The main benefit is linked to the lower costs of owning a bike compared to owning a car.
Using a bike for the daily commuting will save you all the money needed for fuel, but this is not the only thing you will save on. In fact, the maintenance costs of a bike are lower than the maintenance costs of a car. In the case of damages, the various parts of a bike typically cost less compared to the car parts. All these aspects will save you a lot of money.
On the other hand, if you don’t own a car at all, you will also save the road tax and insurance money.
If you own a car but use it less frequently the car maintenance costs are also reduced because the car parts, such as the tires, last longer.
But commuting by bike, or at least biking regularly, will save you money in an indirect way too.
Firstly, biking keeps you fit. Therefore, you will not have to pay for a monthly subscription at the gym or spend a lot of money for weight losing diets. Biking also helps you maintain your health, therefore you will spend less for medicines or medical check-ups.
Biking can even help you save money on heating during the cold season because those who cycle regularly have better temperature tolerances and need less heat.
Local Financial Benefits Of Biking
As we said before, biking has a positive impact not only on your personal finances, but it also helps to grow the local economy. This usually happens in those communities that promote biking and the economic benefits are, most of the times, substantial.
One of the ways in which biking can boost the local economy is through the popular bike sharing systems.
In fact, the municipalities that invested in bike sharing systems can use the daily or monthly fees for many purposes, including improving the infrastructure or building more facilities in the city.
On the other hand, less traffic means less damage to the streets and roads. This will save a lot of public money that would have been spent on repair works and road improvement.
In those communities that promote biking, the organization of various biking related events also boost the local economy. In fact, biking events can increase tourism that has a benefic impact for both the municipality and for the local commercial activities.
Speaking about the commercial activities, the bike rental shops can increase their sales during these events, as it is likely that many visitors will rather rent a bike than bring their own.
The hospitality sector will also benefit from an increased number of tourists and this will bring further welfare in the local area.
From biking tourism will also benefit many other businesses too. First of all, the local tour operators can organize city tours by bike to attract the passionate cyclists. Secondly, bike rental and repair shops will most likely increase their sales as well.
The overall cycling tourism is also likely to grow in the bike friendly cities that boast appropriate infrastructure and facilities. In fact, passionate cyclists will most likely visit those places where they can practice their favorite sport in all peace.
Examples of how biking can have a positive impact on the local economy are the Western European cities where local councils invested in creating biking facilities and infrastructures, such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. These cities are not only famous for their green approach towards environmental issues, but the economy of these cities is thriving.
When it comes to parking facilities, the economic advantage of using bikes over cars is also evident. First of all, as we already mentioned above, one car parking slot can accommodate up to ten bikes. For this reason, the local councils will spend less on the construction of new parking facilities destined to bikes compared to car parking facilities.
On the other hand, the local councils can apply a bike parking tax that will further increase the local income.
Lastly, biking can bring local financial benefits by boosting the house prices. The increment in the house prices happens because communities that prefer biking over other transportation means enjoy a higher life quality. There is less pollution in those places and more tranquility, therefore people are more likely to want a home in such an area. The increment of the demand will subsequently increment the selling price. The same applies for house rentals.
To better understand the economic benefits of biking, the following video will explain how biking helped boost the economy in Vermont:
As shown in this Ultimate Guide To The Benefits Of Biking, practicing this sport is probably the best thing you can do. You will not only lead a healthier lifestyle, but you will also improve the environment and help the personal and local economy grow.
There is to say that biking, in addition to all the benefits reminded above, also has a series of social benefits. Here is a brief list:
- Allows all social categories to commute, including children, elderly people, and those who can’t afford a car or to pay for public transportation.
- Encourages social interactions. This is beneficial for the psychological health, making people feel accepted by the society.
- Increases the safety on roads, especially in the residential areas.
What do you think? Do you practice biking as a leisure activity or do you use a bike for commuting purposes too? Do you want to add other benefits to this guide?
If you want to share your biking tips or concerns, or if you want to discuss any points of this guide, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, please share this article by clicking one of the social buttons. Your friend might also find this guide useful.