IT'S PAINFUL TO SAY IT, but I've noticed, that as I get older, my brain function has gotten a little fuzzier than it used to be. Fatigue affects it. Stress affects it. Lack of sleep affects it quite a lot. I’ve known for years that exercise helps to maintain overall health, and I can feel how aerobic exercise truly does sharpen my thinking.
But what's exciting to me is the idea of neurogenesis. Exercise augments adult neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells in an already mature brain. (Now that's good news!) Here’s a brief article, written by Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times: For Your Brain's Sake, Keep Moving, that talks about the studies being done it this area. It shows that exercise changes the structure and function of the brain, and some forms of exercise may be much more effective than others at bulking up the brain. One study suggests “sustained aerobic exercise might be most beneficial for brain health in humans.”
And, while the studies referenced here used rats and not people, and running, not cycling, could it be that humans riding bikes may have the same impact? Too bad they couldn’t have put the rats on indoor cycling bikes instead of treadmills.
I'm already convinced that regular cycling at an aerobic level is good for my health and my brain.
I USED TO BE A RUNNER. But in my early 20s, after a bad motorcycle accident, I developed acute back problems. Many years later, after my second lumbar surgery, my "running career" had to be halted. It was just too painful (and dangerous). I sat on my butt for a few years wondering what I should do to stay fit. In middle-age, you don't have that luxury. I quickly gained an extra 30 pounds of flab.
I considered mountain biking I was disgusted with myself, and started looking for a less jarring way to burn calories and get some exercise. I came upon a road cyclist one day as he was making a left turn, in front of me, on a four lane highway. I sat in my car thinking he was crazy for riding in the road and competing with 4000-pound vehicles.
But it got me thinking. I still had my old Haro mountain bike in storage, maybe I should dust it off and see how painful it would be to ride it. The next day, I did just that. I rode down the shoulder of the same highway where I saw the road cyclist. I pedaled hard and was delighted by the speed I was going. I was mesmerized by the wind in my face, the comfort of a pleasant summer day, and the beautiful scenery near the river.
Then, a car pulled out in front of me I skidded--my knobby tires making a hollow groan. The bike fishtailed. I swerved. I managed a sideways slide in behind the car. I was shook up inside. My heart raced. I turned the bike around and rode home, much more slowly. When I got home I felt physically and emotionally drained and realized I had only gone a total of six miles.
I started to question my sanity Was this sport too dangerous for an older guy? Should I keep looking for a better way to exercise? That road cyclist, dressed in the funny clothes, that I witnessed making a left turn in the traffic lane seemed so relaxed and confident. Why was I feeling so vulnerable?
My fear didn’t last long The next day I had the uncontrollable urge to go do it again! But, first I went out and bought myself a helmet. Maybe this would help my insecurity, I reasoned. Day two was much better. I mounted my old mountain bike and rode down the same shoulder, but at a slower pace. I kept my eyes and ears on high alert, carefully watching for errant drivers. It was a hot day, and I sweated so much my cotton clothes were saturated, sweat running down my face from under my helmet, but I completed about eight miles without incident.
I was hooked I had just rekindled my love for bike riding that I had abandoned more than 30-years before. And the activity was virtually stress-free on my back. I rode that mountain bike around town for a couple of months, rapidly gaining strength, stamina, distance and confidence. Then, I made a big jump in faith. I traveled to Moab, Utah to ride a mountain bike in the red rock country with my son and a friend. It was a glorious experience that I wrote about earlier in this blog.
After Moab, I was pumped! I came home and decided to buy a new bike. This time I wanted one that could transition from mountain bike to something more suitable on the road. I bought a Bad Boy, with an extra set of mountain bike rims and tires. Funny, but I rode it with the skinny tires nearly all the time. Then, a funny thing happened.
I fell in love with road cycling Within three years I purchased two more bikes, both road bikes, and discovered a passion for road cycling that I never would have dreamed of before. I bought the silly riding clothes, which turned out to be technically remarkable and wonderfully comfortable. I took safety classes from the League of American Bicyclists and Cycling Savvy, and I advocate for safe riding and proficient bike handling. I’ve since ridden tens of thousands of miles, in 13 states--so far.
I’m committed to safe road cycling, and bringing other latent athletes of a certain age, into the fold. It’s a great, low impact, fitness sport, and a whole lot of fun! I don’t plan to stop, ever. And to think it all started one day, when I just took off.
ASK A DOZEN CYCLISTS WHAT THEY LIKE most about cycling, and you will get a wide assortment of thoughtful answers. But, as time goes on, and their experience deepens, their answers will often change. That’s another great thing about cycling: It sort of evolves with you. As you become more seasoned, the act of riding a bicycle morphs into something different, that you often love even more. The more you ride, the more you love to ride.
What is it about the ride that resonates for you? A friend of mine, who is a long-time cyclist in his 70s, once told me that cycling can be anything you want it to be. What to race? Then race! There are races for every age. Ride for fitness. Ride long distances. Ride in the mountains. Or ride simply because when you’re on your bike the air seems fresher, colors more vibrant, and you feel more alive. Your bike can be a source of enjoyment in so many ways and on so many levels. The key question is: How do you make your ride, the best ride? Here are a few ideas of my own.
Explore the cycling culture in your town You might find a great bunch of people to ride with. Are they cyclists you can relate to? Fitness-wise? Age-wise? Style-wise? Try a ride or two with them to see if they’re a good fit. If you don’t care for big rides or big groups, go solo, and do your own thing.
Know your bike like the good friend it will become Is your bike comfortable to ride? Make sure it fits you well. You should know it well enough to make minor repairs if you have a mechanical failure on a ride. Become “one with the bike”. I’ve known many cyclists who love their bikes so much, they name them.
Develop riding confidence Confident cycling comes from experience and understanding the rules of the road. It’s important to know how your vehicle (the bike) can safely co-exist with other vehicles on the road. (Check out Cycling Savvy and the League of American Bicyclists for details.) Experience also builds good bike handling skills, which when combined with preparedness are also key to confident cycling. Carry with you the things necessary for your trip, like a multi-tool, a food bar, hydration, a spare inner tube, and maybe a rain poncho.
Make it a memorable ride In the early stages you should know where you’re riding to, a destination, a neighboring town, or around your community. Later, when you have more experience, it’s really fun to explore. Let your adventuresome spirit carry you along to less charted courses. Take in the sights and sounds and smells of the planet as it goes by, and use your camera to capture it.
Share your ride with others Post a short ride story, with a photo or two, on your favorite social media. You’ll be delighted to see how many friends will respond with favorable comments. You can also send your story to this site for possible publishing.
Don’t think about riding your bike as something you have to do. Think of it as your escape! Make it an adventure. Make it part of your lifestyle. But beware. It can be highly addictive. Just keep this in mind: When you’re on your bike, it’s about the ride, your best ride.
I want a new drug One that won't make me sick One that won't make me crash my car Or make me feel three feet thick
Those lyrics are from a Huey Lewis and the News song from a few decades ago. I think we’d all like to find a new drug that would make us feel great without all the side effects. For the past 13-years I’ve been pitching a drug called cycling. Bicycle-type cycling. Butt in the saddle type cycling.
Get on your two wheeler (or three wheeler) and ride. Then ride again. Keep doing that and I am convinced you will feel better, much better, in a reasonably short time. I believe that cycling can heal the body and awaken the mind, because that’s what it has done for me and others like me.
It’s very likely that the good effects of cycling are derived from the aerobic benefit that it imparts, that, and the non-impact circular movements involved in pedaling. There’s been a lot research done on this subject. Here’s an article that touches on just how beneficial aerobic exercise (and thus cycling) can be for a body. Particularly, an older body. It's a quick read. Check it out, then jump on your bike and start your own cycling regimen. It's additive!
JUST OVER A YEAR AGO I QUIT MY JOB. I quit because I was tired. Tired of going to an office everyday. Tired of taking orders. Tired of a long commute. Tired of not seeing my family until 6 o’clock every night. Just plain tired. I’d been freelancing in my spare time and realized that with some time and effort, my freelancing could turn into an online business, one that allowed me to make my own hours and work from home. So after my husband and I sat down and made a plan, I made the leap and never looked back. While I’ve found a great deal of freedom and joy in running my own online business, I have noticed a significant change in my body. My work has always required a good amount of time in front of the computer, but the time increased as I managed my businesses from home. This is something I worry about as research has linked too much sitting to an increase heart disease and health related deaths. Beyond that, without a solid schedule, I’ve lost control of my eating, wandering to the fridge whenever I have the urge. After a year, I’m 20 pounds heavier and tired in a different way. I’m so tired I can’t keep up with the family I quit my job to spend time with. I’ve known for a while that I need to make a change.
When I was younger, I never worried about my weight. Not only did I reap the benefit of an 18-year-old’s metabolism, but I biked everywhere-to class, to study group, to work, or even just to get away from it all. I miss biking. Even though 25 years later life has gotten significantly more sedentary, I still follow sites for cycling enthusiasts (LloydLemons.com is a definite favorite). I remember the feel of the crisp air on my face and the elation of conquering a tough hill. I’ve realized that these things no longer need to be memories. For the sake of my health, I need to get back on a bike. My first steps are to get prepared. I know that I can’t just hop on and go (especially in the cold slush that dominates the roads this time of year). So as I wait for warmer and drier weather, I’m researching and taking the steps I need. Step One: Find a Cycling Group As I develop my skills, I want to stay motivated, so my first step was to find a group to ride with. I’ll be much less likely to make an excuse to skip a ride if someone else is expecting me to show. Luckily, a local cycling club hosts rides for beginning cyclists. Even though I used to ride all the time, I figure time and inactivity has turned me into a beginner again. It will be a good place to start. Step Two: Find a Bike I went into this step a little concerned. Bikes can be incredibly expensive, and I did not want to break the bank. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of bikes listed on Craigslist and ultimately found one that met my needs and price range. Step Three: Get the Clothes I want to ride as comfortably and safely as possible, so I’ve found a solid helmet, breathable attire, and proper footwear. I’ve also purchased a couple of pairs of biking shorts to keep unnecessary soreness at bay. Step Four: Decide on Accessories It seems that there are a million gadgets being marketed to cyclists, and I need to find out which are beneficial and which are a waste of money. I know that getting stronger as a cyclist will be a process, so it’s a matter of finding the accessories that will help me through that process. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to invest in a power meter. It’s simply the best way I can see to help me build skill and strength. I’ve also decided to purchase a phone mount, not so I text and bike, but so I use apps to monitor time and speed or use a map if needed. At this point, I’m no longer tired. I’m excited. I’m excited for the places I’ll explore and I’m excited for how I’ll feel. I know that cycling is going to be the thing that helps me turn my health around, and I can’t wait to start. Now I just need a little sun.
About the author: Melanie Nathan is an online entrepreneur, freelance writer and lover of cycling. She writes for many publications, including Huffington Post and Wellness.com. Her hobbies include animal rescue and making zen cloud lamps. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.
HERE ARE A FEW BRIEF TIPS for surviving the summer heat while riding your bike. There are dozens of articles by experts that will give you the deep science about body heat and fluids and other stuff. And if all those numbers and matrices make you feel more confident, then by all means read the articles.
As for me, I’m not an expert in physiology, but I’ve survived some pretty stupid stunts in my time, and I can certainly share some wisdom from practical experience. I’ve ridden my bike in the 115+ degree heat of the parched Sonoran Desert of Arizona, as well as the 98 degree, 96 percent humidity of the Gulf Coast states. And while everyone tolerates heat differently, the following pointers will give you some measure of safety when riding in the summer heat.
Listen to your body The first and most important rule is: Use common sense. You have to make adjustments in your riding program. You can’t ride in the summer heat at the same intensity you ride in the 60 and 70 degree temps of spring and expect to excel. Your body is highly adaptive, but you need to gradually build-up your heat coping mechanism. Spend the first couple of weeks in summer heat “working into it”.
Your body is talking to you. You know when something isn’t right. If you’re feeling weak, or dizzy or chilled when you should be feeling hot, something is going wrong and you should stop and reevaluate your condition.
Avoid unnecessary heat if you can. Try to schedule your rides in the early morning, or the late afternoon when the sun isn’t so intense. Or, scout out some routes that provide more shade.
Learn how to drink. In other words, don’t ride like a Tour de France competitor for 45 minutes and then slam 20 ounces of water to catch up. Sip your fluids, a couple of gulps every few minutes. When I’m out on a hot day, I drink approximately every 4-miles: a gulp of Gatorade with two gulps of water after it. But everyone is different. You’ll have to discover your own rate of hydration, but it should have consistency.
Discover your best hydration practice Learn what to drink. Water is a given, but you need more than water. You need a mineral and electrolyte replacement drink. Blood doesn’t work well if it gets too watered down (hyponatremia), and that’s what can happen if on a hot, sweaty day you drink only water for an extended period. The main ingredients that help keep you stabilized are sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. These are available in many sports drinks and water additives. I often drink Gatorade, but not all cyclists can tolerate Gatorade. Some of the other products available are NUUN, Clif Shots and Clif Blocks, Camelbak Elixir and Accelerade, to name just a few. If you get too dehydrated or too “watered down” your endurance wanes, recovery takes longer, or worse, you could put yourself in a serious condition. Experiment with proper hydration to see what works best for you, and what your stomach can tolerate.
Another way to maintain sodium in your blood on a hot, sweaty day, is to try munching on salty foods along your ride. Salted peanuts, beef jerky or similar prepared foods help you maintain your sodium levels. I know a few long-distance cyclists who buy one of those jumbo dill pickles at every convenience store stop.
In the heat of the summer, water and sports drinks get warm on your bike. When you make a stop put some ice in your drinks or buy a cold drink. Putting cool fluids into your system will help keep your core temperature down. Experimentation is in order here as well. Super cold water on a hot ride gives some riders stomach cramps, so go easy at first.
And finally, water is not just for drinking. If you have an ample supply, and need a cool down, consider pouring water over your head, down your neck or over your shoulders. It can provide some welcome relief in the heat of the day. The same is true for an ice-sock. I’ve never used one, but I’m told it works well.
Reflect and dissipate heat I love cotton fabric. But not for cycling on hot days. Cotton gets wet and stays wet. It won’t effectively wick the sweat from your body and when it’s stuck to your skin with sweat, it won’t allow you to dissipate heat. There are many technical fabrics available that are better for summer cycling. Check out Boure’, Garneau or Canari. Read what they have to say about their clothing and you’ll see the benefits.
Also, give some thought to light colors to reflect the sun, and long sleeves to keep the sun off your arms. There’s a good reason the desert dwelling Arabs are always covered up,no matter how high the temperature. I bought a long sleeve summer jersey and wore it for the first time recently. It works very well to keep my skin surface for overheating.
Stop in the shade and off the hot pavement. Shade is not always available, but if you have to repair a flat tire try to do it in the shade. If you stop to rest, try to find a comfortable spot in the shade.
Try using a helmet with adequate ventilation. Here’s a look at styles of helmets available, you’ll notice some are well vented and some are not. On a hot summer day, you’re going to want some air circulating over the top of your head.
Common sense, acclimatization and proper hydration will help you steer clear of over-heating while riding in high temps and humidity. The bottom line on all of this is to understand the messages your body sends and know it's limitations.
Everyone is unique, so experiment to see what works best for you, and enjoy riding this summer. You might also want to join the National Bike Challenge. It’s FREE, FUN, and you might even win a prize.
THERE ARE MYRIAD CHOICES WHEN IT COMES TO BUYING PEDALS for your bike. Many brands. Many styles. Many mechanisms to attach your foot and become one with the bike, and of course, pedals with no method to attach your foot to the bike--often called flat pedals.
Siquar Manufacturing, a Taiwanese manufacturer of metal products has made their first flat bike pedal. My Siquar Pedals installed easily with an 8mm hex wrench. The pedal body is a unique design made from an aluminum alloy. The axles are CR-MO steel, and employ sealed bearings for a smooth spin. The pedals are incredibly light, weighing only 207g for the pair.
Construction The pedal body is smaller than most popular flat pedals on the market. It uses no pins for gripping a rider’s shoe, but provides a grippy, porous type of finish. Manufactured by CNC processing, these pedals have nothing to adjust or replace. Their efficient, one-piece design has a kind of “blade” or traction node that provides a one-way grip for the shoe. Additionally, there is a channel on the front and back of the pedal that could be used to insert a reflective panel to increase visibility in low light. The sealed bearings provide a very smooth spinning action. The entire unit appears clean, well thought out and professionally made.
I wondered about the smaller pedal surface, but a 10-mile ride found them to be comfortable and grippy using my athletic shoes. They also worked well with my partner's soft soled, ladies shoes. The smaller size platform was virtually unnoticeable. I could imagine these pedals being installed on cruiser bikes, comfort bikes, hybrid bikes, city bikes or who knows? Pedal choices are as varied as the number of pedals on the market. Everyone has a favorite.
LATE ONE AFTERNOON, ABOUT 10-YEARS AGO, when I was just getting started in serious road cycling, I was riding toward home when I noticed a group gathering at the local bike shop. I pulled in and quickly discovered that I was amid preparations for the Thursday evening shop ride. I watched as people were making final adjustments to their bikes and locking up their vehicles. At the last minute, I decided to join them.
I already had about 15-miles in my legs, so I felt warmed up enough to ride with this younger-than-me group of about 20 cyclists. Plus, I had a brand new carbon fiber bike that I wanted to put through its paces. We all took off down the divided highway at rush hour. The lineup was a little messy at first, with everyone jockeying for position, so I felt most comfortable being one of the last in line. As we headed south down the busy road, things got more organized and the speed picked up rapidly. About six miles into the ride, we made a sharp right onto a less busy road -- one that was unfamiliar to me.
The group cranked up the pace
Within minutes the friendly banter had stopped, and all I could hear was the wind and the whirr of many tires rolling on smooth blacktop--these guys were serious. We wound through treed lanes, over creeks and at times into the low setting sun. I was getting tired. A space opened up between me and the rider in front of me. The few riders behind me began to pass and fill up the void. I continued to spin as hard as I could, but I was losing ground. Within a few minutes I was dropped. Not only was I alone, but I was in strange territory, and in my supreme effort to keep up, I hadn’t been paying much attention to how I got there.
My confidence level evaporated
It was too late, of course, but I realized I had hooked up with a group that exceeded my abilities. Whoops! Lesson learned the hard way. It also bruised my confidence. Now, as twilight was setting in, I had to find my way back home, weary from a couple of hours of hard riding.
Preparedness will help you feel confident and comfortable on your next ride. Here are eight tips that I recommend:
1. Know your bike
Know how it feels, reacts, handles. Does it fit you properly? Do some of the components need adjusting? Is it making a weird noise? Get it fixed. You don’t need distractions when you’re 20 miles from home and you're exhausted.
2. Know how to fix basic things
Little things can go wrong and ruin a ride. Learn how to quickly repair a flat tire, or make a minor derailleur or brake adjustment.
3. Know the rules of the road
This is very important. You ARE traffic. You should ride your bike safely, and so other users of the road can anticipate your next move. Go to Cycling Savvy to learn more.
4. Know the terrain
Will you be riding where steep climbing is required, or where super fast, curvy descents will test your bike handling skills? Will you be riding on gravel, or paved roads with lots of potholes, or narrow roads with no bike lanes? Knowing in advance what you’re getting into will increase your confidence level.
5. Know your endurance limits
Can you ride 20-miles, 30-miles, or more? Can you ride at 24 mph for extended periods? If you’re a casual rider think twice before you agree to ride with someone who rides 300 miles a week. Bonking can be miserable and embarrassing.
6. Know your group rides
First, do you know the etiquette and techniques associated with group rides? If not, group rides can be dangerous for everyone involved. Second, match the group ride level with your own abilities. Groups are often graded as A, B, C rides, etc. A-rides are normally fast rides, where C-rides are often casual or social rides.
7. Know the best time to ride
Do you really want to ride during rush hour--do you have the skills to do so? Mid-summer afternoons in Florida are very hot and humid, so I often ride in the morning, right after rush hour. But I don’t like to ride east first thing in the morning because the rising sun is blinding--for me and for motorists. What’s the best time for your ride?
8. Know what you need to carry
Do you have tools and supplies to get you out of a minor mechanical jam? Do you have your hydration and nutritional needs covered based on how far you’re riding? Do you have some cash (some rural retailers don’t take plastic) and a cell phone? Do you have lights in case you don’t make it home before dark?
By following these guidelines you're more likely to ride free of major problems that could ruin your ride or make you wonder why you didn't stick with golf. Preparedness and knowing what you’re getting into will go a long way toward riding with confidence.
If you’d like to add your own tips, please comment below, and feel free to share this post with others.
RIDING A BIKE MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT for anyone whose ever put their butt on a saddle. For some it’s a fresh look at the neighborhood. For others, it’s a race through the mud. For me, it’s often a way to clear my mind, reflect on the day’s offerings, relieve stress and improve my attitude.
Last weekend was a difficult one. I traveled to Tampa for a memorial. There, I met with many other family members and friends to honor my 30-year old niece who had recently died from breast cancer. Saturday was a gut wrenching day of sadness for everyone. Jessica had little opportunity to enjoy her life or her husband. I left the memorial with a mixed bag of emotions: anger, sadness and a plethora of frustrations.
Then, I went to my church
I was staying on Clearwater Beach and had the forethought to bring my bike along. I took two rides during my 4-day stay on the beach. They were both similar in distance and direction, but so different in experiences.
On the first ride I cranked the pedals until my legs ached and my heart reached its limits. I felt only sorrow, the Florida heat and sweat. Visually, all I remember is the blur of cars, the shade of trees and the glare of water.
Wherever you go, there you are
On my second ride I slowed down and took in my surroundings -- the smell of neighborhoods, birds that I couldn’t identify, and fish swimming near the surface in an inlet. I meandered around a bit, had a bite to eat, and climbed the same three bridges that I climbed on my previous ride, but this time I took in the views of the many waterways along the Gulf.
I’ve discovered in recent years that, for me, cycling is an effective coping mechanism. I’m sure that those 70-miles of saddle time made my 5-hour drive back to Jacksonville a little more tolerable.
ANYONE WHO KNOWS ME knows that cycling is a big part of my life. When friends think of me, they think of bikes. In fact, I take full responsibility for hurting the Nielson Ratings on many TV shows, because I’ve motivated numerous couch potatoes to turn off the tube and spend time riding a bicycle.
But I must admit, there are times when I don’t ride
In the interest of self-preservation, I try not to ride in severe weather. Living in Florida means that cycling is a year-round activity, however, we are the lightning capital of the world. Also, we do have the occasional hurricane, and we do have torrential rain storms that I’ve seen dump 9-inches in 45 minutes. During those times I let my bike rest, although I have been caught several times in rain so heavy that I’ve had to get off the road.
I also rest from the ride when I have certain physical issues. For example, over the years I’ve had a few back surgeries and several surgeries on my eyes. During these recovery periods I stay off the bike until I’m properly healed--although cycling, done right, often speeds the healing process.
One other thing that keeps me from riding, and even writing about cycling, is a family emergency. When my son was injured in Iraq, a few years ago, I was so preoccupied with getting him home that nearly all routine activities halted.
Likewise, for the past month, my 91-year old mother, who has lived with me and my wife for 11-years, took ill. We’ve all been consumed by emergency care, a hospital stay, a long stay in a rehab facility, and battling with health care professionals over something I’ve never experienced before, namely: Age-Based Health Care Rationing. (Something we will likely all come to know.)
My greatest cycling supporter
The good news is, my Mom is back home and is getting stronger day by day. She is getting in-home nursing help and is, amazingly, doing physical therapy on her own. (She says she’s not ready to leave this earth yet, because she’s not done harassing me!) In truth, she is my greatest supporter when it comes to cycling, and wants to know the details of my ride nearly every day. She’s a big fan of the Tour de France, watches it every year, and was supremely disappointed when Lance Armstrong failed us. It has bothered her too, that I haven’t been riding my bike this past month--she feels responsible. All this, from a woman who has never experienced the joy of riding a bike herself.
So, there are certain things that will keep me off the bike. I’m never unmotivated, but I am sometimes preoccupied with life’s challenges. Today, I’m officially back to writing and back to riding. I’m looking forward to finishing up the final month of the National Bike Challenge with some decent mileage. And I’m looking forward to cycling during the cooler days of winter which are right around the corner.
And, of course, I’ll report my mileage to Mom every day!
(The above photo is me and my Mom at a century ride in 2006. Yes, I was a little heavier then.)
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