I’m not a light-weight guy, but I am lighter than I was, say five years ago, because of cycling. Thirty pounds lighter. I’m not getting any younger either. But today, I feel like I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.
It’s not easy to start exercising when you’ve done nothing for years. It’s tough… damn tough. And cycling is no different. I witnessed a conversation a couple of years ago when I was working in the local bike shop. The sales clerk, a tall, slender, athletic looking woman, who probably weighed about 105 pounds soaking wet, was helping this middle-aged guy make his first bike purchase since he was a kid. He was average height, and looked like he might weigh about 230 pounds. He was not an athlete. He looked tired, overwhelmed by the technological advances made in bikes over the years, and somewhat intimidated by the environment he found himself in. He knew he was out of shape, and wanted to do something about it. But here was this svelte young woman trying to sell him a high-end road bike, while preaching to him about the benefits of cranking it up every day. He walked out of the store that day without buying a bike and I’m guessing, today he’s still overweight and tired, because he saw his quest for fitness as insurmountable.
Your fitness goals are not insurmountable
You just have to take one step at a time—your step—not a step patterned after someone else. Here are a few tips to get you started on the bike, even if you haven’t exercised in years. There’s nothing scientific here, just a method that has worked for many. If you’re not sure of your health, see your doctor first and take her advice.
1. Cleanse the mind
Get rid of all the imagery you may have of the strong, skinny, fit people that haunt your subconscious. Also, forget about all the cool new equipment that’s on the market today.
2. Get a bike
Virtually any bike will do. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be ugly. It can be rusty. It could be a model designed for the opposite sex. It doesn’t matter at this point. Borrow one, buy one from the police auction, buy one from eBay, rent one, but get a bike that fits you comfortably, and ride it.
3. Ride your bike 3 times a week
Wear a helmet, and ride around the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t push it, ride at a pace you’re comfortable with, and (this is important!), pay no attention to the skinny/fast cyclists passing you.
How’s that feel? Makes you feel like a kid again, doesn’t it?
4. Go farther
By the third week you will be able to ride longer. Maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Try to pedal more and coast less. Try to push your limit a little. You’re feeling stronger already. You’re sleeping better. Weigh in. You’ve probably already lost a pound or two. You’re even considering a venue change from the neighborhood to an area with more open spaces, and you’re already thinking of getting a better bike.
5. Don’t stop now!
By the fifth week, you’ve added a longer weekend ride to your regimen. You ride to the coffee shop on Saturday morning, and meet some friends who share your fitness intentions, and you talk about bikes, safety and rules of the road. And you can’t explain it, but your mind seems to be thinking a little clearer these days.
You’ve been looking at the bikes owned by other riders and you’ve learned a lot. There are all types of bikes for all types of riding, and you’re getting close to finding one that suits you better than your old clunker.
6. Have fun!
You’ve discovered that cycling is good, and good for you. After two months of your bicycle adventure, you’ve discovered that you’re really having fun. You’re riding dozens of miles a week. You’ve lost weight, you’ve met some really nice folks… and you’re old bike just isn’t keeping up with your adventurous spirit. And that’s a good thing.
Now is the time to visit a respectable bike shop. (Your cycling friends gave you a recommendation.) Explain to the sales person the type of riding you want to do. Share with him your cycling ideas for the coming year, your fitness objectives, and the budget you’ve established for your new bike. A good shop will measure your body and sell you the bike that best suits your wishes. He may offer a class on safe riding. Take it. He may offer a class on bike maintenance. Take it too, both are invaluable.
You are now a cyclist. Go ride with your friends. Conquer the roads and trails. Your couch potato days will soon be a distant memory. And remember the wise words of the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.