Fitness for Fat Nerds: Just Like Riding a Bike

After all of my talk about running, I actually haven’t been doing much of it in the last month. This is partially because I’m in Houston for the summer – you know, Houston. A city renowned for its cool and balmy summer weather. – and running outside at nearly any time when the sun is up is like asking for death. Sweaty, bug-covered death. I’ve also been having problems with some plantar fasciitis in my left heel, a thing that doesn’t take kindly to even walking, let alone running.

Instead, I’ve been riding my bike. A lot.

Biking is something I’ve only started doing recently. This year, in fact, because I didn’t actually own a decent bicycle until I bought one back in March. But to be honest, I’m having a much better time with it than I do with running. I normally ride 20-30 miles at a stretch and I’m a much stronger biker (I’m already able to maintain 15.5+mph average speeds) than I’ve ever been a runner. Plus hey, it doesn’t make my left foot hate me, so that’s certainly a bonus.

The biggest problem with biking is that it can be very expensive. Running, you can do as long as you have a decent pair of shoes and a desire to sweat a lot. If you’re going to cycle, at the very minimum you need:
Helmet (if you don’t get one of these I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN)
Puncture repair kit & extra tubes
Floor pump (trust me, way better than a hand pump)

And if you’re going to start doing more than 15 miles at a stretch, trust me. You want to spring for the shorts with the padded butt. You might feel silly wearing them, but your ass will thank me in the long run.

Of course, the most expensive thing out of that list would be the bicycle. Often, you can try to find one used. But if you want a bike for more than just trundling back and forth to the grocery store, you’re going to need to spring for one that actually fits you. The frame size is very important, and the frame size you need varies with things like your height, the length of your inseam, the lengths of your arms, etc. You can try to figure it out with a frame size calculator, but you’re really better off going to your local bike shop and test riding bicycles until you figure out what’s the right size. And keep in mind, frames change from brand to brand. So a 52cm Trek is not going to be the same as a 52cm Litespeed, and so on. Once you know what size bike frame you need, you can always then see if you can find one cheaper online or used.

It also matters if you want to mountain bike (which I can’t really say anything about) or do road biking or just have something to take to the grocery store instead of your car. You don’t need to get something top of the line when you’re first starting out – in fact you shouldn’t – but it’s well worth it to get a decent frame. But keep in mind that even a “cheap” road bike new costs over $600.

If you’re interested in biking – and I think it’s hella fun, obviously – don’t run out and spend a ton of money right off the bat unless you’re sure you know what you’re getting in to. Before I finally bit the bullet and got a big girl road bike, I owned an Electra cruiser for years and just rode it back and forth to the store. Particularly if you’re new to bikes or haven’t had one since you were a kid, that kind of bike isn’t a bad reintroduction and gives you a chance to decide if you even like bicycles any more.

What pushed me to finally let go of the cruiser and get a road bike was the fact that I’d be living without a car for the summer, so I needed something a little better for distance and commuting. It was kind of a scary prospect, since the posture you end up in on a road bike is much more aggressive (you end up leaning over the handle bars and have to learn to not put all your weight on your hands) and takes getting used to. But when I went over to the bike store and started trying bicycles out, it was ludicrous how much faster the road bike was.

When you’re trying to push a bike up a hill with the power of your thighs, light weight and tiny, ridiculously pressurized tires are your friend. That’s actually what pushed me into getting a road bike instead of the less aggressive hybrid (a cross between road and mountain bike). Trying the Trek out first just sort of ruined me for anything heavier.

I’d really like to encourage people to try out biking, even if you don’t want to spend 6+ hours a week with your ass glued to a seat. If you use a bike for short trips instead of a car, you save emissions and money, since you don’t use gas. A lot of cities in America are starting to have bike share programs, where for a small “rental” fee you can get a cruiser-style bike and use it to run errands within a city and turn the bike in at any convenient return point. I recommend giving it a try, and if you decide you like it enough to make it your main form of exercise, awesome! If not, even if you just do little side trips and errands, you’re still getting in some good exercise and helping the environment.

This is something I’ve learned in the endless quest to stay moving – anything you can do that gets somewhere under your own power is a very good thing. That means walking, that means taking the stairs, and that means riding a bike if it’s safe to do so. You can get in a lot of good exercise without having to make a special deal out of it in your day, and you can pat yourself on the ass for being environmentally friendly while you do it.

If you have any questions about beginner biking, let me know. I’m still working to figure this crazy gig out, but I’m having a heck of a lot of fun.

Denver bicycle sharing program
Houston bike sharing program
National site for the B-cycle bike sharing program
NYC bike share

…and you get the idea. If you’re in a large metropolitan area, google your city + bike share or bike sharing program and chances are you might have one already.

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