Why cycling is an amazing way to get in shape

Looking for a new way to torch calories? Find out why cycling is a great option, and what you need to get started.

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If you’ve read my articles here, you may have come to the conclusion that I’m a fan of running. You may not know, however, that I love cycling just as much; it’s just that I don’t love cycling in the winter, which is why I haven’t written about it here until now.

I know hardcore cyclists who switch their tires to knobby spikes to handle winter riding, but for me it just removes a lot of the fun. Also, I’m kind of a chicken. It’s ironic that I actually run outside more in the winter than I do in the warmer months, because the vast majority of my aerobic activity in winter comes from this. However, once the snow melts the bike comes out, and I cut back on running to make for lots of two-wheeled awesomeness.

Why cycling is so great
So my runners are getting used less in summer, and that’s just fine with me because I really love my bike. Here’s why:

1. Although it doesn’t burn quite as many calories per hour as running (intense cycling burns about 70 percent as many calories per hour as does running), I can last a lot longer on a bike and actually burn more calories overall.

2. Cycling allows me to go fast. I can actually scare myself a little, and this is fun. There’s nothing like flying down hills and whipping around corners and pushing my limits a bit so my heart is racing not just from exertion, but from a bit of fear. I don’t do anything stupid — well, not really stupid — but there is a rush to be had from hard cycling when you get good at it.

3. Cycling allows me to explore. My shortest distance on a bike is usually about 50km, which I can do in two hours or less. Conversely, I almost never run more than 15km. The longest distance I’ve ever gone via bike is 120km and I’ve seen parts of the city and parks and paths I didn’t know existed.

4. I can bring stuff with me. On long rides I can take a pannier full of food, water, iPhone, wallet, a map, a first aid kit, repair kit, and other stuff I might need.

5. Back when I had a regular job, I could use it for transportation. Have I mentioned that I’m really happy I don’t have a regular job anymore? I love being a stay-at-home fitness writer and consultant. Just rubbing it in a little.

While I will run in absolutely any weather, when it comes to cycling I do it more for pure enjoyment, so I’m a little more fairweather about it. I like running, but I also see it for what it does for burning calories and improving health. I know cycling does this too, but for me it’s really just about the love of getting on the bike and pushing it hard for hours. I get maximum enjoyment from this when it’s decent weather. As long as it’s not pouring rain or below about 7C, I’m good to go.

Cycling doesn’t have to be really expensive
And it didn’t cost me a fortune either. I opted for a hybrid bike (which you can see me holding in the bottom right of my homepage), that only cost $800. A hybrid is sort of speedy like a road bike, but has some ruggedness like a mountain bike built in. You can spend less, or you can spend a lot more.

Here are some other things worth spending money on when it comes to cycling:

  • Absolutely buy a good helmet. You’ve only got one brain, and it needs protecting. Make sure you do that chin strap up tightly.
  • I prefer a bike rack with a pannier bag to wearing a backpack.
  • Get the padded bike shorts. Male or female, these are a good thing to have. It may look like you’re wearing an adult diaper, but they make things far more comfortable. If you’re looking for a female opinion, my wife concurs that the shorts are good.
  • Get a bell and water-bottle holder too. A portable pump and tire repair kit plus some basic tools are also a good idea.

Another great thing about cycling is, that for people who are just starting to get active, it can be easier to adopt than running because it doesn’t feel quite like you just inhaled a bunch of fire ants like it does when you first start running.

Also cool is that you can make it a family affair. You can all ride bikes together, or if the little ones are really little, there are chariots and trailer bikes for bringing your kids with you.

Cycling really can be fun when you embrace it, so if you don’t have one go spend some money and start feeling the love.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get a free metabolism report at Body For Wife. Email James at