Inspired by Olympic cyclists? Get on your bike!

You may feel a little less speedy and streamlined when you’re on your own bike, but there’s no reason why you can’t take a leaf out of our Olympic cyclists book and channel your inner Alison Shanks or Sarah Walker.

Cycling is not only a great form of low impact cardiovascular exercise, but it can also get you from A to B and save you a fair bit of money on gas if you swap out a car trip to get on your bike instead.

Why aren’t we cycling more?

The Heart Foundation mentioned this week that in Holland, 2.5km is cycled per resident each day. More than 200,000 people ride every day in New York City, during the average week 30% of Germans use a bike for transportation and in Copenhagen 50% of all residents cycle to work or school. London and Sydney are rapidly following in their footsteps. Kiwis are sitting at a mere 1.4% when it comes to going somewhere by bike. So why are we not cycling more as a form of transport in New Zealand when the 2011 Ministry of Transport household travel survey found nearly half of all households have at least one bicycle?

What equipment do I need?

You don’t need an expensive bike to start out, you just need to make sure it’s in good condition so you’ll be safe. If you’re not sure, take it down to your local bike store and get them to help you check it over. You’ll also need a good safety helmet to keep your noggin safe. Optional additions if you’re just learning and think you might fall over a lot to begin with are elbow and kneepads. Wear comfortable breathable exercise gear, but don’t wear pants that are baggy/loose around the ankles or you may end up with it getting caught up in your bike chain.

Don’t know how to bike?

You will have likely learnt to ride one when you were a kid, so you may feel comfortable on a bike straight away even if you were last on one a long time ago. Practice makes perfect, so grab a safety helmet (which you should be wearing whenever you’re on your bike anyway!) and find a big grassy area to ride on. This way, if you do fall, you’ll land on soft ground which means you’re far less likely to get injuries than if you were practicing on concrete.

Make sure your handlebars and set are adjusted correctly for your height. If you’re not sure how to do this, your local bike store should be able to help you out here as well.

If you need to work on the balance part, just get on your bike, walk your feet along to build up a little speed and see if you can hold a glide for a while. As your balance gets better, start off with one foot on one pedal. Push off and work up towards putting your other foot onto the other pedal. Practice using the brakes as these will come in handy! Once you get used to riding your bike, try it out at the side of a quiet street to begin with (not the pavement! too many obstacles and you’re not supposed to do it…) , find a cycleway, a park with a footpath around it or a specific bike park to get some more practice on harder surfaces.

Graduated to using your bike as transport?

Remember – if you’re going to hit the open road, make sure your balance is good enough on your bike that you can give hand signals to show where you’re going. Plan your route ahead so you know the best way to go and will feel comfortable doing it.

Wear bright clothing to ensure drivers will see you and get your bike some lights if you’re going to by cycling if it’s vaguely dark. Follow standard road rules, watch out for cars and always wear your helmet. Also, leave your headphones at home for this one, as you want to be able to hear what’s going on around you at all times.

For some great how-to guides, check out www.avantiplus.co.nz/pluszone.

Photo / Flickr – Olgierd Rudak

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