Cycling good way to tone up, slim down

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I turned 40 on Sept. 14. I had been dreading that week for the obvious reasons. I try not to get wrapped around age because I firmly believe that it is only number, but it still bothered me.

I celebrated with the three main men in my life, and soon the day was over. The day after my birthday, my mood completely changed when I found out that my Category 1 cycling upgrade had been approved. I know most of you are thinking to yourself, “What does that mean?”

I started riding a bicycle 4 1/2 years ago. When I started racing a bicycle three years ago, I set a long-term goal of one day becoming a Cat 1 (cycling terms for Category 1) racer. When I started racing a bicycle, I was automatically a Cat 4. As I won races and had strong finishes, I earned points to upgrade to the next level, Cat 3. Again, I won some races, had lots of strong finishes, earned even more points, and was able to upgrade to Cat 2.

The hardest jump was from Cat 2 to Cat 1, because I had to earn the most points and the competition was tougher. Compare it to earning your black belt in karate or having a “0” handicap in golf…. It’s a big deal. And it was an even bigger deal for me since it came the day after my birthday. ... What a nice present!

I decided to share my good news with you today because I want to encourage you to incorporate cycling into your schedule. There are so many great reasons to jump on a bike. I want to share my thoughts on why I believe you would enjoy it.

Cycling is easy, convenient and can be cheap. Most of us learned to ride a bike when we were little. My youngest son, Harrison, is 5, and he just learned to ride his bicycle without his training wheels. This past weekend, he took his first trip around the block on his “big boy” bike. He was so proud of himself (I think I was as pumped about it as he was!).

Bikes don’t have to be a huge financial investment. Wal-Mart has Huffy Cruisers for less than $100. Keep it out of the rain and give it a little TLC every once in a while and a bike can last years. South Georgia isn’t known for its cold weather, so you can easily ride a bike nine months out of the year.

Cycling is low-impact and provides a great lower body workout. I was a runner before I became a cyclist. I really enjoyed running in the local 5k races and even completed one half-marathon. Running started bothering my knees, so cycling was a good change for me. Cycling doesn’t pound on my joints like running did. Cycling incorporates all of your lower body muscles ... legs, thighs, hips and your rear end. Think about the pictures from the Tour de France that you’ve seen — toned legs, chiseled thighs. I don’t remember seeing any ugly legs on the footage that I watched. And guys, when you really get into it, you can shave your legs for that “real cyclist” look.

You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?

Cycling greatly improves cardiovascular fitness and endurance. When I was running several times a week, I had a four-mile loop that I would do. On a good day, I could run it in about 30 minutes. If I ever ran for an hour, my legs felt like I had been running forever. Riding a bike is totally different. Beginning riders can often ride for 30 minutes as long as they ride at their pace. The more you ride, the easier it becomes to add mileage. I started riding in April 2007, and my first ride was a 30-miler. I finished my first century ride (100 miles) in September of that year. A regular cycling routine can also help reduce heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol. Start pedaling!

Cycling burns calories! Of course, the total number of calories burned is going to depend on the weight of the cyclist and the intensity of the ride, but you can just about guarantee that with moderate effort you can burn anywhere from 500-800 calories every hour that you are on a bike. I have a Garmin on my bike that has been calibrated to calculate my calories burned based on my weight, time on the bike, exerted power, etc., and I have seen between 2,000-2,500 calories burned after some of my longer, harder rides. Nice, huh?

There are plenty of other great reasons that you should consider hopping on a bike. Some of my closest friends are people that I have met through cycling. There is a large bike group in town, the Pecan City Pedalers ... a 160-plus member club that supports all of the local cyclists. They are always planning group rides for all cyclists, from the beginners who have never ridden before to the veteran racers. Cycling is becoming more popular and nothing makes a bigger fashion statement than a pair of brightly colored spandex shorts!

On May 11, 2011, Georgia passed House Bill 101, “The Better Bicycling Bill” into law. This law requires motorists to give cyclists at least three feet when they are attempting to pass them on the road. This new law is helping to make cycling safer for all of us.

Fall is in the air, and it is the perfect time to get outdoors. Grab that bike that’s been sitting in the corner of the garage and take it for a spin. The feeling of the wind against your face and the sun shining down on your back as you ride through the smooth country roads on the outskirts of town is therapeutic. For a small moment in time, all of the stresses of life seem to fade away and it’s just you and the road.

Michele Moulton has been a fitness instructor for over 21 years and is a certified Spinning instructor. She teaches at PT Gym and is an avid cyclist. She is an accountant and a mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.