His blue helmet bobs up and down as Johann Matthai pedals his way past other cyclists in Delhi’s bus rapid transit, or BRT, corridor. Matthai, a 24-year-old business development executive with Vogue magazine, is part of a growing community of urban cyclists in metros.
According to Nalin Sinha, founder of the Delhi Cycling Club, the club started in October 2006 with five members. Today, he says there are around 1,000 members, with the number growing.
For this new breed of cyclists, the numerous benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks of pedalling on India’s notoriously bad roads. A risk, moreover, that’s declining with the introduction of cyclist-friendly infrastructure, such as cycle-only lanes in Delhi and Pune, with plans for more in places such as Bangalore.
Apart from being zero-emission and environment-friendly, biking also provides an excellent workout.
Cardio on wheels
The most obvious health benefits of cycling are on the cardiovascular system, says V.N. Singh, a former cycling coach with the Indian Army and assistant secretary of the Indian Cycling Federation, Delhi. A bike ride for even half an hour daily is considered sufficient for exercising the heart, according to the American Heart Association.
While a steady pedal on flat stretches is good enough to work the heart, a little variation with gradients (you’ll need a bike with gears if you want to hit the slopes) is required to really get it pumping. Because cyclists use their leg muscles, some of the largest in the body, the rise in heart rate associated with vigorous cycling is considerable and it improves stamina and overall fitness.
There are other heart-related benefits as well. In 1990, the British Heart Journal published a study of 10,000 civil servants in the UK, and found that those who cycled about 30km a week were half as likely to develop coronary disease.
However, Vimal Sharma, chief sports trainer, Sports Medicine Clinic, Delhi, says it is important to get in shape before trying to push yourself uphill. Stamina and fitness, as well as changes in the difficulty levels of cycling routes, should be done gradually, giving the body time to build and prepare for the exertion.
Cycling is probably the most complete workout you can give to your legs. “The quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and buttocks are all involved,” says Singh. “Biking greatly improves your lower body strength”
But it’s not only muscles in the lower body that benefit. “Cycling builds muscle while destroying fat,” says Dr Sharma. An hour of steady cycling burns around 300 calories.
Dr Sharma also points out that those who stay upright while cycling end up strengthening their core muscles. The small muscles supporting your vertebrae are strengthened by cycling, which leads to a stronger back and in turn can reduce back pain. And finally, because of increased muscle function and strengthening, cycling helps in improving muscle tone.
“The low-impact nature of cycling makes it an excellent option for people who can’t put pressure on their joints,” says Dr Sharma. The bicycle takes most of the weight off your body, and the fluid, circular cycling motion has little impact on painful hip and knee joints, especially compared with the forceful jolts suffered while running or even doing a standard aerobics routine.
Biking is also excellent for building lung capacity and function, and this is especially beneficial for those suffering from asthma or bronchitis. Of course, the flip side of cycling for asthmatics is the exposure to fumes. In such cases, you could always hop on to a bike at your gym.
Cycling is also a great stress- buster, and a quick early morning ride will do wonders not only for your legs and heart, but also your mind. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study in September showing that 20 minutes of cycling daily can greatly reduce anxiety and depressive disorders. It’s a no-brainer really—exercise generates mood-enhancing endorphins.
“If you can cycle in the outdoors, you should,” says Ranmal Jhala, an environmental campaigner who’s been cycling around Delhi for around 40 years. “It’s a tonic for both the body and the spirit.”
All that’s left to do is for you to grab a bike, find an ideal spot and start pedalling. And if you need further inspiration to jump on to a bike, watch reruns of the Tour de France online (or on Ten Sports). That should do it.
Three pairs of premium wheels
Before you buy a bike, it’s important to figure out exactly what you’ll be using it for. Good mountain bikes with proper suspension will cost quite a bit. Unless you’re seriously going to attack mountain trails, a road bike should work just fine.
Trek 7100 (road bike)
This is a quality hybrid bike, with smooth shifting Shimano 21-speed gears and sharp, responsive brakes, essential for navigating chaotic traffic. With its light and sturdy aluminium frame, the Trek 7100 is a great bike for commuters and city riders. Rs21,000
Firefox is the distributor for Trek in India. Click here for dealer information and more details.
Merida MTA 510-A (mountain bike)
Merida’s premium mountain bike packs the goods. It has big 26-inch tyres and a 27-speed Shimano Deore gear box. The RST Gila Pro suspension fork is great for absorbing shock and the FSA (Full Speed Ahead) headset are super. Light but solid, the MTA 510-A is excellent for hitting trails and riding off-road. Rs30,000. Click here for dealer information and more details
Cannondale F7 (mountain bike)
For the price, the Cannondale is a great buy. It has 26-inch Nevegal tyres which are 2.1 inches wide, sturdy and multipurpose—not too heavy for road use, which can be a problem for many mountain bikes. Its disc brakes and stiff, light frame make it excellent for off-road use. All in all, a versatile bike that works well on city roads too. Rs29,990. Click here for dealer information and more details.
These may seem obvious, but since they’re life-saving, we thought it’d be good to remind you:
• Ride with traffic, not against it
• Stick to cyclists’ lanes wherever possible
• When biking in the dark, wear reflective clothing, and use a light
• Clearly indicate turns and avoid directly crossing motor vehicle users
• Obey traffic lights. A bike is a road vehicle, and the same rules apply.
The Cycling Federation of India has a Facebook page with listings of bike rides and other cycling related events. There are numerous urban cycling clubs across the country, click here to join, a social network for Indian bikers. Some of the largest are Mumbikers and the Bangalore Bikers .
The Delhi Cycling Club , with around 1,000 members, is one of the largest in the country. It promotes cycling awareness and organizes regular bike rides through the city.
Size up at the start
The ideal bike: A bike ought to be an extension of your body, and finding the right size and fit is extremely important. Take your time selecting a bike, and make sure it is the right height and frame size. Just go to a shop and ride it around the premises. You should be able to reach the pedals comfortably and your hips should stay horizontal (not tilt at an angle) throughout. Even a deviation of a few centimetres in saddle height, for example, can overstretch back muscles and strain your hamstrings.
Other equipment: Get yourself a helmet to vastly reduce the chances of head injuries. There’s not much else you need for an everyday ride, but getting a portable repair kit and proper riding clothes and shoes is advisable if you plan to go for a longer ride.
Initial fitness: If you suffer from heart disease, it is strongly recommended you consult a doctor before starting a cycling routine. Otherwise, like with any other form of exercise, it is advisable to slowly build up endurance and strength.
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