It’s Like Riding a Bike—Health and Happiness
I have a long relationship with bike riding. Like most people who know how to ride a bike, I made it to a two-wheeler around age six. I still remember the moment, and the feeling, when my dad told me that he had let go, and that I was balancing on my own.
For many writers, that last sentence would kick off a piece about the symbolism of the parent letting go of the back of the bike and the growth that follows for the child and the parent. Sounds nice, and maybe I’ll do that someday.
Today, I want to talk about bike riding itself: the exercise, the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and the transportation.
I loved bike riding as a kid. Before I got my driver’s license, I liked that my bike could take me further, and faster, than when I walked. I rode to friends’ houses. I rode to the store to get candy, baseball cards, and record albums (those are music on 12” vinyl for those of you who grew up in the digital age.) I also went on adventures with my friends, riding distances that I would consider far even today.
For most of my years as a grown-up, I did a modest amount of bike riding. There were several years when I had my kids on a bike seat on the back of my bike, then a bunch of years taking occasional rides with them on their own bikes, and finally a bunch of years taking periodic longer rides with the kids.
Where I live, just outside of New York City in Northern New Jersey, is well known for bike riding. A few years ago, my wife, Marcie, introduced me to a wonderful bike trail about 20 minutes from our house—a 12-mile, tree-lined, riverside bike path. I knew I should be enjoying the ride. It had all of the elements I should have enjoyed. But, I didn’t.
I realized that I was no longer enjoying bike riding because during and after rides my back would ache from riding in that hunched-over, racing-bike position, my hands felt sore from pressing against the handlebars, and the seat was completely uncomfortable for all of the parts of my body that came in contact with it.
I’m not sure why none of these things bothered me up until that point. Maybe it was an age thing.
Then, I had a bike riding reawakening in the summer of 2009. Marcie and I were on a vacation in Vancouver with another couple and we went bike riding in Stanley Park. The experience was a revelation for me because it was the first time I had ridden what was called a “comfort” bike. Its wheels were thick, its seat was huge, and its handlebars were upright.
The following year, on Father’s Day 2010, I got a new, comfortable bicycle, and began to ride again.
Here are some of the things I do now that I am once again a bike rider:
- Exercise. I am 25-year rider of a stationary bike as a key part of my exercise routine. I now ride my bike outdoors on nice days.
- Errands. My kids gave me a little pouch for the front of my bike for Father’s Day 2011. It’s great for holding all kinds of things, including: deposit slips for a quick run to the bank, letters I need to drop at the post office, and other small things I need to drop off at friends’ houses. My eagerness to volunteer to do errands reminds me of my kids’ willingness to volunteer to do errands when they first got their drivers’ licenses. Only for me it’s not a novelty, it’s an enjoyment and an excuse for a bit more exercise that I will always be interested in.
- Other local transportation. This past spring I rode my bike each Saturday morning to Challenger baseball (playing baseball with kids with special needs) instead of driving there as I did last year.
- Active time with my wife. Marcie and I like to walk together. We tried golf a long time ago, but it was too slow for her. We both play tennis and have occasionally rallied with each other, but we’re not really compatible for tennis for reasons I will explain another time. Bike riding is something we can do together.
- Time with other friends. Marcie and I have ridden with other couples, Marcie has ridden with friends without me, and I will probably, at some point, find myself riding with other friends as well.
- Seeing places I wouldn’t otherwise. I like how much you notice when you go for a walk, and I love how much you get to see when you ride your bike—not as many details as when you walk, but you cover more ground in the same amount of time, so you get to see a ton. In either case, you notice much more than when you are driving.
- Time alone. I don’t love walking alone, but I never hesitate to go on a bike ride alone. Alone time is a good thing to carve into your schedule.
A couple of additional thoughts on bike riding:
- Be safe. Always wear a helmet, be careful, and follow the rules of the road.
- Get a good lock. I had a bike stolen in Albany, NY during college. My son, at the exact same age, had a bike stolen in Montreal last summer. Mine was not locked and stolen off the front porch of my friend’s house. My son’s was locked.
- If you don’t have a bike and can’t afford one, consider renting one, borrowing one from a friend, or buying a used one at a garage sale or on Craigslist. In addition, for big-city dwellers, more and more cities are adopting bike sharing programs.
- If you want to track your routes and your mileage, there are tons of apps. I haven’t been doing that, but I recently downloaded the free app “Strava” after a friend showed me how cool it is.
- It takes 21 days to form a habit. Break down your bike riding goals into small pieces and adopt them one at a time. It will be good for your health and your happiness.
p.s. What are your thoughts and experiences with bike riding, or anything else? Join the conversation with your comments…