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Bicycles Graduate From Kids' Stuff : Pumping to Cardiovascular Health With Little Joint Stress

February 27, 1988|CHARLES A. BUCHER | Charles A. Bucher, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and executive director of the National Fitness Leaders Assn . , consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and the National Fitness Foundation.

Cycling is the rage for all sorts of individuals. It is particularly valuable for those of us who are over 50 because it provides excellent cardiovascular benefits without stressing the body's joints.

Of the 100 million people in the United States today who cycle, nearly half are adults. It is no longer just a childhood sport. In Boulder, Colo., there are more bikes than automobiles. Nearly 13 million bicycles were sold in the United States this year. Around the world, more people than ever before are hitting the roads with their two-wheelers.

Everyone does not want to run, jog, swim or skip rope. A bicycle is a great conditioner for aerobic fitness. The heart becomes stronger and more efficient and the muscles of the body--particularly the legs--gain strength.

And bicycling burns calories. For example, a person weighing 165 pounds and cycling 5.5 m.p.h. will burn 285 calories per hour. It also helps to develop such qualities as endurance, power, balance and flexibility. When performed vigorously, it increases cardiorespiratory system efficiency. It is also a good antidote for the relief of tension and mental fatigue.

Samuel M. Fox II, M.D., professor of medicine at Georgetown University, says cycling "is excellent as a contributor to physical fitness if it is vigorously pursued--it is an endurance-generating exercise."

Other Advantages Too

Of course, there are other advantages to cycling beyond the fitness goal. It conserves fuel, cuts down on traffic jams, is economical, usually eliminates parking problems and is the primary means of transportation in many countries of the world, including China, the most populous.

Cycling has been around for nearly 200 years. The first bicycles appeared in the 1800s. These early models were very heavy, clumsy and inefficient. They were also difficult to stop once they were in motion. As you neared a corner you had to dismount and turn the bike by hand, because there was no way to steer the machine. The bicycle of today is lightweight, efficient, economical and versatile.

You can pay $75 to $2,500 for a bicycle. If it's quality you are after, you must spend anywhere from $300 to $600 for one that is durable and well-built. The most reasonable ones can be bought at discount stores for as little as $100.

There are four basic types of bicycles: racing, touring, general sport and all-terrain. Very briefly, the racing bike is built for speed; the touring bike is good for going a long distance, in comfort with room for saddlebags; the general sport type is a compromise between the racer and touring variety, and the all-terrain bicycle has thick tires and is pedaled sitting upright.

When buying a bike, make sure someone who knows all the facets of bicycling helps match the right size and type of bike to the person who will be using it. A good fit is important. It is wise also to buy a hard-shell helmet for $35 to $70, because it will help to curtail head injuries in an accident. Of course, there are many other accessories you may also want to buy: wrap-around sunglasses, gloves, shoes, socks and a touring bag.

Those who have never cycled should follow basic principles. It is important to warm up before starting and then pedal slowly for a short distance. After a vigorous workout, finish with some easy pedaling again during the cool-down period. A fitness workout for a beginner might start at 10 minutes every other day, gradually increasing to 30 or more minutes.

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