Cycling is a fantastic way to get moving – it's a low impact method of exercise, and, like all aerobic exercise, it helps reduce your risk of over 25 different chronic diseases. But if you’re just getting started, there are a few things you should keep in mind to maximize your health benefits, prevent injury and keep your ride as smooth and comfortable as possible.
When cycling, ergonomics and fit are important, says Alex Edye-Mazowita, disability case manager at Manitoba BlueCross and avid cyclist.
“If your bike seat is too high, you’re obviously not going to be able to use the bike effectively,” he says.
New cyclists often lower their seats so they have a smaller distance to fall, but this can cause issues, says Edye-Mazowita. “If it’s too low, you’re going to be burning out your quadricep muscles rather than being able to share the workload with powerful hip muscles, so you might be prematurely fatigued. Proper seat height should result in your leg being straight at the farthest point of the pedal.”
Depending on what kind of bike you’re looking for – road bike, mountain bike, commuter – the frame size and weight will differ, says Edye-Mazowita.
“It’s important to get a bike with a frame that will fit your height,” he says. “There are sizing charts you can find online, but I recommend getting fitted for a bike in person at a local shop.”
Some bikes, such as those used in racing, have handlebars that are low for improved aerodynamics, but these are not ideal for the average cyclist.
"If they’re too low, not only are you definitely going to have neck and lower back pain, but your visibility is also going to be compromised,” he adds. “If you’re commuting in the city, you might want to rethink that, because believe it or not, we have a lot of potholes.”
Clip-in pedals ensure all your energy can be used to pedal, since they minimize shifting your feet or hips around to get ideal placement – but they’re also not ideal for casual city riding, Alex says. “If you’re riding around town, it may not be worth the risk of forgetting you’re clipped in at a stoplight.”
Tires can also make a big difference. “Narrower tires mean less friction and more speed, but less stability,” says Edye-Mazowita. “Check your tire pressure before you go on a ride – riding on low air will make your ride harder in the city, and extremely low air will increase risk of damage to the wheel.” However, lower pressure can sometimes be useful for rough terrain, according to Edye-Mazowita.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you stay safe and enjoy your bike for years to come.