Shifting Gears: Start Biking for Fitness

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Ready to hit the open road astride a bike to get in shape or to participate in an upcoming race or ride? The Lowcountry is a great place to start cycling, thanks to its nearly perfect weather and bike path-friendly terrain. The Town of Hilton Head Island has been recognized as one of the most bicycle-friendly communities in the U.S., and it offers something for beginning cyclists and hard-core athletes alike.

Many cyclists prefer to bike alone, while others enjoy the camaraderie of a regular group ride. Either way, finding a few friends to help get your biking routine in gear can really help, area enthusiasts say. 

“If somebody's trying to start riding for fitness I suggest finding a group of other like-minded people that they’re comfortable with,” said Alfred Olivetti, owner of Go Tri Sports on Hilton Head Island.

Here are a few more tips to get you started, from picking the right equipment to bike safety, riding techniques, nutrition and hydration:

GET THE GEAR

Some cyclists use GPS devices that track distance and cadence and can be mounted on a bike. But Olivetti said that fancy equipment isn’t really necessary, especially for beginning riders.

“A lot of people get intimidated by gadgets and gear,” he said. “You get the same high riding a 20-year-old bike that you do a brand-new bike, although there are benefits to riding a new bike.”

ENJOY THE RIDE

“Go fast, wind in your hair, and enjoy the spiritual benefit, empowerment and social component,” Olivetti said. Or take the time spent on your bike for contemplation.

Whatever you get from your ride, know that you’re building a sense of drive and discipline — becoming a consistent cyclist requires a time commitment, Olivetti said. But don’t feel like you have to commit to hopping on your bike every single day, or that you’re too old to properly pick up the sport.  Plenty of people in their 60s “ride to to three hours on a Saturday,” he said.

Cycling will also teach you a host of other life skills — for example, Olivetti said, regular riders must learn how to deal with minor mechanical issues like flat tires when out on the road. But cyclists should carry a cellphone just in case the problems exceed their ability to fix them.

SAFETY FIRST

Responsible cyclists should be familiar with the rules of the road and proper hand signals to avoid traffic accident. But there’s more to preventing injuries than staying in the bike lane.

“From extreme athletes to daily commuters, cyclists can experience a variety of injuries that are either occur suddenly or that come as a result of overuse and repetitive motions,” said Matthew Clark, owner of Horizon Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. “Injuries that can occur include those to the neck, back, buttock, knee and wrist.”

Clark suggested a few other ways to avoid injury include:

  • Changing hand position during a ride.
  • Stretching the hip, thigh, neck and back muscles for a more comfortable ride.
  • Wearing padded gloves as well as stretching the hands and wrists before riding.
  • Making sure your shoes fit properly — shoes that are too tight can cause your feet to go numb during a long ride.
  • Wearing padded cycling shorts can help decrease the risk of urogenital injury. A wide, padded seat that can be tilted for comfort can also help male riders avoid or minimize this common biking problem.

Make sure your bike fits you properly and adjust the seat if necessary so your feet can reach the ground easily in case of emergency. Also adjust the handle bars to ensure you don’t have to reach too far to steer, and be sure to wear a properly fitting helmet at all times.