I initially became a serious cyclist out of the need to commute. We lived far from my university and I quickly learned that I could get to school on my bicycle as fast as I could by city bus. Since then it has been one of my favorite forms of exercise.
After SpokeFest this past weekend, I am reminded how much fun cycling can be for people of different ages and abilities. These past few years with a bicycle trailer and a trailer bike (like a tandem that is meant for an adult and a child), we are cycling with our daughter. One couple we know are very different in their athletic abilities and they take a tandem bicycle everywhere. The athletic partner does more of the work, but it helps them stay together.
In Spokane we are especially fortunate to have the Centennial Trail as a place to cycle without traffic, and riding on our roads is getting easier all of the time as bicycle lanes are added around town.
If you are new to cycling for commuting, have children who will be riding their bikes to school, or want to participate in group rides, it is very important to learn how to ride in traffic, ride safely in a group of other riders, and help your kids learn a safe route to school. More information about cycling safety, including videos on riding in traffic, is available at www.nhtsa.gov/Bicycles. This site also has information about fitting cycling helmets on adults and kids. Races and group rides require helmets and Spokane has a law requiring helmet use, so make sure you have one that fits well and feels comfortable. A carrier for a water bottle and cycling gloves are also good things to have if you are riding significant distances. If you are riding during darker morning or evening hours, a white front light (not a reflector) visible for 500 feet and a red rear reflector are required in Washington.
As we go into the fall season, there are group rides and races that happen this time of year. The Spokane kids’ bike race series (a free event) at local parks will be later this month ( www.emdesports.com). Cyclocross (off-road cycling combined with running) races start at the end of September and go through November. Check online and with local bike shops for information about other races and fun rides.
When our days become even shorter and colder I start doing more weight-bearing exercises, cross-training with other sports and some indoor cycling as well. The impact of working against gravity when you run, walk, climb stairs, dance and weightlift helps to make your bones stronger. These types of activities are a good balance to the cycling, which is not as effective for strengthening bones.
When you are outside a lot in summer, your skin makes vitamin D, helping your bones stay strong, muscles recover from exercise and boosting your immune system. As winter approaches it becomes more difficult to get enough sunlight to make adequate vitamin D. I take a vitamin D3 (the type of vitamin D our bodies can use) supplement throughout the colder months when I am more likely to be exercising indoors.
Everyone has their favorite kind of exercise. Cycling is one of many outdoor activities we enjoy in Spokane. Whether you are helping your children learn to ride their bicycles in safety or stretching yourself to train for a race or a long group ride, there are plenty of resources and opportunities for you to make the most of this sport.
Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.