Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cycling for health and wellness.


When I bought my first new bike a few years ago, it was because I wanted to get back in touch with something I lost long ago. I wanted to get in touch with my youth. It must have been a reaction to being forty-something, but youth, the energy of youth, the optimism, the adventurousness of youth, that is a very precious thing.

We lived on our bikes. From a very early age, my buddy and I used to ride out to the airport. We would check the schedule and wait for the twin-engine planes to land, disembark their passengers, and with a roar and a puff of blue smoke, fire up the old Pratt & Whitneys for another take-off. There’s not too many piston-engined airliners around these days.

The first bike I bought as an adult was a Supercycle Inferno, a mountain bike with a nice big frame. The geometry was far different from the highly-stable ten speed racing bike that I grew up on, or the cast-off six-speed commuter bike that I had been riding until a couple of cables broke and the cost of repair got too high. I started off riding around in a tennis court. It took a long time before I was able to ride with no hands.

It had been that long since I rode, but the three compression-fractures at L-3, L-4 and L-6 might have had something to do with being totally out of shape. My lungs were bad, my legs were bad, and everything hurt. I kept at it, and worked my way up a few kilometres at a time. The summer I turned forty-eight, I rode sixty kilometres round trip in about three and three-quarter hours. I hurt for a week afterwards, but I did it.

I wore that bike out in about two and a half years. At that point, I bought a Matterhorn, an all-steel frame Raleigh mountain bike. The machine was stiff, I’ll give you that much, but the frame seemed to be very short-coupled after riding the Supercycle. It was also heavy and too small for me.

By that time, I was much stronger, and so I wore that bike out, a machine which cost about $125.00 Cdn, in a year and a half. At some point the repair shop guy tells you, “Nine bucks for a gear cluster, twenty-five bucks for a chain, eight bucks each for two cables, twenty-three bucks for a tire, forty bucks for a rim…” and the conclusion quickly drawn is that a new cheap bike is actually cheaper and ultimately more satisfying than fixing up an old cheap bike, bearing in mind that it will never be really right again. That’s because old cheap bikes become loose all over, need bearings re-packed, new cables, new brakes, new tires, new seat…et cetera.

So then I bought a Trek 3700. Mine has a two and a half inch oversized frame. At first, it was like I was swimming on that bike. Seriously, after the too-small Raleigh, and even the Supercycle, which was a relaxed-stability revelation at the time, this bike is the first one in my entire life that actually fits me. The bike cost just under $400.00. It took five or six months to pay off my credit card. It was worth it.

This is my fourth summer riding it. It was pretty warm around here in late winter, and while riding in six or eight degree Celsius temperatures can be a character-building experience, it also gave me a chance to train up a little bit for summer. So far today, I have visited my dad in the old age home, (north end,) dropped off some mail, (downtown,) and stopped in at my brother’s place, (south end.) Then I rode home, and at this point I’m up to sixteen or seventeen kilometres for the day.

The only reason I came home was to make a couple of hamburgers, otherwise I would have gone to the beach—which from here might be another fourteen k’s or so. The bike has its limitations. Sometimes, coming home with forty pounds of groceries slung on the handlebars into a stiff breeze is hard work and a tough ride. Heavy rain is a bit of a downer. It’s cheap to operate, and since I never run anywhere, it will have to do. (I don’t run for nothing and nobody.)

I may not really be able to recapture my youth, but this is one good way to make my golden years a little less miserable. Nobody likes getting old, so a little procrastination can be a good thing sometimes.

Sometimes my knees hurt, and my lower back is a little stiff and sore the last couple of days, but some folks just wouldn’t be happy unless they had something to complain about, you know?

Here’s a previous post entitled, ‘Cycling is Therapeutic.’

For more information on the benefits of cycling as therapy, check this out.


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