Every year as we sit eating leftover turkey and Christmas cookies, commercials featuring glistening washboard abs flit across our screens. They implore us to call now: “This could be the year that will change your life!” The advertisements offer special New Year’s resolution discounts to those who want “a bikini body by summer,” promising that in exchange for your credit card information and a few fun sessions in spandex, you’ll get the sculpted look you’ve always dreamed of.
While the special offers may be tempting, most gym dreams are never realized. According to ABC News, around 60 percent of gym memberships go unused. In Santa Barbara, there’s good reason to avoid the stuffy confines of a room filled with the steady hum of treadmills, rowing machines, and stationary bikes. The year-round fresh air and warm sunshine make a trip to the gym seem almost blasphemous. It’s time that could be spent running winding dirt trails, rowing in the actual ocean, or, my personal favorite, biking.
Cycling at a relaxed pace burns about 400 calories per hour. Kick it up a notch, and you’ve got a full-body workout that engages the heart, lungs, and brain. The fitness of these vital organs is quite a bit more conducive to long-term health than chiseled biceps or buns of steel. Biking is environmentally friendly, relatively low impact, and enjoyable. So, if you’ve set a goal to increase your exercise this year, ditch the membership and get pedaling.
Any successful New Year’s proclamation requires some thoughtful consideration and planning. If you’ve made a resolution to ride, here are some tips to help you get started:
Don’t Overinvest When buying a bike, check for sales on last year’s models, investigate yard sales, and look on Craigslist. If you start with a less costly bike, you won’t feel tremendous pressure to justify the expense. Less pressure means more fun, and that’s what recreational ridding should be about.
Don’t Under-invest There are some great deals to be had on bicycles, but make sure you’re getting a fully functional, low-maintenance, ready-to-ride bike. A chain that rubs, shifters that stick, and squeaky brakes can kill your motivation to put down the potato chips and get off the couch. A good price range for a used bike is $150-$400, and for a new bike $375-$700. The high end of the scale may seem expensive, but it’s about what you’d pay for a yearlong gym membership. And, you’re getting something much more tangible than “sexy shoulders.” A bike can be resold or donated if it doesn’t work out.
Be Safe Buy an appropriately sized helmet, and wear it correctly every time you ride. Stick to bike paths and areas with light vehicle traffic when you’re first starting out. Remember to follow all traffic rules: don’t ride on sidewalks or on the wrong side of the street, obey traffic lights and stop signs.
Comfort Is Key Get a bike that fits you well. Make sure you try out several different bikes to see what feels best. If you haven’t ridden since you were a kid and are just getting back into biking, a “comfort bike” is probably your best bet. Do not buy a lightweight road bike with thin tires. You can always upgrade to Lance’s old ride once you’ve gained experience.
Make It Fun Pimping your ride with a basket, bell, and decals might help motivate you to hop on and go for a spin. Who says handlebar streamers are just for kids?
Start Small Small goals can help you build confidence. Every time I go trolling Craigslist for bicycles (far too often for my husband’s liking), I see countless bikes listed in “brand new condition” with accompanying explanations, “only ridden twice, kept in the garage, thought I’d ride more.” Often the bikes were bought with grand intentions that were never realized. The lesson: moderate those great expectations.
Ride Someplace New Getting out of your neighborhood and experiencing a new area can add a sense of adventure and novelty to your cycling. The Ellwood bluffs, the Cabrillo bike path, and Lake Los Carneros all provide relatively easy riding and beautiful, scenic views.
Find Your Balance For the greatest chance of success, a new fitness activity should fit into your existing lifestyle. It should not take a tremendous amount of effort or add additional stress. If you find yourself dreading your daily ride, scale back to every other day. Slowly increasing the number of hours spent in the saddle will help you find a good equilibrium.
Ride Together Biking with friends and family can be a great way to connect. Biking groups offer camaraderie, an organized schedule, and a sense of accountability. The Goleta Valley Cycling Club offers monthly Newcomers rides. (Find more info at goletabike.org)
Go Somewhere Unlike a treadmill, a bike can get you somewhere. As you gain in ability and endurance, use your bike as a vehicle for short trips. Biking can turn errands into entertainment and exercise into fun. Riding around the block can be a great way to get some fresh air and add some movement to your day, but having a destination can give your pedaling a purpose.
If you resolve to increase your fitness through biking this year, I won’t promise you a bikini body by summer. But I do believe you’ll enjoy the ride.