Last month I wrote about getting your bike in shape for spring and summer riding. If you are tuning up your bike, it’s also a good time to think about tuning up your body.

For most people, riding a bicycle is a form of transportation. It’s a way to commute to school or work or to do errands. For some, it’s also a way to get in shape or train for the next Santa Barbara Century, cyclocross, or even the annual CycleMAYnia Tour de Tent.

My Austro-Daimler is tuned — now I’m getting in shape.
Howard Booth

However you ride, you will ride more confidently when your body is in good shape. If you are a hard-core road racer or mountain biker, this Pedal On column may not be for you. Lots of magazines, books, coaches, teams, and programs can help you reach the peak physical and mental shape required for riding a Century, winning a downhill MTB race, or the Tour of California. Read on if you haven’t pedaled since you got rid of the training wheels, want to lose some weight, or just get in better shape for daily riding and commuting.

When I’m starting to feel out of shape, the first thing I do is go sit on the couch, eat some cookies, and read about getting healthier. No, really, I start climbing hills rather than avoiding them as I ride. Many cyclists avoid the uphill grind, but climbing is one of the best ways to get your body in shape. Once you start climbing hills, you’ll quickly notice the transformation and dispel any doubts that cycling burns lots of calories!

I’m not talking about riding up Gibraltar or San Marcos Pass. All you need to do is start charging up some smaller hills. A grade of 4-6 percent, not too steep, is more than enough, especially if you’re just getting back into shape. Ideally, you want to work at an exertion rate of 70 to 90 revolutions per minute. You can determine this level by purchasing a bicycle computer (about $50 at your local bike store). You want to pedal at a moderate intensity, not to the point where you are gasping for breath. Here are a few climbing tips: 1) Sit more upright in the saddle when you’re climbing a hill; 2) don’t pull your arms back too hard or too much when navigating the upward slope; 3) and finally, breathe deeply as you pedal.

Adding hills to any bicycle ride is easy enough here in Santa Barbara. Even the ride up any north-south street from the ocean toward the Mission is a gentle uphill grade that can give you a great workout if you put some intensity into pedaling. Moderate hills for 30 minutes will burn more calories than a slow steady 20-mile ride.

I also try and incorporate a few short intense sprints into my daily commuting. For example, while riding up Bath Street I’ll sprint as hard and fast as I can ride every other block. Short 30-second sprints can change a gentle bike commute into a calorie-burning workout.

One more tip for cyclists as you roll back outside this spring is to drink water during the ride and eat something if you’re planning a tide that is longer than an hour. Sports nutritionists suggest a snack and water is a good idea some time in the hour before your ride.

If you want to get fit, you also may need to change your daily eating habits. Too often people want to change their eating but don’t have a clue about how much and what they are really eating. I recently spent a week writing down everything I ate for each meal and snack. I was amazed at the end of the week to find that I ate a lot of snacks (mostly vegetables — good!) and not a lot of formal sit-down meals with protein, starch, and vegetables. Try writing down what you eat for a week in a journal, and be specific. Writing down “sandwich” for lunch is not nearly as revealing as “double cheeseburger with mayo, ketchup, cheddar cheese, bacon, pickle, and lettuce.”

I’m not a fan of diets. I try to live by the words of my grandfather when he turned 100. He took me aside and said, “Howard, 98 was enough.” I’ve always believed that he meant you may be able to live longer by obsessively exercising or eating only healthy foods, but those extra years may not be the most rewarding. My grandmother cooked incredible holiday feasts that my cousin swears he can still taste. But their daily meals were small portions of simple, home-cooked food with seasonal fruit as a dessert. Every evening my grandfather had a small shot glass of peppermint schnapps. I go for whiskey.

My grandparents lived moderately.

I think moderation is the key. Eat and drink moderately. Cycle with enough intensity that you can still feel pleasure in the ride. It’s easy to add short bursts of intensity to your bike workouts, whether you are rehabbing an injury, cross-training, or deciding to make your commute your daily workout.

Cycling will improve your fitness and increase your personal energy level. Add some hills, and include a few all-out sprints for 30 seconds or less if you want to get in better shape. You’ve tuned your bike so that it can help you tune your body. Keep rolling, and have fun!


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