Healthy Fun on Two Wheels


WHAT vehicle is cheaper than most others, faster than a car in many urban areas, better for your health, and fun? A bicycle. Cycling is good exercise that combines practicality with pleasure. In an age when many people are concerned about their health, travel on two wheels is well worth your consideration.

Baron Karl von Drais, a German inventor, is credited with the invention of the bicycle. His scooterlike contraption, appearing about 1817, was basic in design. The draisine, as it was called, consisted of two wheels, a seat, and a handlebar for steering​—but no pedals. Self-propulsion appeared in 1839 when a Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, attached treadles connected by levers to cranks on the rear wheel. Then came a turning point in the popularity of two-wheeled transport. A French father and son, Pierre and Ernest Michaux, fitted pedals to cranks on the front wheel and made the velocipede (from the Latin  velox, “swift,” and pedis, “foot”), a faster and more manageable machine.

Speed increased as the front wheel size grew. The ordinary bicycle, also known as a penny-farthing, was developed in England and had an enormous front wheel with a diameter of five feet [1.5 m], which contrasted sharply with a small rear wheel. It was called a penny-farthing bicycle, based on the contrast between a large penny coin and the much smaller farthing.

Next was the safety bicycle, a cycle that offered riders the versatility of the ordinary but with a lower center of gravity and wheels of equal or nearly equal size. In 1879, Englishman Henry Lawson exhibited a machine in Paris that had a rear wheel driven by a chain. This model was eventually known as the bicyclette.

Most modern bicycles have a front wheel the same size as the rear one. Thus, the basic design has changed little. Today’s family of utility, touring, racing, and mountain bicycles offers riders comfortable mobility on two lightweight wheels with rubber tires.

Healthy Fun

Noiseless, pollution free, often quicker than motorized traffic over short distances, bicycles are transport workhorses in many lands. In Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, bicycles have become “carryall” transportation, as their riders​—or pushers—​use them to take their wares to market. Not infrequently, the bicycle carries more than one rider, as relatives and friends straddle the crossbar or perch on an uncomfortable luggage pannier.

In Western lands, where the automobile holds pride of place for personal transport, growing health concerns coupled with a desire to escape the urban treadmill have renewed cycling’s popularity. Specially reserved bicycle lanes or paths have sprung up along numerous thoroughfares. In Britain, for example, many local government authorities pride themselves on the miles of paths they reserve for cyclists.

Discounting possible pollution from exhaust fumes, cycling can be healthy. It “is a protection against cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death and premature death in the UK,” observes transport consultant Adrian Davis. Cycling requires a higher intensity of effort, some 60 to 85 percent of a person’s maximum capacity, compared with the 45 to 50 percent used when walking. With minimal weight on a cyclist’s limbs, the risk of damage to the bones is also less than when pounding the streets on foot.

Yet another health benefit of cycling is the good feeling it gives the rider. Research reveals that the exercise involved triggers the release in the brain of chemicals called endorphins, which can enhance mood. Apart from a feel-good factor, cycling certainly offers a look-good factor. How so? “At a moderate speed the pedaller [of a bicycle] will burn off roughly seven calories [30 joules] per minute, or 200 calories [800 joules] in half an hour,” reports The Guardian newspaper. The consequences? Maybe a trimmer waistline and an end to flabby thighs.

Safe Fun

A growing concern in automobile-dominated lands is the safety of cyclists. For example, should one wear a safety helmet? Taking precautions is surely wise. On the other hand, simply wearing a helmet does not ensure that the  cyclist will be safe from injury. Columnist Celia Hall drew attention to a study of 1,700 cyclists of varying ages who all wore helmets. One of the startling findings of the study was that wearing a helmet gave the riders a false sense of security. Worse still, 6 percent of them wore helmets that did not fit properly. In an accident, an ill-fitting helmet increases the risk of injury by 50 percent. If you wear a safety helmet, make sure that it fits. Check your child’s helmet regularly. Too big a helmet can be fatal.

Drivers of vehicles frequently view cyclists as an irritation and tend to ignore their presence. Therefore, make yourself seen. Wear safety clothing​—fluorescent by day, reflective by night. Your bike also needs to be visible, even in the dark. Reflectors on the pedals together with clean front and rear lights are often legal requirements and are certainly wise precautions. Be sure that your choice of safety equipment meets the legal standards in your country.

A well-maintained cycle is vital to safety. Check it out, and clean and service it regularly. After taking all these precautions, you may find it wise in your area to cycle “off road.” But to do this safely, you will need the right type of bicycle.​—See the box “The Right One for You.”

Cycling as a Sport

For some, cycling is a sport. Recent scandals surrounding the famous Tour de France have  linked cycle racing with drug taking and deception. Time magazine, in an article entitled “May the Best Drug Win!,” claimed that the race was “in a shambles.” Amid debates about doping and chemicals that enhance performance, the reputation of the sport has been marred.

Wise cyclists carefully consider how much time and effort they spend on their sport. Even when health benefits make cycling appealing, balanced people recognize that exercise is simply one factor in achieving a long and healthy life. However, the next time you mount your cycle to ride, enjoy the healthy fun of riding on two wheels!

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The Right One for You

Mountain bikes are really all-terrain models with a small, sturdy frame, straight handlebars, higher pedals than conventional models, and wide tires that grip rough surfaces. A variety of gears offer the rider greater ease when going uphill.

If you ride on both hard road surfaces and uneven ground, then you need a hybrid model, a cross between a mountain bike and a conventional one. Such a bike has narrower tires and slightly lower pedals. Conventional cycles offer a more upright riding position and fewer gears.

Whichever model you choose, make sure it is the right size for you. Try it out first. Adjust the handlebars, saddle, and pedals to suit you. When you straddle the crossbar, you should be able to place your feet on the ground (see above).

You will have the safest and most comfortable riding position if you adjust the saddle height so that you can straighten your leg with your heel resting on the pedal at its closest point to the ground (see left). Generally the handlebars should be fixed at saddle height.​—Source: Which? magazine.

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A penny-farthing

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Police Gazette, 1889

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A velocipede

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Men: A Pictorial Archive from Nineteenth-Century Sources/Dover Publications, Inc.

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Bicycles are transport workhorses in many lands

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In some places helmets are required by law