Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise around. It’s cardio activity, which is great for improving your heart health whilst also being low-impact, making it easy on the joints and bones. The fresh air is another plus, as is the freedom it can offer you. I should know, I’ve been cycling every day for the last four years, come rain or shine.
My first memory was learning to ride my two-wheeler without training wheels at four years old. Throughout my school years, I rode my bike for pleasure and as a means of fake transportation. I’d pretend I was a grownup and steer my bike like I was driving a fancy convertible, my hair blowing in the wind. Riding a bike made me feel like I had control at a time when I really had none at all, being a child. When I hopped on my bike, I didn’t need a parent – I just needed my strong legs. My bike was a necessity at university and for over 12 years, from my bachelor’s to Ph.D., my back heavy with books and wet from sweat, I rode my bike to get from A to B.
However, at 51 years old – following multiple bouts of illness, leg injuries, and heartbreak in the last few years alone – I’m riding my bike more than ever before. Sure, occasionally I miss a day on the road, but mostly, I tie my shoes, slather myself in stinky sunscreen, pop my helmet on, and blaze out the door. I’ve learned a lot about myself in that time. Here, I share my advice and my learnings along the way – suitable for anyone looking to do cycling as a workout or take up cycling for beginners.
WHAT I LEARNT CYCLING EVERY DAY
1. CYCLING HELPS WITH INJURY RECOVERY - BOTH MENTAL AND PHYSICAL
Toward the end of 2019, I tore my hamstring flying down a flight of stairs to hand my grown-up son his water bottle. Before that point, I was running every day almost and enjoying all the benefits of running out there, but I couldn’t even run two feet with the tear. Recovery was slow – I kept thinking just one more week, one more week and I’d be able to jog again, but that didn’t happen. This was when I remembered my trusty, rusty bike.
Despite having a torn hamstring, I could still ride. I decided I’d build up my hamstring muscle by riding my bike. It took 10 months for it to heal enough to jog my first ½ mile but even after I started jogging, I kept on cycling.
Like many people when the pandemic hit, I contracted Covid-19 – except I became very sick, running a 104°F temp for days and subsequently suffering from multiple secondary infections. Still, I rode. Cycling would help with my cardiovascular health and help me pull through the sickness with healthier lungs, I believed.
Ten months later, I had my second bout, which wasn’t any better. At the same time, I tore my psoas muscle. I went on several rounds of antibiotics because of unwieldy throat, ear, and nose infections, and once again, I couldn’t jog. But still, I cycled. I felt cycling saved me and kept me healthier than if I hadn’t kept riding.
It’s a recovery strategy that works for many people, says triathlon coach and cycling specialist Brian Maiorano. “People need some cardio activity while recovering from injury and cycling is a great choice because it’s not weight-bearing on the legs,” he says. “There’s no explosive force such as that caused by running or sports where we jump. This results in less strain on the legs as well.”
When it comes to our cardiovascular health, cycling is beneficial because we can pedal at a higher pace and elevate our heart rate without a lot of strain on the heart muscle. “This is far better than sitting still as it increases blood and oxygen to the injury site, which actually means the injury heals quicker,” explains Maiorano, who works with CORE, a wearable sports tech company.
After my psoas finally healed, I started playing pickleball. Yet, after months of playing, I developed a new injury: plantar fasciitis. The past few years have been filled with injuries and illnesses, but through them all, cycling has been my constant.
2. CYCLING HELPED ME GET THROUGH HEARTBREAK
Going cycling every day even helped me work through heartbreak. Three months into the pandemic, my boyfriend (who I regularly cycled with) and I split. Suddenly, I was single and alone since my kids are grown up and I’m an empty nester. At first, I missed my ex on my rides but then I realized cycling was magically mending my broken heart. I felt stronger with each bike ride and more solid in myself despite the ground feeling so shaky.
Also, midway through the pandemic hit and gyms closed so I lost my other love: weightlifting. Cycling became even more important.
I installed Strava (one of the best fitness apps as reviewed by the woman&home team) on my phone to record my rides. Before I knew it, cycling became a personal challenge. I didn’t want to miss a day and mess up my record of riding every day, rain or shine, sickness or health.
3. CYCLING IS A COMMITMENT
Even if you’re afraid to commit to a relationship, you can’t be afraid to commit to your bike. My bike is my bestie and I have a date to ride her daily. Commitment is work and a choice, and even on days when I don’t feel like riding, I shove myself out the door because I’ve made a promise to myself. I must ride. No excuses. No talking myself out of it.
The good news is that as soon as I start riding, all my angst falls away. I’m right where I’m supposed to be – on my bike. The “before” can be difficult but you must train your brain to do it anyway and to remember the “after” feels sublime. You feel like a million bucks after a ride.
Tamara rides every day in Tucson, Arizona.
4. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BAD WEATHER
Committing to cycling every day means you must ride on less-than-ideal days too, not just the sunny ones. I’ve learned to embrace the weather over the last few years and I enjoy the sensation of raindrops on my cheeks and the sun beating down on my head whenever I’m out. I just tell myself, “It’s only water,” or “I’m getting my dose of Vitamin D.” I live in the desert in Arizona, USA, and I really struggle with the heat but I adapt my riding schedule to make it work.
For instance, during the summer I get on my bike by 6 AM and as the seasons change, I change my schedule accordingly. Of course, I always make sure I’m careful and never go out when it’s dangerous, but I also don’t let the weather be a constant deterrent.
5. YOU NEED SOME ESSENTIALS TO CYCLE - BUT THE BASICS IS FINE
When it comes to cycling every day, you really don’t need a lot. A good bike that’s the right size for you is essential though. I was riding on a bike that was too small for me, it was uncomfortable and my knees were crunched up, which could’ve easily created bad knee problems.
It’s good to get yourself measured for your bike, to make sure your seat is at the right spot and your handles are at the correct distance so you’re not leaning over too much and your knees aren’t touching your ears. This also helps you be as ergonomic as possible, which is essential for me these days to save my body from pain. When I rode my bike to and from school, my back was sweaty from my bag laden with books. My back always hurt because of what I was carrying, so now I’m careful not to load too much.
“A great-fitting bike and saddle are essential for enjoying cycling,” agrees Maiorano. “A bad fit will make you give up the sport very quickly, so buy a bike from a performance-orientated bike shop that has a reputation for good fittings, even if you’re not buying a racing bike. They will be able to adjust the bike so it fits your body and your ability.”
Also, I personally went and got my helmet fitted. In my experience, it’s so important for your helmet to fit correctly so I spent a lot of time choosing mine and doing tons of research.
I still don’t wear fancy bibs and biking shorts, though occasionally I’m tempted by the bright colours they often come in. I used to wear short-sleeved shirts, but now I wear long SPF 50 shirts that block the sun from my forearms and cover my chest. I also make sure to wear sunscreen on any skin showing. Still, I often walk around looking like a clown with a tan line on my nose where my sunglasses rest. I have a few tried and true leggings that I wear when I cycle.
Leggings that stay in place are very, very important. I’m sure biking shorts would be even better and maybe one day I’ll get around to wearing them. I guess I’m somewhat of a rebel – I’m happy to call myself a cyclist but I don’t want to look like one.
6. CYCLING IS THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
One of the other reasons why I love riding my bike is that it’s immediate exercise. I don’t have to get in my car and drive to the gym, I can jump on my bike from my front door. This not only saves me time, meaning I’m more likely to get my ride in even on a busy day, but it creates less resistance in me because I know it’ll only take me about five minutes to prep and get out the door. When it comes to workout motivation, this is pretty key.
My simple routine includes: Foam rolling my back to make sure it’s limber and ready to ride, drinking water with added electrolytes so I don’t have to carry anything, and applying sunscreen, putting my helmet and sunglasses on, and starting to record on Strava.
7. CYCLING OFFERS EASY SOLITUDE
I know many people ride in groups but I love cycling solo. I don’t need anyone and I’m happy alone on the roads. I can just up and go anytime I’m free and being by myself gives me time to clear my mind.
Most of the time I don’t wear headphones and just listen to the sounds of birds, crickets, or whatever other sounds nature offers. Or I’m in my head, using my time on the road to work out life’s challenges. It’s an important opportunity for head space for me, I can think about my problems and think up solutions in one go, meaning they don’t compound.
It’s one of the benefits of cycling that many others enjoy too. “People who do endurance sports cherish the ability to ‘zone out’, to clear their mind of chatter and baggage by focusing on their breathing. As it’s a lower-intensity sport than running, for example, there’s less physical discomfort which makes it great for this,” says the coach.
“Plus, on a scenic open road with few traffic hazards, it’s easy to forget your problems, enjoy your surroundings, and appreciate the fact you’re doing something great for your body,” he says.
8. A BIKE RIDE IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO EDUCATE YOURSELF
When I do wear headphones, my favourite thing to do is listen to podcasts. Usually right after I hit record on Strava, I hit play on a podcast I’m dying to listen to. I’m a writer, so I listen to many writing podcasts such as “Longform,” “Qwerty,” “Fresh Air” or podcasts like Glennon Doyle’s “We Can Do Hard Things”, rated one of the best podcasts to listen to in 2023. Recently I loved listening to “Wiser Than Me” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld. She interviewed women older and wiser than her about how to live a full life, and I highly recommend it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though I’ve experienced many benefits of cycling every day, I don’t feel like it’s a total full-body workout. I still go to the gym for my arms and abs and I swim, run, and walk the dog. Each activity has its advantages, but cycling transports me to my childhood, and even if momentarily, I return to the feeling of wonder and awe, that feeling of being wild and free. When I’m on my bike, it’s just me and the wind with only my legs propelling me forward.
I hope to ride my bike through life’s next phases, my health willing. Through heartbreak, torn muscles, illness, a pandemic, and bad feet, biking has proven to be my tried-and-true bestie, my ride-or-die. The moment I hop on is like the very first time I rode when I was four – I’m still filled with joy.
Dr Tamara MC grew up with a single mom who was one of the first female racquetball players at their community club. Tamara has followed in her mother’s footsteps and has spent her life working out, from playing tennis to now playing pickleball. When she isn’t injured, she lifts weights, runs, cycles, and rollerskates. She is a lifelong vegetarian and loves crunchy iceberg lettuce. She turned 51 this past year and is a single, empty-nesting mama to two amazing boys and a grandmama to two adorable pups.