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  • Jennifer King

Cycling can be great for your health and your social life

"Good weather, good mates, good coffee" is Patrick Whittle's recipe for the perfect bike ride. The 28-year-old Brisbane engineer has been cycling for three years but can't pin down just one favourite route. He cycles with a group of friends, usually riding 40 kilometres about three times a week before work. On weekends, he and his mates usually spend a few hours on their bikes, riding up to 200 kilometres together. Whether you choose a mountain bike, a hybrid, or a 10-speed racing bicycle, once you start riding, you'll wonder why you ever walked or drove anywhere. Bikes are great for going to the shops, getting to work, or touring the countryside, and given the traffic congestion in cities, riding a bike is often faster than driving. Patrick says the friendships he has made since he first started riding are his favourite thing about the sport. "They are my closest friends," he says. "[Cycling] is extremely social because it's such a long activity so we spend time chatting beforehand, during and afterwards." Not only has he lost up to 10 kilograms, Patrick says cycling has helped him become more gregarious. "I'm more likely now to strike up a conversation. I don't normally make friends, but I feel I'm more open to socialising," he says. Because he works in an office, he finds an early morning bike ride sets him up for the rest of the day. "I feel pretty energised during the day and always in a good mood; maybe a bit tired but generally in a good mood," Patrick says. "It provides a good headspace; if I have a couple of days off the bike, I get a bit 'antsy'." And what about those days when he doesn't want to ride his bike? "I've never regretted going, even when I've been very tired or a little hungover or under the weather I'll always try and go, and I always feel better for it afterwards," Patrick says. As for those thinking about taking up cycling, Patrick suggests finding a local club where you'll receive support and encouragement for all ages and abilities — and new friends.

Is cycling for you? Bike riding can be tough and challenging, or relaxing and fun, depending on the route you choose. You can download the secret routes around your town that show you how to get to work or between suburbs without having to ride on the main road. These can be found online from your local council's website, while organisations such as Bicycle Network and Cycling Australia provide a wealth of resources. If you don't like riding in traffic, there are more peaceful bike routes through your local bushland and parks.

Benefits of cycling:

  • Endurance: long bike rides will increase your ability to ride up longer and steeper hills than you ever thought possible.

  • Leg and buttock strength: ever checked out a cyclist's legs? Think sinewy, think muscular, think strong. Ride regularly and one day they will be yours.

Equipment needed for cycling:

  • A functioning bike, which can cost anywhere from under $100 to thousands.

  • Your helmet is your best friend, so make sure you buy a good quality one.

  • If you're going to ride at night, get yourself some lights and reflective clothing so you'll be seen by cars. You should have a red light on the back and a white headlight on the front.

Common cycling injuries:

  • Falls can happen, especially when you don't know how to use your bike (i.e. changing gears or stopping). In fact, you are much more likely to hurt yourself by falling off your bike or hitting a stationary object than colliding with another vehicle. Make sure you know your bike before you take it on a long or open road ride.

  • Muscle strains, especially in the back, which can be overworked if it's not strong enough to support and resist the force from your legs. Working on core strength will help support your back. You also need to ensure your seat is at the right height and handlebars in the correct position. This can make all the difference. Bicycle Queensland has some tips.

  • Knee pain can be caused by overuse. Make sure your foot position on the pedal is optimal. The ball of your foot should be centred over the pedal axle, and if you're going to wear cleats, get fitted by experts.

  • Hand and wrist pain can come from gripping your handlebars too tight and putting too much of your weight on your bent wrists.

  • Shoulder pain can also come from overuse.

Article from ABC Life

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