May is National Bike Month, and it is time to clean and lubricate your bicycle chain and get those gears in motion.You can bike in many locations from a stationery bike in your home, to training wheels in your driveway, to a road bike around town and along paved scenic roads or on a full-suspension bike on mucky mountain terrain.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 79 percent of travel is 10 miles or less. Imagine biking to the store in the morning to get milk and eggs, shrouded in the sounds and scents of May, instead of being enclosed in a vehicle for a brief commute.
“It clears your mind,” said Larry Coomer, owner of Larry’s Cycle Shop for 39 years. “It takes your mind off of everyday trials and situations. It’s just different — the wind blowing in your face — it gives you a totally different outlook.”
Cycling is a form of aerobic conditioning that may also relieve stress. “When you sustain aerobic exercise for long periods, your body deals with that stress by releasing endorphins,” said Todd Ketron, PT, DPT, of Wellmont Health System. “It kind of helps you deal with the pain.”
Nelson Quillen, 62, a member of the Kingsport Bicycle Association said cycling is relaxing. “It makes me happy,” he said. “I can be having a bad day and I get out on a bicycle and it all melts away.”
It can be low-impact or intense, depending on the location and purpose of the ride. “The nice thing about cycling is that you don’t have to exercise hard to burn fat,” said Ketron.
He went on to say that exercising at lower intensities (60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate) for long periods of time trains the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. This is called “building an aerobic base.”
He said an appropriate amount of exercise for the average person to build a base would be about an hour a day for three to four days a week.
Cycling not only burns fat, it helps improve muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Ketron said there is a difference in strength and endurance. Strength is a body’s ability to resist force or weight while endurance is the ability to sustain effort over time.
Cycling increases your heart rate to the target heart rate for exercise. “If you’re overweight, it’s a great way to introduce the body to exercising again,” he said.
Coomer said that a person who may be out of shape should get a quality bike from a bike shop, get the right size, get the right bike for his or her purpose, and should not exhaust themselves the first day. He said it is important to increase mileage gradually.
“Do five miles, then 10 miles, and work your way up,” he said. “Before you know it, you’ll be doing 30 to 40 miles. It makes you feel better.”
Cycling is also a healthy way for people who experience joint pain to exercise. Adjusting the seat height and angle correctly prevents knee injuries and strengthens muscles without stressing the joints.
Coomer said bike shops can properly fit people for bikes. He said when a person comes to a stop, he or she should be teetering from side to side with toes touching the ground or straddling the bar to stand flat-footed.
Ketron sees a lot of patients with knee pain and said that he can put about 90 percent of them on a bike and they do fine.
“Cycling is good for the majority of patients or people because it’s a very low-impact exercise,” he said. “It’s easier on your joints. There are people in their 70s and 80s who can ride a bike.”
Not only is cycling mentally and physically stimulating, it is cheaper than driving and maintaining a vehicle. The annual operating cost of a bike is 2.5 percent of that of a car, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
It is important to take safety precautions when riding a bike anywhere. Be sure your bike is assembled correctly and serviced regularly. Coomer suggested using a pump with a gauge when filling tires to prevent unnecessary flats. “Most flats that we service here are due to improper pressure,” he said.
A common mistake that he sees is people riding on the wrong side of the road and riding on the sidewalk. It is illegal to ride on the sidewalk. “You ride with the flow of traffic, just like a vehicle,” he said. “Wear bright clothing and always wear a helmet.”
If you are afraid of falling off of your bike, he suggested wearing biking gloves to cushion the pads of your hands, which simultaneously provide comfort throughout the ride.
Charis Hickson, 27, founder of the Johnson City Bike Party and the Little City Bike Collective, said that biking has interpersonal benefits. She said it can give children a sense of purpose and an opportunity to develop good habits and avoid unhealthy activities like drugs, violence, graffiti or smoking cigarettes.
“Introverted children can learn about bicycles and gain problem-solving skills and creativity,” she said. Children can use training wheels and ride around their homes. If you prefer the indoors, you can ride a stationary bike or use a trainer. A trainer is a frame which raises the back wheel of a bike and allows you to ride your mountain or road bike indoors like a stationary bike.
Ketron said it is difficult to keep your heart rate low in this area because of the hills, but recommended that people invest in a heart rate monitor.
“The reason I like cycling is because I can do it for many years to come,” he said. “I have knee problems and can’t run, and I can cycle for a long time. It allows me an opportunity to get outside, and around here there are a lot of beautiful places to ride.”
For a list of cycling routes and a schedule to ride with the Kingsport Bicycle Association, visit kba.tripod.com.
Quillen suggested beginners and intermediate riders visit the Yuma Road and Stanley Valley Road area. He said the people in the area are friendly to bikers because they frequently ride there. He said the scenery is beautiful, and there are many trails for all levels of riders.
They do a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon ride every week, Tuesday and Thursday evening rides and various others.
Rick Heppert, vice president of KBA said that Reedy Creek Bicycles, The Bicycle Shop and Piney Flats Bicycles have beginner rides available on some weekday evenings.
“Some popular locations for novices are Warriors Path State Park, Horton Highway, Yuma Road and Stanley Valley Loop, the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Kingsport Greenbelt,” said Heppert.
As a Bike Month finale, the Johnson City Bike Party’s theme will be Petal to the Medal, a “Headbanger’s Ball.” They ride on the last Friday of every month from the Johnson City Downtown Square parking lot to various locations. Meet at 5 p.m., and the ride will begin around 6 p.m.