12 November 2021
Two wheels, so many benefits
Cycling not only improves your fitness, but grows your social circle. A cycling expert and bike shop owner shares the many benefits of the sport.
If you’re already a cyclist, you’ll know full well not only the practical gains a bike provides but also the freedom, thrills and social benefits that come with cycling as well.
A National Cycling Participation Survey in 2019 reported that 3.43 million Australians ride a bike for transport or recreation in a typical week. Another report has shown that since that date, participation in cycling has risen an incredible 69%, meaning about 6 million of us now ride at least on a semi-regular basis.
If you aren’t a cyclist yet but are flirting with the possibility, we’ve got together with Robbie McNaughton, ex Australian representative mountain bike racer and co-founder and co-owner of cycling store, Drift Bikes to list some of the benefits you can expect if you get out there on two wheels.
Freedom and exploration
There’s a saying, ‘it’s like riding a bike’ - meaning you don’t forget how to do it. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a child, the muscle memory comes back incredibly quickly.
Almost immediately once you jump on a bike again, you’ll experience that same thrill of freedom you experienced the first time your parent let go of the seat and you managed to balance the bike on your own.
Once your confidence returns, you’ll quickly appreciate the opportunity to head off anywhere a whim takes you. “I often get people telling me that since they started cycling, they see their neighbourhood in an entirely new way.” McNaughton says.
“The barrier to entry in cycling is low compared to other sports,” McNaughton adds. Unlike many sports that have a long learning curve to endure before the joy can flow, cycling can be enjoyed from your first ride.
Low impact fitness
Cycling doesn’t just improve your cardiovascular system, promote weight loss and build muscle but it does so in a very low impact way.
Over time, weight bearing exercises like running, tennis and basketball take a toll on the body. Knees, hips and the lower back commonly get inflamed and sore with ongoing weight bearing exercise.
Scientists did a study comparing long distance runners and cyclists. They found that the runners suffered around 140% more muscle damage and around 250% more inflammation than the cyclists.
“I’ve had a number of new customers tell me that their doctor has told them to stop running and take up cycling due to the damage that the running was causing” says McNaught. He goes on to tell a story of a basketball player he knows who hadn’t ridden in years but bought a bike while recovering from a basketball impact injury. Not only did the athlete take to the new sport, he went on to become a world champion cyclist within 7 years of getting on his first bike.
Growing your social circle
Despite the fact that you’re by yourself on your bike (unless you’re riding a tandem), cycling is actually known as quite a social sport.
No doubt you’ve encountered large groups of road cyclists riding in a tightly formed pack. These packs are either organised by cycling clubs or have just formed from a friend group that has expanded.
“Come one, come all” says McNaught when describing the welcoming nature of cyclists. “It really is a no judgement sport,” he adds.
If you’ve watched any competitive mountain bike events or BMX riding at the olympics, you’ll see that even at the highest levels, cycling is truly about camaraderie. Rather than being cut-throat competitors, these athletes can be seen hugging, high-fiving and encouraging each other - “It’s a great sport that way. We’re about pushing each other so that we can all get better” says McNaught.
Improving your mental well-being
There is a lot of research into exercise and its effects on mental well-being, but cycling has some benefits that other forms of exercise don’t match.
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘runner’s high,’ well, there is also ‘cycling high’ that operates in a very similar way. As you cycle and with more intensity, your body releases endorphins and other chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which are mood enhancing.
Improved sleep is also a byproduct of regular cycling and improved sleep is essential to a healthy mental state. Aside from reducing stress and improving mood, 30 minutes to an hour of cycling can make the body ‘nicely tired’ allowing for a better sleep experience.
Cycling can also be a part of your meditation practice. It is a very rhythmic sport: a rider can focus on the legs going around on the pedals, the trees going past at a consistent speed, the feeling of wind as it passes over various parts of the body and...perhaps enlightenment over the next hill?
A new way to look at travel
If you thought cycling made you look at your neighbourhood in a new light, imagine what it does for new areas of the city, state or country.
Not only will holidaying at a biking travel destination be a totally new way to see the world, it will allow you to take your cycling to a whole new level, “travel is actually the secret to progression” says McNaughton.
If you’re a mountain biker, repeatedly riding the trails near your house can become a little monotonous but take a holiday to a mountain bike destination like Thredbo in NSW and you’ll be absolutely blown away by the trails on offer and how fast your riding improves. Other states also offer their own incredible mountain bike destinations like Falls Creek and Mt Buller in Victoria or the mountain biking mecca of Derby in Tasmania.
If you're a road cyclist, then the dream trip could be riding the Kiewa Valley near Mt Beauty in Victoria or the Riesling Trail in Clare Valley, South Australia or a stunning ride around Rottnest Island in Western Australia.
If you do decide to get a bike of your own, NRMA offers single item insurance and home contents insurance across Australia, including SA and WA, to help you protect your new pride and joy in case of accident or theft.