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Group of people wearing helmets cycling outdoors on a forest trail

How to Start Cycling and Make Sure You Stick With It

Columbus is officially a biking city, and by extension, so has its surrounding areas and counties. With miles of trails and designated lanes, bike share programs, repair stations and big plans for growth, there’s never been a better time to join the thousands of Ohioans using cycling to get fit, get around and have fun.

But what’s the best way to start biking, and how do you stay healthy? We spoke with OhioHealth physical therapist Peter Post and Dan “Coach Wes” Wesley from No Limits Hammer Harder endurance training — who work together as part of OhioHealth’s Bike Clinic — for tips on how to start cycling the right way.

Closeup of a bicycle wheel and gears

1. Start with what you got!

“Whatever you have in your garage works, just get out there,” says Post. “Get it tuned up and ride it. Wear a helmet and bright clothing, learn and understand the rules of the road, get a flashing light for safety and find a trail that’s close to home. There are several resources online that show the biking trails around central Ohio and where they lead.”

If you don’t have a bike, “establish a budget and have a sense of what type of riding you want to do before you head to the bike shop, whether it’s commuting, or trail riding or a cycling event,” says Wesley. “It’s easy to underestimate what a decent bicycle can cost, but you have just as good a chance of overbuying if you don’t have a good idea of how you’ll use it.”

Row of bikes, focusing on bike seats

2. Adjust the bike for good form.

Your seat should be high enough that your knee is at a slight angle at the bottom of your stroke. Sitting too low can lead to knee pain,” says Post. “This means that your feet won’t sit flat on the ground while you’re on the saddle, which can be a difficult change for casual riders. Practice mounting and dismounting in a grassy field until you get the hang of it.”

“For novice riders, I suggest starting with the handlebars set as high as the bike will allow, giving you a relaxed posture.” says Wesley. “As you develop core strength, you can move to a lower, or what we all a more ‘aggressive’ position.”

Two people with helmets on riding bicycles on an outdoor trail

3. Ride at least 30 minutes for a good workout.

“Initially, try for half an hour of steady pedaling for each ride, and don’t worry about speed,” says Post. “A good exercise pace should get your breathing up, but you should still be able to carry a conversation with a fellow rider.” Post says you should focus on extending each ride until you’re up to about 90 minutes. “After that, you can work on speed, hard intervals, attacking hills … things like that, but being able to breathe and talk is the sweet spot.”

“In cycling we call this slow ramp-up ‘base training’,” adds Wesley. “You’re easing your muscles, ligaments and tendons into the repetitive motion and extended use. You can start at 30–40 minutes three times during the week and then extend yourself on your weekend rides.”

Man with helmet and glasses cycling outdoors on a roadway

4. The key to success is comfort.

“Cycling is a great activity for people of all ages, especially for older runners to transition to, because it doesn’t involve a lot of impact on hips, knees and ankles. But you do need to make sure you’re fitted properly to your bike. If you’re out of alignment it can lead to pain in your hamstrings, lower back and shoulders,” says Post. “You also need to watch out for friction; the biggest problem for beginners is saddle soreness. Biking shorts with proper padding and chamois cream can help you avoid pain.”

“In the bike clinic, we use video and a computer program to measure the angles of your body as you ride and capture any muscular imbalances or asymmetry you have,” says Wesley. “We also collect your ‘résumé of riding,’ which gives us a sense of your history with a bike and your overall fitness. Taking all those things into consideration, we find a fit that works that helps you avoid injury and maximize comfort. But whether you seek the help of a clinic or adjust your bike on your own, if you can do those two things — avoid injury and maximize comfort — it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you’ll be faster, spend more time on the bike and have better performance, because you’ll enjoy it more.”

Enjoy biking Columbus this summer! If you’re interested in your own comprehensive bike fitting, you can contact the OhioHealth Bike Clinic at (614) 566.1786.