Do you remember the first adventure sport that you indulged in as a five-year-old kid? Well, believe it or not, it has to be cycling for most of us. A ride on the two-wheeler, balancing oneself, pedalling ahead without any support remains the most cherished memory. Not to forget the umpteen falls, scratches and bruises on hands and legs collected with pride, while perfecting that balance on two moving wheels, all adding to the inexplicable joy. But if fun was the reason then, the funda now for cycling becoming the biggest fad now, among one and sundry, revolves around fitness.
Back to basics
An avid cycler, fitness enthusiast and mountaineer Vamini Sethi, who submitted Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus on June 14, 2018, calls cycling an all-weather sport, and one for all age groups. “I used to ride a cycle as a kid for fun. I stopped cycling in my teens and rediscovered cycling again in 2011. Not only did I rediscover that cycling can be fun, but also that it was great for fitness,” she recounts how cycling helped kickstart her fitness journey. Sethi started off with 25 km and went on to find a place in the Limca Book of Records for cycling the longest distance in a foreign country (women) in 2015. For the uninitiated, Sethi covered 1,111 km in nine days in Sri Lanka, making it the longest bicycle journey by a woman in a foreign country. Cycling remains her favourite ride. “Given a choice, I would love to ride every day. With a hectic work schedule and other family commitments, I ride over the weekends only. For other days, I work out at home or hit the gym for 45 mins. What it also does is give a little variation in the exercise we do on a daily basis,” she explains.
The celebrity endorsement to the idea has only boosted its fitness quotient among enthusiasts. Actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, whose fitness regime includes cycling 22 km daily, followed by a workout are bound to give some serious goals to work on one’s body by just pedalling along. On the other hand, actor Hrithik Roshan who was happily seen cycling to work as a part of #HumFitTohIndiaFit campaign only emphasises how one can make a fitness statement, add a dash of style, and contribute to the environment while burning those calories. Not to forget how other celebrities love cycling, at times for fun, and at times for fitness. Actor and filmmaker Parvin Dabas who loves to cycle at least once a week, and sometimes pedals his way to office and the sets when he’s shooting, says, “I think Salman Khan cycling has inspired a lot of people to cycle and has made it ‘cool’ again to cycle for the masses. Let us keep in mind that the cycle used to be a major form of transportation for us Indians till the economy opened up and we became enamoured with and able to afford our fuel guzzling vehicles.”
The benefits of cycling are endless. Highlighting its pros, Rishabh Telang, Head Trainer for HRX, India’s home-grown activewear brand founded by Hrithik Roshan and Exceed Entertainment, states, “The general benefits of cycling are manifold – lubricates the joints, is a great means of cardiovascular fitness, increases muscle and bone strength, flexibility and when done right brings down fat levels and can be used for managing stress.” Weighing it up against other potential activities, Sethi, who used to run before she took up cycling, says that it is hands down the best option. “Based on my experience, I can tell you that cycling is less injury prone as compared to running, weight lifting or other sports. It makes you lose calories and build muscle at the same time. It also keeps you in contact with nature seeing many places that can’t be seen on foot or even by car for that matter,” she quips. Dabas seconds Sethi and adds, “Cycling is a great exercise because it provides a good cardiovascular workout while remaining relatively easier on the knees than running.” The actor who has cycled from Manali to Leh calls it one of the hardest yet most enjoyable journeys of his life. He agrees that cycling has allowed him to appreciate nature while covering great distances.
Mind your move
According to Dabas one needs a good cycle with a decent gear system, and a safety helmet is all that it takes to get started. “Keep in mind to stay safe while riding on the roads because it can get dangerous if you are not mindful of traffic. Always remember to wear a helmet,” he warns. Listing out the various bottlenecks for cycling enthusiasts in India, Telang says, “The Indian road conditions, traffic situation, non-availability or limited availability of cycling tracks and good gear are the major hindrances for a cyclist. Cycling boils down to becoming a rich man’s sport because of the safety gear and resource requirement.” In the same breath, he adds, “Anything that keeps you mobile and agile is good for the system but, having said that, anything is done in excess (without supervision and training) can be detrimental. It is imperative that cycling is done with the right gear, on the right road conditions and with correct form. At the end of the day, everything is about the right formation, posture and technique.” The fitness trainer says a cyclist must maintain the right posture as any mistake on this front can lead to cycling led injuries, impacting lower back, hands, wrists, feet, shoulder and knees. “A cyclist must keep the back straight as far as one can, wear the right cycling shoes and keep the feet straight on the pedals. The wrist must be kept straight, and grip should be firm but relaxed. One can change hand positions frequently, and the elbows must be kept flexed to absorb the shock from roads getting transferred to arms, shoulder and upper body. Right saddle height and shifting gears basis the terrain control the impact on the knees and protect them,” says Telang. But to stay safe on the road, one must stay alert, avoid plugging the ears with music, wear the safety gear and obey road rules.
Do the due
However, all of its benefits will fade away if a cyclist isn’t committed to it, and indulges in it only once in a while. “I have seen a lot of people who pick up fancy bikes, ride for a few days and later use it for drying clothes. Jersey, equipment and everything else will follow provided one starts riding regularly,” says Sethi.
And while some like to cycle solo, many others prefer company to pedal along. While going it alone gives ample time to unwind and de-stress, riding with a group broadens one’s social circle. To get into the habit of cycling on a regular basis, she suggests that one joins a riding group. “It is fun, and one gets to meet like-minded people from all over.” And for the beginners, these groups might help gather info related to bikes, gears, events, and training.
On a parting note, Dabas urges parents to initiate their kids into it, early on, and for obvious reasons – to keep them away from gadgets and save them from digital overexposure. “Nowadays kids get stuck on electronic devices very easily. Getting kids to take up cycling ensures that a love for the outdoors is taught early on while keeping them physically active.” Reason enough to pedal along with kids in tow, isn’t it?