Cycling is experiencing a huge surge in popularity in recent months, and there are dozens of reasons why. We all love the idea of feeling like a kid again, and what’s more reminiscent of summer childhood than riding a bike around town, feeling the freedom of wind on your face.
Not only is biking good for your soul, but it’s also great for your brain, your body, your productivity and creativity, and even your longevity. Here are five reasons you should pick up cycling now—yes, even in your 50s— and where you should ride once you hit the road.
1. Live Longer
Let’s be honest, this is a highly motivating point for most people—it’s hard to top living longer as a reason to get on your bike. A recent study in New Zealand showed cyclists had a 13 percent lower mortality rate, while another study done in the UK suggests an up to 20 percent lowered risk of early mortality.
Cycling has also been shown to greatly improve quality of life in people who have cardiac issues: One study showed a 24 percent improvement in overall health just from improving fitness through cycling.
The Mayo Clinic recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or activity each week. If you can combine that exercise time with time spent riding with a friend, heading to work, or checking out a new spot in town, it’s even more efficient and helpful.
If you’re just getting back into riding, find a greenway in your area that’s easily accessible and where you don’t have to worry about cars. The Lower McAlpine Creek, McMullen Creek & Four Mile Creek greenways just outside Charlotte offer six miles of quiet, calm trail that will help get you started and give you a scenic ride. The trail is also easily accessible to neighborhoods in case you need any assistance.
2. Promote Brain Health
Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function and even prevent or slow down any decline in your brain’s gray matter as you age—riding a bike will help keep you mentally sharp.
To maximize your brainpower while you pedal, consider a mountain bike ride. The focus needed to ride singletrack, paying attention to upcoming turns and obstacles, will work your brain as well as your legs.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is convenient to Charlotte and the surrounding communities and offers beginner-friendly trails.
3. Spend Time with FriendsRiding is a great outdoor activity that allows you to spend time with friends and family while easily socially distancing.
Again, think back to those childhood summer days. When you hit the pavement, you may have ridden your bike alongside a friend, kids in your neighborhood, a sibling or even a parent. You can recapture that same camaraderie and magic by inviting a friend, spouse, grandchild, or sibling out for a spin now.
The Charlotte Spokes People is a local organization that can help you build a riding community. They are all about getting people out on bikes and supporting you in doing so. While their group rides, such as their Tuesday night rides and Sunday Slow Riders, have been temporarily postponed due to the pandemic, you can still access their full ride directions for cycling tips and new route ideas.
4. Enjoy Low Impact on Joints and Major Muscle Gains
While cycling is a great low-impact activity, especially if you’ve had a knee or foot injury, it still works your leg muscles. Working hard on the bike is akin to leg pressing and lunging in the gym and will help improve muscle tone in your legs and derriere.
Even your core can work hard while you pedal if you opt for a road bike and focus on good posture as you ride—avoid leaning into your hands, and let your core keep you more upright.
Unknown Cycling, a nonprofit that organizes cycling events to help raise awareness and funds for important causes such as the National MS Society and Alzheimer's Association, has three great routes they usually follow for their weekly Bike and Brew ride on Saturdays.
While these group rides have been put on hold due to COVID-19, you can still try them out on your own. There are three distances that range from 10 to 35 miles, so you can start small and work up to longer rides. Bonus: It begins and ends at Unknown Brewery, so if you’re so inclined, you can plan to grab a beer at the brewery or to-go after your spin.
5. Explore Your Surroundings and Get InspiredRiding a bike around town can introduce you to hidden new pockets of the city that you never knew existed: parks, shops, pubs. Shutterstock
Research has found that moving outside can increase your creativity, productivity, and cognition while reducing stress. It’s also been shown that cycling has the best physical benefits out of any urban transport mode, from walking to driving to taking the bus. It’s efficient, it’s healthy, and it’s uplifting. What more could you ask for?
If you’re taking the time to explore new pockets of Charlotte, you’re more likely than ever to end up finding an inspiring, new-to-you park, garden, or art installation. The urban Little Sugar Creek Greenway has a six-mile ride that connects many of Charlotte's parks, including Alexander Street Park, Thompson Park, and Freedom Park. You can make a full day of exploring the city on two wheels.
There’s no denying the health benefits that riding a bike brings, and Charlotte has plenty of options for beginner riders on and off the road. Figure out what type of route would make you most comfortable and start there. Time to put foot to pedal and ride on!
Written by Molly Hurford for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.