It all started on Twitter. Shaun contacted me and casually suggested that I record an episode of the podcast from South Africa. We exchanged a few messages and Shaun sent me a few photos. It quickly became obvious that he can talk for hours about riding a mountain bike in the stunning landscapes of South African game reserves. In the episode Shaun describes not only the South African mountain biking scene but we also talk about encounters with African wildlife. Yes, it’s pretty scary at times! This episode undoubtedly can give you an idea for a bucket list mountain biking trip.
I was introduced to Paul Carroll by one of our mutual friends. He couldn’t speak highly enough about Paul’s initiative called Rebike. So, I sat down with Paul in his Greenway Café in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford and talked about Rebike Ireland. In a nutshell, Paul collects broken and unused bicycles that otherwise would end up in a landfill. He then repairs them and donates them to schools, charity organizations or individuals in need. In the podcast, we talk about Rebike beginnings, how a simple bicycle can change a person’s life, as well as the environmental and social impacts of Paul’s work. All that with the Waterford Greenway (covered in episode 10) in the background.
Some of you might remember Kuba from episode 12 of the podcast where we talked about his hand-made fishing lures. We ended that episode teasing about Kuba’s planned cycle through the Sahara desert to reach his bucket list fishing destination. Well, Kuba is back and in this episode we talk about that cycling and fishing adventure. It is really great to hear his stories from exotic countries. The cycle was also a fundraiser for aware.ie, a voluntary organization which aims to assist people whose lives are affected by depression. Please go and donate without hesitation!
My guest in this episode of the podcast is Paul Gleeson. I would describe Paul as a big-time adventurer. He cycled across Australia, crossed the Atlantic in a row boat and attempted to cross the infamous North West Passage in the Canadian High Arctic, on human power alone, in one season. And these are just some of Paul’s adventures. He is also a published author, TEDx speaker and performance coach who runs a consultancy firm for businesses. This is really a good one to listen to, especially if you’re into adventure stories!
Experience of the outdoors quite often involves adventure. My guest today is taking adventure to the next level. Tomás Mac an t-Saoir is a young man in his twenties who cycled 3000 miles across North America solo and unsupported. This year he is planning to one-up his achievement by embarking on a 12,000 km self-supported cycling trip down the length of Africa. The journey will start in Cairo, Egypt and end in Cape Town, South Africa. Tomás is cycling in aid of the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation. Listen to what Tom has to say about his incredible adventures and please support his cause by donating to the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation.
Welcome to part 3 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling. In this instalment we are going to discuss the impact cycling has on health.
Cycling and health
As controversial as this sounds, in my opinion, cycling is not the greatest sport in relation to health benefits. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to be active and to spend time in the outdoors. However, it is also important to be aware of its possible negative effects.
Without a doubt one of the best known health benefits of cycling is the cultivation of cardiovascular capacity. Large muscle groups, like the quadriceps, get activated. That forces the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues. That in turn has a positive impact on metabolism and triggers a series of beneficial hormonal responses. The mechanism described above increases energy expenditure, the burning of calories, which may help you lose weight.
Unfortunately, we often prefer to look only at the positives and not acknowledge the negatives. Cycling is not good for our posture. As a matter of fact, while cycling we are spending a substantial amount of time, often long hours, in a relatively static and unnatural position. While our legs are working hard, our torso and upper body remain almost motionless. In addition, our upper body is leaning forward, especially on road and racing bicycles. This puts a lot of pressure on our vertebrae, from L1 to S1. The more aerodynamically aggressive the position on the bike, the greater the pressure. This means that the condition known as sciatica or lower back pain is quite common among cyclists.
Now let’s talk about the upper body. When cycling hard we often tend to tense our shoulders, neck and jaw. It is known as “hugging the ears with the shoulders”. It is important to pay attention and keep the upper body relaxed. Failure to do so leads to neck and shoulder pain. Also the unnatural pressure on our cervical vertebrae can cause numbness in our hands and arms.
Finally, the saddle. Most cyclists recognize that prolonged time on the bicycle can result in a sore bottom. It’s commonly said that this discomfort is felt only for the first 1000 miles in the season. In reality, however, a saddle is the part of the bicycle that should be carefully chosen to match the cyclist’s body type and spacing between his or her sit bones. Failure to use the correct saddle results in damaging pressure applied to the soft tissue in the perineal area. This can lead to many serious conditions like numbness or erectile dysfunction.
Now let’s look at some simple measures to mitigate the potential problems described above. Firstly, I always say that riding a bicycle is not the best way to get in shape. Actually, you need to train and get in shape to ride a bicycle. While this statement might be an exaggeration there is more than just a grain of truth in it. It is especially important to develop a strong and flexible core. This muscle complex is of paramount importance for anatomical posture and support. A strong core will provide much needed support and stabilization for the spine. This in turn will prevent lower back pain, stabilize the torso and provide a stable platform that will help to relax the upper body.
Another important and often neglected step is to get a bike fit. It is often reduced to just setting the correct saddle height. That is insufficient. In order to enjoy riding your bicycle and to avoid injury you should get a professional bike fit. During the fitting, a professional will measure the position of your torso, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and head, while in motion. Along with your saddle height, he or she will adjust the stem length, the handlebars position, pedal alignment and many other aspects of bicycle geometry to match your body type and fitness level. For example, more flexible riders with a strong core can assume a more aerodynamic but demanding position. Riders with a lower level of fitness should be positioned more upright. Choosing the right saddle is also one of the key steps during the bicycle fit process. Note, that this step might take a few attempts and some kilometers ridden before a suitable saddle will be selected. The bicycle fit should be repeated at least every couple of years as our bodies and fitness levels are changing. A cyclist with a relaxed upright position, after a few years of training, might be able to ride in a more demanding position as their strength and flexibility improves. On the flip side, with age, riders might need to relax their position on the bicycle in order to enjoy cycling for many years to come.
Check back for part 4 of Cycling 101 in a few weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.
Welcome to part 2 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling.
Once you have your ideal bicycle there are a few things you need to buy to fully enjoy it. I would argue, that first and foremost you need to buy a helmet. In some parts of the world bicycle helmets are mandatory. Regardless of your local legislation, it is a good idea to wear one just for your own safety. The same goes for bicycle lights. Front and rear. With increased traffic and increasingly distracted drivers, bicycle lights are not only for nighttime. There are plenty of available day running lights that will make you visible to drivers from a distance of up to 2 miles.
You will also need a few things to maintain your bicycle, whether you are on the roadside or at home. First and foremost, you will need a pump and spare inner-tubes. Ideally you would have two pumps. A small one, that you can fit into the pocket of your cycling jersey, and a bigger one for convenient use at home. It is also a good idea to have tyre levers to help you change tubes. When out cycling, make sure you always have two spare inner-tubes, a pump, and tyre levers. If you are running tubeless tyres, you should buy a special pump capable of releasing an instant burst of air for tubeless tyre seating.
The final piece of must-have equipment is a multitool. Ideally it would have basic allen keys, a screwdriver, and a chain-tool. Sometimes you have to buy the chain tool separately. I learned the hard way how important it is to have one, when my chain broke while I was still 50 miles from home.
Now let’s take a look at the rider. That’s you. In endurance sports, like cycling, hydration is one of the most important factors that determine performance. Even if you are not planning to push your limits, staying hydrated is important for your health. To be able to hydrate while on the bike, you will need a pair of water-bottles and two cages fixed to the bicycle frame to hold them. Initially you might get away with only one, but as soon as you start to embark on longer spins, a second water-bottle becomes very handy. And, don’t buy cheap bottles. Spend extra money on quality bottles made from BPA free plastic. They will not only last longer but will benefit your health and the environment.
Finally, get yourself a set of dedicated cycling clothes. Being a typical male, I will leave the discussion about fashion to someone more qualified. I just want to point out that quality, technical clothes, dedicated to the cycling discipline of your choice, will make you more comfortable and hence perform better. The benefits include things like moisture wicking, improved aerodynamics and better visibility on the road. Cycling shorts with chamois, for example, will help to massively reduce saddle soreness. If you are cycling off-road, you should consider getting additional body protectors for your knees or elbows. And, if you are riding those gnarly off-road trails I recommend getting full body armour to protect your spine and chest.
Check back for part 3 of Cycling 101 in two weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.