Biking is a fun, healthy activity for all ages

Monday, April 2, 2012
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Spring has sprung in Southeast Missouri, bringing with it warm days and plenty of sunshine. It's the perfect time to go ride a bike.

Bonus: It is also really good for your health -- body and mind.

"It's a low-impact aerobic activity," says John Dodd, owner of Cyclewerx in Cape Girardeau. "So as opposed to jogging or something, it's easy on the joints."

And instead of working up a sweat in the gym, biking lets you enjoy the outdoors while you burn calories. "You're out in the fresh air and sunshine. It's relaxing," says Don Hinkebein, manager of Cape Bicycle and Fitness.

If you haven't ridden a bike since you were a kid limited to two-wheel transportation, not to worry. The expression "it's just like riding a bike" wasn't coined without reason. All you need to get started is a bike, obviously, and a helmet and gloves.

When it comes to buying a bike, it is important to get one that is the appropriate size and style for the ride, Hinkebein says.

Dodd agrees and he recommends going to a bike shop rather than a department store. The employees "can size you up and make sure you're completely comfortable. "He points out that a bike shop will carry several sizes for each style of bike.

"The best thing (to know when buying a bike) is to have an idea of what you're going to do, where you're going to ride and with whom," he says.

In addition to the bike and safety gear, Dodd suggests investing in a good bike pump. "Generally speaking, bike tires operate at higher pressure than car tires," he says. "They're thin, so they will leak. It's common to lose air." Checking your tires and airing them up, if necessary, before you ride can save you some trouble later.

Once you're properly outfitted, there are lots of bike trails and county roads that are well-suited to biking beginners.

"Locally, we have the La Croix Recreational Trail," Hinkebein says. "There are trail heads at Shawnee Park, Lexington/Kingshighway and at the County Park, lower entrance. Also I know people like to ride around County Park North and South. It's a nice loop trail."

The La Croix trail is a good place to start out, Dodd says. "It's flat and you don't have to worry about cars," he says. "It's a great place to familiarize yourself with the bike."

If you're ready for a bit more adventure, Hinkebein and Dodd both recommend the Rail to Trail course in Southern Illinois, where an old railroad bed has been transformed into a bike trail.

"A popular route is starting at Vienna and riding up to Tunnel Hill, (which is) 18 miles round trip," Hinkebein says. "Because it's an old railroad bed, there's no hill steeper than 3 percent grade, no traffic and there's a nice paved surface."

Both men say there are lots of county roads around Cape Girardeau that are good for biking. When you're ready to hit the road, that means taking additional precautions.

"Technically under state law, a bicycle is a vehicle," Dodd says. "You have a responsibility to operate it that way. Ride with traffic. Know hand signals. Wearing bright colors is always a good thing. You just have responsibility to yourself to be extra aware of what's going on. Don't assume people are seeing you."

And while biking is a great workout, it's important to not push yourself too hard too soon.

"I would say a good pace (is one where) you can still speak conversationally," Dodd says. "Starting out, you don't want to get out of breath." He says the style of bike and surface you're riding on can dictate the speed.

You also shouldn't get too ambitious with your route. "The key is starting out at manageable distance," Hinkebein says. "No more than three to five miles to start with."

Mark your calendar

Friday, May 18 is Bike to Work Day. According to the WorldWatch Institute, a short four-mile trip by bicycle prevents about 15 pounds of pollutants from contaminating the air. So, Bike to Work Day is good for you and the environment. Don't have to go to work? Take the grandkids on a bike ride after school or get a group of friends together and hit the La Croix trail.

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