“I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike; I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride it where I like” Freddie Mercury, Queen, 1978
I’ve always liked riding my bike. The feel of the breeze on my face as I coast downhill, the sun on my back and the world passing by in a blur. It’s lovely. And yet for some reason my bike always ends up in the back of the garage and I forget about it for months at a time.
But the pandemic has seen many of us rediscovering the joy of riding a bike. With limited access to our usual exercise venues such as gyms and pools, cycling has boomed. Which is great for those of us with a musculoskeletal condition because riding is a low impact exercise suitable for most people.
But as with anything you haven’t done in a while, you need to ease into it. Don’t be like me and just drag your bike out, dust the cobwebs off and hit the road. And I mean literally. One spin around my small suburban street and I crashed.
It seems my ability to ride a bike, like most things you don’t do on a regular basis, has disappeared. But the saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” must exist for a reason, right? So I persevered, and while I’m still a little wobbly, and hills are a challenge, I’m doing it!
So here are my tips for getting back on your bike.
Get a bike – obviously tip number 1 for riding a bike is to get one.
- If you’re buying a new bike, get advice from people you know who ride regularly. Or find a good bike shop and talk with the staff. And check out this Choice article for some really useful info on what to look for in a bike: How to buy the best bike for your needs.
- Borrow a bike from family, a friend or neighbour. That way you can give cycling a go before you spend any money on a new bike. Obviously keep in mind COVID safe hygiene practices.
- Hire a bike. Many bike stores have bikes for hire. Keep in mind that it can become quite expensive if you’re doing it for more than a few days. But it does give you the chance to try before you buy.
- If you already have a bike, go over it to make sure it’s in good condition. If you’re not sure what you need to do, the Bicycle Network has some great resources to help you. Or you can take your bike to the local bike shop for a service.
Make sure your bike is fitted with all the necessary bits and pieces you’ll need. Much of this will depend where/when you plan to ride, so seek advice from other cyclists or from the bike shop. But some of the things you will need are: comfortable seat (vital), light, bell, basket/rack, water holder, lock, pump.
Find the perfect outfit for you. This doesn’t need to expensive, but does need to be comfortable and brightly coloured so others can see you, made out of fabric that breathes, and if you’re riding at night or when it’s getting dark, reflective. Oh, and padding in bike shorts can help protect you from some unpleasant pain in sensitive areas! You’ll also need a good helmet that fits you properly. Remember it’s compulsory in Australia to wear an approved helmet when riding a bike.
Consider your environment – this is important. You’re more likely to ride more regularly if you feel safe and you’re in a pleasant environment. So depending on where you live, riding around your local streets may not be the best option. Taking your bike to a park or local bike trails may be the best way for you to build your confidence. Make sure the paths are easy to navigate, wide enough for you and others to get by, not too steep (at least while you’re relearning to ride) and have places where you can stop for a breather, have a drink and enjoy the surrounds.
Listen to your body. Cycling is a great exercise for people with a musculoskeletal condition. But you need to listen to your body. While cycling is low impact, your legs are going around and around in a repetitive motion. This may cause some aches and pains if you’re not used to it. So don’t go too hard too fast. Take time to stretch before and after your ride, and if you have wobbly legs after your ride, walk around for a bit to get everything working again.
Start small. It’s easy to get swept up in the ride – the nature around you, the hypnotic effect of turning the wheels around and around – and then you realise you have to cycle back to where you started. So be aware of the distance you travel. Start slowly and build up the time and distance you ride gradually. Starting small also gives you the time and space to relearn riding your bike – how the brakes work, the gears, steering, not crashing!
Grab the family and friends – exercising is often more fun when you do it with others. And riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages and levels of fitness. During the pandemic it seems like every sunny day groups of people are out walking and riding together. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?
Be a responsible rider. There are a lot more of us walking and cycling at the moment. So ding your bell if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down. People rarely walk in a straight line especially if they’re not paying attention. So to avoid nasty accidents, take care of those around you.
Drink water. You’re exercising, so you’ll be sweating and losing fluid. Take regular breaks to rehydrate.
Don’t be embarrassed if you have to walk your bike for a while – especially uphill. It means you’re listening to your body – whether it’s saying there’s pain or you need to breathe – and you’re giving it the break it needs. So walk that bike proudly! And get back on when you’re ready.
Check out the networks – both formal e.g. Bicycle Network and local, informal cycling groups. You’ll get information, support and advice, and you’ll meet new people.
Enjoy yourself! Cycling is a really enjoyable activity – so get out there, check out the countryside and have fun.
Call our Help Line
If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Messenger.
More to explore
- The best bike paths and routes in Australia
- Your local council website for cycling groups, paths and other resources
- Your state/territory government parks websites for information on riding safely in parks, maps and much more.
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896