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Bike riding an efficient way to burn calories fast
With gas prices and bellies both swelling, why not solve two problems with one simple tool — a bike? Bike riding is one of most efficient calorie-burning activities around, which means it can help you lose weight. Riding at a leisurely pace of 10 to 12 mph, a 155-pound person can burn 423 calories in just 60 minutes, or about 7 calories per minute. Now up that to 14-15.9 mph, and you’ll be burning about 700 calories per hour.

Why?
• It builds muscle, particularly in your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves.

• You can control the level of your workout by riding slow or fast on city streets, roads or scenic trails.

• It’s a convenient, inexpensive way to get around town. Parking is always simple, and you can get some exercise while you’re running errands.

• It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and do some sightseeing.

• It helps the environment.

Here are a few tips to get started.

Bikes
However you acquire your bike, be sure it is in good working order and that it fits you. If your bike has sat unused for a while, it is probably best to get a tune-up. For $30 to $60, any reputable bike shop will put your ride in the best condition possible. You can also have the seat and handlebars adjusted to put you in the best riding position.

How do you know what kind of bike to buy? “People have lots of ideas about what they’re going to do with their bikes. They think they’re going to ride everywhere, but don’t, and as a result they can get stuck with the wrong bike,” says Bill Strickland, the executive editor of Bicycling magazine. He suggests making an honest assessment that takes your past behavior into consideration. Think of the one thing that you’re sure you will do with your bike and buy it based on that. Is it commuting? Road or mountain racing? Bike paths? Touring?

“There are many categories and many components for bikes. What is your budget? The most expensive and elaborate bikes are unnecessary for the vast majority of cyclists,” says Richard First, president of POMG Bike Tours of Vermont (www.pomgbike.com). Also, consider the climate and terrain where you live, because people often bike only when it’s convenient for them to do it. So, if you think you’ll go mountain biking, but you live two hours from the nearest mountain trail, you might want to reconsider, adds Strickland.

Other tips include making sure you get a color you like, says Strickland. People often buy something because it’s a good deal, but they don’t even like the bike. If you can rent the bike first and try it, do it. It can prevent you from making the wrong investment.

And what about costs? You can spend anywhere from $200 to $10,000. Place more value on a good frame and wheels, and don’t worry so much about the components. You can always upgrade components later.

Fit
Purchasing a bike without seeing if it’s the ideal fit is a bad idea — and if you’re not careful, you may only realize it some time down the road. That’s when everything from a sore back to a beaten-down bottom can leave you much worse for wear. The wrong fit will also leave you with a bike that spends more time hanging out in the garage than riding the trails and streets. Choosing a bike that best fits your body allows you to ride more comfortably and proficiently, says John Howard, U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer, 14-time national champion and founder of johnhowardsports.com.

Strickland also advises visiting a well-established bike shop where the salespeople are experts. “In fact, if they don’t discuss fitting you to the right bike within the first 15 or 20 minutes of working with you, you’re probably in the wrong shop.”

Best match
Get on the bike and make sure it’s comfortable. Softer and wider seats are better for cruising around town; however, for long distances, narrow seats (which start out less comfortable) are better because they prevent your legs from rubbing excessively along the edges of the seat.

Get in position. The actual positioning of the rider is an important consideration, says Howard. Also, make sure the frame is the right size for your height. Straddle the bike in front of the seat, and plant your feet on the ground. There should be at least a couple of inches between the top tube (the bar running from the handlebars to the seat) and your crotch, says Strickland. And, if you plan to take the bike off-road (for mountain biking), you may want to have 3 to 4 inches.

The seat should be adjusted so that your legs are about 90 percent straight when your feet are at the bottom of the pedal stroke while sitting in the saddle. A 40-to-45-degree bend in the knee is ideal, says Howard. Your knees should never lock, and you should never feel like you’re reaching with your legs as you pedal.

Handlebars. When you’re in the saddle and your hands are on the handlebars, your elbows should be slightly bent — not straight. If your arms are stretched too far, the bike is probably too big. You want to be able to reach the handlebars without overextending your arms or hunching your shoulders up around your ears. Your shoulders should be relaxed, elbows bent and back straight.

Take it for a test ride. Make sure it feels right and you’re not forced to ride in uncomfortable positions. Also, don’t be shy — play with the gears and brakes and travel on the terrain where you’re most likely to use the bike.

Recycled

Buying a recycled bike could be a great way to get started. But you never know what you’re going to get until you actually get it.
Here are some key tips:

• Follow the same principles (including size, color and style) that you would if you were buying a new bike.

• If you’re buying privately, get the bike evaluated by a local bike shop, says Strickland. The evaluation should cost $30-$60, and it’s worth it. Make sure they check the wheel alignment, brakes and gears and that they look for cracks in the frame and worn chains. Get it in writing.

• Test it out, and make sure to take it on the terrain you will be using it on.

• Get the bike’s history. Was it ever in an accident?

• If you’re buying from a bike shop, get a written warranty. A bike shop should offer a standard 30- or 60-day warranty.
©2006 Charles Stuart Platkin

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