Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Week One: Cycling to Work

This week I took on the seven mile trek to work on my single-speed. In the grand scheme of things, a round trip fourteen mile ride is no big deal. For some reason, however, I was intimidated enough to put this trip off for more than a month. But that was then and this is now : )

In the now, I feel so empowered by my decision to take on bike commuting. It is crazy to me the many ways innovation in the fields of mechanics and technology have caused an inflation in my perception of mind power and a deflated of my perception of body power. I am now more set than ever on one say cycling across the united states. 
But as my mother always said, "Pride comes before a fall." And boy did I hit a low this week the equally matched the high of pushing body to a new level. 

Few, if any, activities are risk free. This week, I learned cycling is no exception. Besides dodging cars and inhaling exhaust (specific to urban settings), cycling has some health risks that are not obvious, or even discussed. After waking up last friday unable to walk, I began doing some research on these unspoken risks. Hopefully, this blog will help you avoid some common mistakes made by cyclists of all experience levels - including myself.

Lesson One: Stay hydrated! 
The first major lesson I have learned about bike commuting is the importance of staying hydrated. If you decide to begin cycling to work, be sure to significantly increase the amount of water you consume each day. This week I made the mistake of judging my water needs by my feelings. FALSE. Drink water whether or not you feel like it. The end of my story turned out something like this: super dehydrated, super nauseous, sleepless night wishing I had taken the time to drink more water. Lesson learned. 

Lesson Two: Buy a great saddle
It is no secret, the average bike saddle (seat) is super uncomfortable. What is less known, is the average saddle is actually bad for you. Why? Because the forward riding position of most bikes, especially road and mountain bikes, places all of your weight on a bone that is not designed to handle it. That bone also contains the nerves and blood vessels that connect to male and female genitalia. Who new cycling could heart your sex life? In fact, many studies have shown that extensive time on a traditional bike saddle leads to sexual disfunction for male and female riders. (For the details and studies, check out this great New York Times article)   

So how do you keep everything down their working at its best? Buy a new saddle : ) Here are some saddles I am looking at that do a better job of correctly positioning a riders weight: Selle San Marco Caymano Arrowhead,  ISM Adamo Podium, Sella Italia, and Specialized BG

Lesson Three: Cyclist are at a higher risk for bone loss than other athletes
So bones become stronger the more often they have weight put on them - ironically the opposite of joints. This is the reason astronauts come back with significantly weaker bones. Space's zero gravity climate, puts no weight on an astronauts bones, causes them to adapt by thinning out. The same goes for exercise. The fact that cycling, particularly on the road, places as little weight as possible on bones, makes it so that as a cyclist ages their bones dramatically thin out. 

This situation is made worse by two other cycling realities. First, the average cyclist burns many more nutrients than they usually consume. This translates to your body working at a deficiency: not being able to give your bones and muscles the nutrients they need to work at their best. Second, for cyclist that regularly take on longer treks, this extensive exercise causes their bodies to produce less hormones (testosterone in men and estrogen in women). Though many female athletes are happy to give up their period every month, which is often the case for professional female athletes, testosterone and estrogen play a key roll in preventing bone loss. (For further reading on this topic, check out this great LA Times article

So what can a cyclist do about it? Diversify their exercise. It is not enough to just cycle. To keep your bones strong, it is important to take on other types of workouts. Examples of these could be volleyball, running, basketball, etc. (I've decided to keep it simple and take a run every weekend to keep my bones strong. 

Thinking about "Week Two: Commuting to Work"
It's crazy what one week cycling to work has taught me. Unfortunately, I did not learn these lessons before injuring myself : ( 

As some of you know, my first week cycling to work I hit a record high of 75 total miles! But since I failed to meet my body's need for water and nutrients I ended up severely straining my lower back. The weakness of my muscles paired with a horrible seat, and Miami pot holes, led to me severely misaligning my pelvis - I couldn't stand straight for three days...

Luckily though, after a few visits to the chiropractor and some readings on riding safety, I should be up and ready to go next week. This does mean, though, that "Week Two: Cycling to Work" will be postponed a week. Hopefully though I can fill the gap with another informative post on bike maintenance and wicked pics of my messed up pelvis : )

As always, happy and safe riding everyone. 

*Have your own commuting to work stories/lessons? Share them below!!!

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