“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein
Take it from Einstein, riding a bike is cool.
Countless Chicagoans have long realized both the emotional and physical benefits that come from a life of bicycling. And in the summertime, the act of hopping on a bike to go to work or go nowhere in particular is something that can’t be explained.
It’s pretty much pure bliss.
“It’s one of the most freeing feelings in the world,” says Dr. Adam Cohen of Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, who is known to bike to work 25 miles each way to work when the weather is cooperating. “It is a caloric incinerator. If you cycle at 15 mph, you burn about 30 calories per mile — so a 20-mile ride would burn around 600 calories. Five-and-a-half miles of running is needed to burn the same calorie load. If you are cycling at higher speeds, such as 20 mph you burn about 40 calories per mile. That equates to 800 calories give or take a few calories.”
Cycling is also a deterrent to everything from cancer to heart disease, to sexual dysfunction in men. It’s also much easier on the joints than running. “Cycling minimally strengthens your core, hence the need for cyclists to build core strength for added pedaling power since your abdominal muscles are recruited during pedal strokes,” adds Dr. Cohen. “Additionally the core muscles act as stabilizers, giving the rider balance, a great asset when making sharp turns in the peloton or avoiding potholes.”
“Plus, chances are you are going to get to your destination in Chicago faster on a bike than in a car, especially with summertime traffic and construction in the city,” laughs Joanne McSweeney, owner of On the Route Bicycles on Lincoln Avenue and an avid biker who has been known to de-stress after a day at work with a leisurely bike ride.
Personal trainer at Orange Shoe Personal Fitness Ted Fournier says that biking is especially ideal for his clients who suffer from conditions such as arthritis. “Biking is cardiovascular exercise and resistance training all at one time,” explains Fournier. “It’s not like doing a rep with a weight or doing one thing in one plane of motion and something else from a new plane of motion. It’s going to continue working to tone of your calves every time you push on the pedals and your quads and your core and your hip flexors with every ride you take.”
Doctors also say that it can be a boost to one’s overall well-being, with studies showing that people dealing with mild depression often feel much better when they insert biking into their overall exercise regimen. “Just being outside is going to bring on the endorphins and the benefits of vitamin D,” added Dr. Cohen. “And even when you are done with your ride, the calories continue to burn. I have even heard people waking up sweating during the overnight hours because they are still experiencing those amazing after-burn effects.”
So now that you know what biking can do for you, the next question is – where are you going to ride?
Here are some ideas to enjoy as a whole or in part, depending on your fitness level:
Chicago Lakefront Trail (18 miles): Want to enjoy all of the beauty that Chicago has to offer? Look no further than the Chicago Lakefront Trail, where bikers can experience all of the city’s best views during the span of an 18-mile path. Willing to park your bike for a little while? Make sure to take advantage of stops at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Oak Street Beach and Grant Park, just to name a few.
The Illinois American Discovery Trail Northern Route (219 miles) and Southern Route (284 miles): A newly built trail taking riders from the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, the Illinois American Discovery Trail stretches across the state of Illinois and gives riders a northern option with a more comfortable flat path and a southern portion along beautiful hilly country.
The Grand Illinois Trail (535 miles): Feeling strong? Take on The Grand Illinois Trail, which runs from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River and runs through cities such as River Forest, Maywood and Calumet City. The trail is especially unique because it is somewhat evenly split between paved and country roads and natural limestone paths that will conjure up memories of days gone by. And while the length alone signals that this path is best for the experienced cycler, it can quickly and easily be broken up into 10 separate segments to ensure that no one bites off more than they can chew…or err, ride.
SELECTING THE BEST BIKE FOR YOU
Walk into your local bike shop, and chances are you might be quickly overwhelmed with all of the choices in front of you. However, bike experts say that you simply need to know what you are going to use the bike for to get a better idea of which bike will be best for you.
“There are comfort bikes and fitness bikes that range from $380 to $540 and then there are endurance road bikes that range in price from $380 to $800,” explains Joanne McSweeney, owner of On the Route Bicycles on Lincoln Avenue. “If you are looking to sit upright on the seat and enjoy a wider seat, a comfort bike will be for you. If you are looking to bike distances longer than 15 miles and want to ride in a bit of a slanted position, you go for a fitness bike. And if you are looking to utilize a drop bar in a more Tour De France sort of style, an endurance road bike is going to be for you.”
And luckily for you, there are many events coming up this summer where serious cyclists and adventurous newbies can put that bike to use, such as:
• Ride for Aids Chicago – July 8-9 (Chicago)
• Venus de Miles – July 22 (Lake Forest)
• Two Rivers Century – August 6 (Kankakee)
• Ride Like an Egyptian – August 19 (DeKalb)
• Bicycle Illinois – Aug. 19-25 (Cairo to Chicago)
• North Shore Triathlon – September 17 (Wilmette)
Of course, there are 200 miles of Cook County Forest Preserve trails and Chicago Park District trails/paths to enjoy via bicycles, not to mention the lakefront and miles of bike lanes throughout Chicago. And even closer to home, you can always rediscover your own neighborhood via bicycles, too.
So get out those bikes, don a proper helmet, don’t forget the sunscreen, and get out and enjoy the summer via pedal power. You just might feel a whole lot better, too.
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.