Biking is one of the most efficient calorie burners around.
Riding at a leisurely 10 to 12 mph, you can burn 423 calories in an hour. Up that to 14-16 mph, and you'll burn about 700 calories.
Biking is fun, builds muscle, and is a great way to get some exercise while you're running errands — and it's also environmentally sound..
Here are a few tips to get started.
Getting a bike
“People have lots of ideas about what they're going to do with their bikes, and as a result they can get stuck with the wrong bike,” says Bill Strickland, Editor-at-Large of Bicycling magazine. He suggests making an honest assessment with your past behavior in mind. Think of the one thing that you're sure you will do with your bike and buy it based on that. Commuting? Racing? Bike paths? Touring?
When choosing a bike, make sure to consider the climate and terrain where you live because people often bike where it's convenient. Also, make sure you get a color you like, adds Strickland.
You can spend anywhere from $150 to more than $10,000. Place more value on a good frame and wheels, and don't worry so much about the components. Check the Consumer Reports “Bike Buying Guide” at www.consumerreports.org/cro/bikes/buying-guide.htm.
Getting the right fit
Purchasing a bike without seeing if it's the ideal fit is a bad idea — the bike could end up being a garage dust collector. Bicycling magazine's Strickland advises visiting a well-established bike shop with expert salespeople.
•Get on the bike. Make sure it's comfortable. Softer and wider seats are better for cruising; for long distances, narrow seats are better because they prevent your legs from rubbing on the seat.
•Get in position. Straddle the bike in front of the seat, and plant your feet on the ground. There should be a couple of inches between the bar and your crotch, says Strickland.
The seat should be adjusted so your legs are about 90 percent straight when your feet are at the bottom of the pedal stroke while sitting. 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 seat and your hands are on the handlebars, your elbows should be slightly bent. If your arms are stretched too far, the bike is probably too big. You want to be able to reach the handlebars without overextending or hunching. Your shoulders should be relaxed, elbows bent and back straight.
•Test ride. Make sure it feels right, and test out the gears and brakes.
A used bike could be a great way to get started. Follow the same principles as if you were buying a new bike.
•Get the bike evaluated by a bike shop, says Strickland. Make sure they check the wheel alignment, brakes, chain and gears and look for cracks in the frame. Get it in writing.
•Test it out on the terrain you will be using.
•Get the bike's history.
•Get a written warranty.
Follow these tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on bike safety:
Step 1: Strap it on, save a life. Nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries. Wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet can reduce the risk of a brain and head injury by as much as 85 percent. Follow these tips to make sure your helmet is doing its job:
•When buying a helmet, look for the label that reads Complies with U.S. CPSC Safety Standards for Bicycle Helmets.
•Tighten chin straps and adjust padding so the helmet feels snug, forms a V around the ears, and does not move up and down or side to side. Watch this video from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on how to put a helmet on correctly: www.youtube.com/watch? feature=player_embedded&v =kwBl7icfQek)
Step 2: Check your family's bikes for safety.
•Make sure the tires have the proper amount of air.
•Adjust and tighten the seat and handlebars. Remember, kids grow!
•Check and adjust the brakes so your family's riders can stop quickly.
Step 3: Be alert when riding.
•Ride on the right side of the road in a straight, predictable path.
•Children younger than age 9 should not ride on roads.
Other safety tips:
•Obey the rules of the road. Use hand signals for stopping and turning.
•Be visible — wear bright clothes, have a whistle or other signaling device, and use reflectors and lights at night.
•Do a gentle five-minute ride to warm up. Make sure to stretch your legs, back, neck and arms.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.