The importance of bike riding

01/08/2013  -  3.31

Dr Tracey Devonport and Chris Fullerton

The importance of bike riding - why should more people do it?

This blog post is in reference to 'RideLondon', an annual two-day festival of cycling taking place over the weekend of Saturday 3 August and Sunday 4 August 2013.

We have entered the one year anniversary of the London 2012 Olympics, and to mark this great occasion a series of events intended to celebrate the games are taking place. Given the medal success of GB cyclists it seems fitting that August 3rd sees a mass participation cycling event inspired by the games.

During RideLondon, 50,000 cyclists of all ages and abilities will complete an eight-mile ride around London. In my own personal challenge set for 2014 I am planning to cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End. So this brings us to the question - what is the importance of cycling and why should more people do it?

In outlining the importance of cycling I will draw upon links with socio-cultural change. The mass media as an agent of change has a pervasive influence on us. When picking up a newspaper or magazine, switching on the TV or radio you may have received messages relating to the global economic crisis, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, or pleas to embrace eco awareness.

Our consciousness is constantly being pricked as to the importance of a healthy lifestyle and we are well schooled in how to improve our health.

However, we know from research that this alone is not sufficient to turn an intention to exercise into action. There needs to be some other motive and/or outcome that aligns with our personal values. This is where the remaining social messages may come into play.

Cycling saves money whilst presenting a form of exercise, and, another advantage, it does not harm the environment. In fact it immerses the cyclist in the environment, which, depending on your cycle route, could leave you cycling among some of the UK’S finest scenery.

Clear evidence that the Government recognises the value of cycling is the Government backed ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme. This is an initiative where employers offer a salary sacrifice benefit scheme for employees to buy bicycles at significant reductions. The rationale offered behind the initiative is to save money for your commute, get you healthy, and help protect the environment in the process. It is perhaps unsurprising then that in recent years you’ve seen more cyclists out and about!

Tracey Devonport

(Tracey and her father are riding John O'Groats to Land's End to raise funds for the Herriot Hospice in Hambleton & Richmondshire. For more information and to donate please visit http://www.justgiving.com/Keith-Devonport)

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Cycling in Britain has never been so popular. This can largely be attributed to recent Olympic successes and more recently Chris Froome following up Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory last year by claiming his own Maillot Jaune. So how has success led to greater participation and what are the benefits of cycling?

Firstly, success creates role models, and for many aspiring competitive cyclists they will share the same goals; they are motivated by a need to compete against others and explore their own physical limits. They will be inspired by the performances and try to replicate success in their own pursuits. However, competitive cyclists are not just performance driven.

In fact they share many of the motives of non-competitive cyclists. Research suggests both these groups cycle for health benefits including social affiliation, weight concern and self-esteem. Often motives change across the life span; life meaning and remaining active become stronger motives later in life as the emphasis for many changes from competition towards enjoyment.

Secondly, cycling is a fantastic way to keep fit. Scientific studies have demonstrated that cycling elevates your metabolic rate not only during a bike ride, but for several hours afterwards. Put simply, you’ll be more efficient at burning calories and fat.

Research that we are carrying out here at the University of Wolverhampton is showing that increased cycling fitness has positive carryover benefits for mental health, including increased attention and memory capabilities.

The popularity of cycling in this country is clearly influenced by the success of our top riders and teams.

However, people are realising that through improved club links and mass-participation rides such as audax and sportive events, cycling is not only good for our physical health, it is a great way to meet friends, enjoy exercise together and make positive changes to our mental health.

Chris Fullerton, PhD student in the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure

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