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Be a biker: Save money, burn calories, live green

I’ve been riding my bicycle more, and I hope you are, too. Part of it is the crazy price of gas. Instead of driving Bella to do a little chore a few miles away, now I jump on Corregidor to pick up the cleaning or some groceries or meet a pal for lunch.

What? You haven’t named your car and bike? I save on fuel, burn calories and feel green with pride to be part of a bona fide fitness trend. More people are riding bikes to work, to play, to travel, to exercise.

Why don’t you ride your bike more? Really, you just have to flip a switch in your brain and begin to wean yourself from the car. It can be done. And the rewards are immediate.

Cycling is an excellent aerobic activity, not to mention lots of fun. Whether you do it on city streets or mountain trails, to commune with nature or commute to your job, bicycling tones your muscles, challenges your heart and leaves your whole body tingling with the kind of joy that comes from expending energy in an eco-friendly way.

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Here are a few pointers to make your cycle-ogical switch to biking safer and more pleasurable:

  • Make sure your bike fits. If your bike doesn’t fit you, over time, you can create all sorts of knee, neck and back problems. Whereas the handlebars, saddle, wheels, gears and brakes can all be adjusted to suit your size and riding ability, the frame has to fit from the get-go.

So get on your bike and straddle the top tube. There should be about an inch between it and your groin. If there is no top tube, use your imagination.

  • Adjust the seat height. Seat posts are adjustable. To figure out the right height for you, sit on the seat and extend your leg until the pedal is at its lowest point. Your knee should be slightly bent, not straight and definitely not scrunched up. Riding with overly bent knees will grind out your knee joint over time. Not good.

Your handlebars and stem also need to fit your body and your riding style. The best thing to do is have a conversation with a biking professional.
Don’t be shy about asking for help with adjusting your bike. Generally speaking, bike shop people are the nicest people in the world. I think it’s because they ride their bikes so much.

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  • Pamper your butt. If you suffer from a sore butt after riding, consider upgrading to the newer gel seats that contour to your contours or the kind that has a hole in the middle where your tenderest parts might otherwise experience friction.

Cycling in loose-fitting, seamed shorts can also irritate your bottom. Cycling shorts that are soft and seamless can make a big difference. And watch the tilt of your bike seat. If it’s pointed up or down, your behind will suffer.

  • Be visible and pay attention. The more visible you are to drivers, the less likely they are to hit you. Lights, reflectors and bright clothing all help, but the best defense is careful, conscious cycling.

Allow cars the right of way. Obey all traffic laws even if the other guy doesn’t. Don’t cut and weave in traffic. Aggressive cycling is stupid. So is bicycling without a helmet.
Do you know what emergency room doctors call cyclists who ride without a helmet? Organ donors.

  • Learn to bike. There is so much more to cycling than jumping on your bike and pedaling. Do you know how and when to switch gears? How to coordinate your breathing with your pedaling for more pep and endurance? How to brake, how to turn, how to change a tire?

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.