[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Using Errands for Bicycling Exercise
For the person who can't commute to work by bicycle, running errands on the bike can save some gasoline and provide some healthy exercise, especially on cold or gloomy days when it's tough to get out.
Questions Why do I want to bicycle on gloomy days when they're not as enjoyable? What tricks have I found to ensure I do some bicycling when the weather's less than perfect? How was I able to get back into shape while riding for a snack? How did I use errands to get my son into shape? Why did I deliberately visit a supermarket on the other side of town? Why were my errands better for my mental health than for my physical health?


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Using Errands for Bicycling Exercise

By nature, I'm more of a country cyclist than a city cyclist and more of a fair-weather cyclist than a rain or shine cyclist. Going on a long ride out into the countryside or making a long cycling trip in gorgeous weather is something I am always eager to do, but riding in traffic on a cold, overcast winter day requires some gumption on my part.

However, cycling on the pretty days alone is not a very good way to stay fit. Each day I stay off of the bicycle makes the next ride more difficult; I become pretty sedentary pretty quickly.

Fortunately, I have found two ways of motiving myself even when the day and the ride are not pretty -- riding to work and riding on errands. The ride to work quckly becomes the normal activity that I cease to even think about as unusual. Riding on errands requires a little more explanation.

When I was living at my cabin in the woods in the mid-80's, I was also returning to cycling, and I found cycling any great distance to be really difficult. For instance, a ride of just 20 miles took all day and left me both exhausted and unable to sleep well. While spending long days working at the cabin, I would become bored for someone to talk to and hungry for a drink or snack. However, my funds were low, so I told myself that I could go to the local store, five miles away, to buy something if and only if I would ride the distance on my bicycle. Pretty soon, that distance became rather short. I used the same trick with my son when he would come to visit me: if he wanted a coke, he would have to pedal the distance. Pretty soon we were riding the longer trip on into town, and the old van would gather cobwebs for weeks at a time.

Since then, I have always allowed myself to go out for a snack, as long as I was willing to walk or pedal to the store. I have used other kinds of errand-running the same way. In one town, I would drive by the supermarket on the way home and then get on my bike and go back to get my groceries, because I would not allow myself to use the van for groceries. In another town, I deliberately chose to shop at a supermarket on the far side of town every day, because that was the only way to ensure that I would ride enough miles during the week (a very discouraging town for bicycling).

While I ended up pedaling my bike more miles than I would have driven my van, and while my cycling took a longer time than the same trip by motor vehicle, I profited in several ways. First, I saved money by not burning gas. Second, I felt a little more virtuous because I was doing my bit to help save Mother Nature. Third, I was keeping myself in shape, even in the gloom of winter. And fourth, I was helping myself feel more cheerful.

You see, nothing gets me down like the gloomy, doomy weather of winter. Shut up in my cabin or in an apartment on a dark day is really depressing. I would really have to force myself to ride. That's why a pleasant errand made a good incentive. But after riding a while on the bike, my mood would lighten, and I would begin to enjoy myself. I think cycling has helped my mental health even more than it has helped my physical health.

Well, didn't I also run into problems while riding those errands? Yes, I did, but they were little things such as running into a rain storm or having to patch a tire by the side of the road, not major problems, and they did not occur often.

I highly recommend errand-running by bicycle as a good way to get out of the house.

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