I hate going to the gym. It’s boring and it feels like work. So I’m not going to do it, no matter how guilty I feel about not using a gym membership that I purchased just to make me feel guilty and force me to go to the gym.
Running outdoors is equally boring. And, let’s face it, it’s a daily test of your tolerance for pain.
Instead I cycle. Here are seven reasons why cycling is the best frugal exercise.
1. You Don’t Need Expensive Accessories
Once you sink a chunk of change on a bike (check Goodwill or Craigslist first) and some basic safety equipment (helmet and rechargeable lights) and an app (I like UA’s free MapMyRide) and a spare tube (or patch kit) for flats, you are done with equipment and apparel. You don’t need special shoes or ass-cushioning spandex shorts or a dorky jersey with rear pockets.
I learned this from my dad, who often jogs in long pants and/or dress socks and shoes. He doesn’t let little things serve as an excuse to not get out there. I’m sure his arches need as much supporting as the next person, but he’s not going to special order $400 shoes with a custom footbed.
If you wait until you are fully kitted out, you’ll spend too much money, and you may never get started. It’s like the old avoiding church excuse: I’ll go once I get my act together. No, that’s why you need to go – to help you get your act together. Main thing is to get started.
2. You Don’t Pay a Recurring Fee
I bought a spin class package on Groupon, but I took a couple classes and quit. Not only did it feel too much like work, in the back of my mind, I also harbored the dread of having to pay a recurring monthly or session fee once the package expired.
But the dread was misplaced – there was no way I was going to any more joyless spin classes.
3. You Can Fix Things Yourself
You know how cars have advanced so much that if anything goes wrong, you have to take it to the “Diagnostic Center” where some PhD in a spotless lab coat – not a grease smear in sight – hooks up your car to a supercomputer and reads off the 4-digit-dollar damage? Even if you could diagnose it yourself, you couldn’t repair it – what person has a supply of the electronic gee-gaw that is the necessary fix?
A bike, on the other hand, is blissfully simple. A frame, two weels, a drive train, and brakes. If something goes wrong mid-ride, you won’t need AAA – just a pair of pliers usually. How satisfying – and inexpensive – is that?
4. You Experience More of Unvarnished Life
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Albus Dumbledore
I have a long commute and I often get lost in thought. Which has some value, I suppose, but later it feels like lost time.
You don’t realize what you miss when you’re in a car. Sure you get places faster, and you have a micro-controlled climate, but have you ever smelled a backyard barbecue so fiercely that you almost lurched uncontrollably off the road to join it? Or been so revolted by the stench of overflowing sewage along the Inner Harbor-dumping Jones Falls, that you knew the campaign to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020 is nothing more than a joke?
And you’ll never be so convicted about homelessness until you ride close to a rustling tent encampment in sub-zero temps, or witness a toothless woman nonchalantly take a dump on the sidewalk in front of a soup kitchen.
There’s striking beauty also. The cannons of Fort McHenry shrouded in mist. The stark handsomeness of oversize murals in Station North. The Army and Navy cadets in crisp dress uniform ambling in segregated-by-service groups around the Inner Harbor, in advance of that afternoon’s Army-Navy football game. Little tow-headed tykes in their over-sized Easter outfits picnicking among the islands of tulips in Sherwood Gardens. The Blue Angels screaming overhead, drowning out all of creation in their brutish call for recruits. More skittering wildlife than you ever thought possible in a city.
5. You Learn
Exploration isn’t just for astronauts. I’ve lived in Baltimore most of my life, but I’ve learned more from cycling than from driving. Who knew there are gnarly trails through the woods in Druid Hill Park?
Or that Fort Howard (near Sparrows Point at the end of the North Point peninsula) is so well placed geographically that it played an important role in the War of 1812 and World War II, as I learned from interpretive signs there. In coordination with the Royal Navy’s bombardment of Fort McHenry, 4,500 British troops landed here in September 1814 with orders to capture and burn Baltimore, but were repelled. During WWII, Fort Howard was used as a holding center for German prisoners of war and Japanese and German ‘enemy aliens’ (non-citizen residents).
Or that you can rent a kayak on Rocky Point, one peninsula up from North Point. Here’s my bike ride there:
And the subsequent kayak ride with Grey to 1,100-acre Hart-Miller Island, which is man-made from decades of accumulated dredged harbor sludge, but now features a pretty 1/2-mile-long beach:
Here’s the paddling route we took to get there:
Sometimes the discovery is personal: Finding out I had the ability to cycle around the airport and back. It took a while and much sweat to go the 38 miles, but it was pretty satisfying.
6. It’s Easy to Fit It In
You’re going places already, why not bike there? I used to work nine miles away and would bike one day a week. I work 33 miles from home now, so cycling there is out, but there are many closer destinations. The farmer’s market. The symphony. The hardware store.
If the destination is further and Nora is going too, then I will strap the rack to the car, leave early, and meet her there. Then we’ll drive home together, with the bike piggybacked. (Just don’t remind me of the time the bike rack helped destroy my car’s rear window). I’ve met her at my brother’s in Hydes, my parent’s in Glen Arm, Ikea in White Marsh, and at our brother-in-law’s in Fallston:
Once I even borrowed a ride at a birthday party Pippa was attending in Monkton, and took a jaunt on the NCR trail to fist bump Pennsylvania, arriving back just in time for party wrap up.
7. It’s Fun
When they were little, I towed Pippa and Grey around behind me in a two-wheeled trailer. I felt like a one-man ambassador, I got so many high fives and shout outs. Those days are gone, but the fun isn’t.
Part of the thrill is going out in all weather. Heavy rain or snow is a drag, but I don’t let cold weather slow me down much. I organized a frigid ‘Polar Vortex’ ride with friends from church, and it was a blast.
Some of the most fun in life is to break the small rules that don’t really matter. I discussed previously how I tend to rack up silly moving violations. The cycling equivalent? It’s OK to use the sidewalks and run red lights. These practices must be exercised with all due caution, but your fun (red lights) and safety (sidewalks) take precedence over The Man and his rules. Especially when the rules – like ‘Bikes May Use Full Lane’ – are laughable.
And what better way is there for you to bond with other people than with a shared ride?
What’s next? GPS art via app routes, like this clever fish art (artist unknown) in Patterson Park:
Will you join me?