Outdoor cycling is a fun summer sport that is good for the human race.
Be it camaraderie, confidence or competition, biking has serious perks. An activity fit for teenagers, grandparents and avid racers alike, it’s the recreation that keeps most cyclists riding. And there are health benefits, too. The cardiovascular exercise builds muscular endurance, strengthens balance and counters high blood pressure, all added benefits of a workout tailored for the great outdoors.
Rosendale resident, Theresa Knaus, 50, started cycling after her husband, Dan, had biked 105 miles in Death Valley for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Ride to Cure Diabetes fundraiser.
After Dan returned, he took her to Wheel & Sprocket to pick out a bike for her 45th birthday. “I was about 50 pounds overweight, my kids were in high school, and I was kind of at a low point in my life,” she remembers. “At first, I could barely ride my bike around the block. It took me about three months before I could do 20 miles without feeling bad.”
Five years later and 40 pounds lighter, Knaus is training to compete in Olympic-level triathlons, the Ride to Cure Diabetes and her third Race The Lake, a 90-mile timed event around Lake Winnebago.
As the mother of two and a part-time ultrasound technician, Knaus didn’t always have the time but she worked hard to build endurance. “That first year, my husband went out cycling on the road with me all the time,” she says. “And each time, we went out a little bit further, then a little bit further. You just go out and do five miles until that feels great, then the next day until you do five and a half.”
The Knaus’ typical after-work ride takes them down their neighboring Pickett-Rosendale rural roads (southwest of Oshkosh) for an hour and half, three times a week. On the weekend, they complete a two- or three-hour organized ride or a charity ride.
“You give everything to your kids and all of sudden, they grow up and you wonder what happened to you,” says Kraus. “My husband and I finally have a hobby we can do together. We never had that. Plus, you meet so many wonderful people on the group rides and events.”
And she’s convinced that anyone can bike. “You can ride a hundred miles,” she says. “I don’t care if you’re a hundred pounds overweight. It’s a fun thing to do, to just go out and exercise. I just love it.”
Brian Kienert, president of the Oshkosh Cycling Club (OCC), has discovered more. “I love cycling because it gives me a sort of peace—like a runner’s high—but without the pounding,” Kienert explains. “You also get a network of friends and a sense of belonging and well being.”
Social-Heart Health: Committment & Fellowship
The 23-year-old Fox Cities Cycling Club (FCCC) has 180 dues-paying members and its goal, according to president Paul Driessen, 46, is to promote the sport and get people riding their bikes.
“When you ride with others, you try to keep up; you push your limits,” Driessen says. “Without that commitment, it will never happen.”
The club’s Wednesday night rides start at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. The 12-to-30-mile trips build in length through the summer. “Every week is different,” Driessen says. “These rides encompass a range of avid bikers, but not the hard-core racers. It’s not a swarm-of-bikers thing.”
A self-employed contractor, Driessen admits, “I love to get outdoors. It’s all about rolling down a road and taking in all the sights and sounds. There’s so much more that you can see, going at 17 miles an hour rather than at 50.”
For Kienert, it’s a sport of attrition. “When I was young and reckless, I played the collision sports — football, basketball and softball,” he explains. “I ran into my mid-30s, but I blew a knee and had various wear-and-tear injuries and surgeries. I had to stop.” Within three years after he quit running, Kienert put on 30 extra pounds of body weight. He turned to cycling.
Each cycling club has a unique personality and draw; most have information-packed websites and ride invitations.
The mission of OCC is to create opportunities, programs and events so more people can be engaged in cycling as a healthy and safe activity. Serving a variety of cyclists, the club offers weekly rides, from trainer rides, conditioning and endurance rides, to time trials, family/couple trips and even a ladies night.
“I’m naturally always challenging myself to get better, but my body was telling me to back off on the competition,” Kienert shares. “I had to retrain myself to enjoy the simple pleasures of the ride.”
Peter Coons, 48, manager of Wheel & Sprocket in Appleton, has raced competitively for 30 years. But his heart rides with the human element. “The number-one thing about cycling is the people it reaches,” says Coons. “You can have a 3-year old that can ride a bike and then someone like my dad, who’s 86 and buying a new one.”
Heart Health: Doctors’ Orders
Dr. Jason Wurth is a family-practice physician with Bellin Health Family Medical Center in Ashwaubenon who has competed in Olympic triathlons. For Wurth, the beauty of cycling is that it provides an enjoyable cardio-vascular activity that involves very little weight-bearing risk. Even those who are overweight don’t feel the pounding on the knees, ankles, hips and back.
He explains the many benefits of cardiovascular exercising to his patients, including lower blood pressure, enhanced mood, better cholesterol numbers, less anxiety, improved sleep and stamina, and good blood flow to all the tissues.
“People want be healthy, and often they’re opposed to taking medication — but unless they choose to exercise, I have to prescribe medication,” says Wurth. “What’s frustrating is that they have the power to do it, in a more natural way.”
Lack of time often is the excuse. An active father of three school-age children, Wurth says that it’s about keeping priorities. Plan your bike travels and commit. This cyclist’s commitment pays off. “What I love is the way I feel on a bike,” he says. “Cycling can be a very healthy addiction!”
Dr. Tim Malogne, an orthopedist at the Sports Medicine Center in Appleton, concurs. “Cycling is a low-impact exercise, so it fits the bill for many people who may be overweight, have arthritis or other ailments,” Malogne says. But with physical activity comes the occasional injury.
Malogne typically sees two types of cycling injuries in his patients. The first as a result of a crash or a fall, and the second in patients who have ridden too far, too often or too fast.
He can’t stress helmet-wearing enough. He also suggests consulting a bike-shop professional when purchasing a bike. Many injuries that he sees are because of improper bike fits. If the seat is too low or too small, knee injuries can occur. And bad posture can result in lower-back pain. Numbness in the hands, pain in the knees or hints of tendonitis may be indicators of over-use issues. The doctor suggests weekly training increases of about 10 percent, with one day devoted to recovery, as well as attention to stretching and weight-lifting.
Outdoor cycling has personal, social and health benefits. Cyclists enjoy retraction, maintaining close relationships and creating memories. This summer, shift gears and take to the path!
—By Lynn Kuhns
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AREA CYCLING CLUBS
The Bay Shore Bicycle Club’s (Green Bay area) advocates bike paths and trails and promotes the cyclist’s right to use public roads. It sponsors bike rides, bike events and socials, supports local charities and events, and promotes bicycle.
Lakeshore Pedalers meet the third Monday of each month at 7pm at the TIMEOUT Bar and Grill, 1027 North Rapids Road, Manitowoc. It promotes bicycling and encourages public recognition of the need for safer cycling conditions and the construction of bike paths and trails.
The Fox Cities Cycling Club is a recreational bike club with weekly Wednesday rides at 6pm, beginning at Fox Valley Technical College’s north parking lot.
Oshkosh Cycling Club has a ride almost every evening.
Tri Foxes, Fox Cities Triathlon Club serves athletes of all ages and abilities in and around Northeastern Wisconsin, enabling them to achieve their athletic goals a triathlon club, also has rides, training events and speakers.
—By Lynn Kuhns
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CYCLING FOR BEGINNERS
Before beginning any exercise program, it’s best to get a physical exam from your doctor. Begin riding with two or three outings a week, as time allows; start easily and build up slowly over time so your body can strengthen and get accustomed to pedaling and sitting on the bike.
A bike computer ($20–30 for a basic model) will help track your progress. Choose a local route of appropriate distance for your fitness level, start the computer at the start and note the time it takes you when you’re finished. Watching your time and average speed improve is a motivating way to monitor your progress. After about six weeks, you should feel a noticeable difference in your legs and lungs and see the difference on your computer. You can gradually increase the mileage and intensity, if you wish.
Buying a Bike
You’ll find things have changed drastically from your streamer-graced, fat-tire Huffy. Today’s bikes are more comfortable, with plush saddles, shock-absorbing frames and back-friendly riding positions. Low gears make hill climbing easier and braking systems bring safety.
Do seek professional help in the selection of your bicycle and other equipment. Shops offer invaluable advice related to training, safety and fit. Many bike shops also host social events, weekly rides or other special events.
Local Bike Shops
- Appleton Bicycle and Fitness, Appleton
- Chain Reaction, Appleton
- Cranked Bike Studio, Neenah
- Gear’n Up, Neenah
- Neenah Bike and Fitness, Neenah
- Oshkosh Cyclery, Oshkosh
- Recyclist Bicycle Company, Kaukauna
- Scheels, Appleton (Fox River Mall)
- The Bicycle Outlet, Oshkosh
- Wheel and Sprocket, Appleton
- Wheel and Sprocket, Oshkosh
—By Lynn Kuhns