Benefits of cycling

Regular cycling can help you lose weight, reduce stress and improve your fitness. As well as information on the health benefits, you'll find plenty of tips below on equipment, road safety and cycle routes.

Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK. An estimated 3.1 million people ride a bicycle each month.

As a form of exercise, cycling has broad appeal. Toddlers, pensioners, the able-bodied or people with disabilities can all enjoy cycling if they have the right equipment. Read our guide to cycling for beginners, which includes tips on staying motivated. 

Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it's also a form of transport. It saves you money, gets you fit and is good for the environment.

It's a low-impact type of exercise, so it's easier on your joints than running or other high-impact aerobic activities. But it still helps you get into shape.

For example, someone who weighs 80kg (12st 9lb) will burn more than 650 calories with an hour's riding, and tone their legs and bottom. If you ride up hills or off-road, you'll also work your upper body.

The best way to build your cardiovascular fitness on the bike is to ride for at least 150 minutes every week. For example, you could cycle to work a few days a week or do a couple of shorter rides during the week with a longer ride at the weekend. You'll soon feel the benefits.

Cycling calendar

British Cycling's website has recreation and travel sections that offer information and hints on everything you need to enjoy cycling, whether you're a cycling commuter, mountain biker or first-time cyclist.

The site includes a national leisure cycling calendar, which lists everything from charity events to multi-day challenges, and advice on training, maintenance and improving fitness.

It has pre-planned routes for you to ride in your area, and a function where you can map where you've ridden, log the miles you've travelled and rank yourself against other riders.

You could also join a club in your area and go on organised bike rides. See British Cycling's clubs page to find one.

If you want to turn your hobby into something more competitive, there are around 2,500 races registered with British Cycling each year. There are all sorts of bike races to chose from. Visit the British Cycling recreation section to find a race near you to watch or take part in.

Safety tips

  • Look behind you before you turn, overtake or stop
  • Use arm signals before you turn right or left
  • Obey traffic lights and road signs
  • Don't ride on the pavement unless there's a sign that says you can
  • On busy or narrow roads, don't cycle next to another person
  • When overtaking parked cars, watch out for car doors opening suddenly and allow room to pass safely
  • Don't use headphones while cycling
  • Never use a mobile phone while cycling

For more information on road safety for cyclists:

Kit checklist

Wearing a cycling helmet can help prevent a head injury if you fall off your bike.

It's important to wear a helmet that meets the following criteria:

  • It is marked as meeting the British Standard (BS EN 1078:1997).
  • It is a snug fit and positioned squarely on your head. It should sit just above your eyebrows, not tilted back or tipped forwards.
  • It is securely fastened by straps, which aren't twisted, with only enough room for two fingers between your chin and the strap.

Make sure you replace your helmet every five years. Don't buy a secondhand helmet – it may be damaged and may not protect you properly.

Lights and reflectors

If you use your bike at night, it is compulsory to have:

  • a white front light
  • a red rear light
  • a red rear reflector
  • amber/yellow pedal reflectors front and back on each pedal

Reflectors fitted to the front and the spokes will also help you be seen.

You can get lights that are steady or flashing, or a mixture of steady at the front and flashing at the back. A steady light at the front is important when you're cycling through areas without good street lighting.

Check that any steady light has the BS 6102-3 mark on it. Flashing lights don't have to meet the British Standard, but they do need to:

  • flash at a rate of one to four equal flashes per second
  • be at least four candelas in brightness

Your pedal reflectors and rear reflector must be marked with BS 6102-2. You can also use a light or reflector that meets a standard accepted by another European Commission (EC) country (equal to the British Standard).

Additional lights and reflectors
You can use other lights as well as the compulsory ones, but they must:

  • be the right colour – white at the front, red at the back
  • not dazzle other road users

If they are flashing, it must be at a rate of one to four equal flashes per second.

Getting your bike ready to ride

Do the following checks on your bike regularly to make sure it's in good working order.

Front tyre and wheels
Lift the front end of the bike by the handlebar stem and then:

  • give the top of the wheel a bang with your hand to check that it doesn't fall out of the forks or move from side to side
  • check the wheel doesn't move from side to side when you try to wobble it to be sure the bearings aren't worn
  • spin the front wheel – the brakes shouldn't rub on the wheel rim
  • squeeze the sides of the tyre – inflate it if it feels soft
  • look for gaps, cuts or bulges on the tyres – these are signs that the tyres are worn and need to be replaced

If you have a front mudguard, there should be at least 5mm between the front mudguards and the tyre. Remove the mudguard if it rubs against the tip of your shoe when you pedal.

Lift the rear of the bike by the saddle and go through the same checks for the back wheels.

Brakes
Apply the front brakes. Check that:

  • the brakes work – try pushing the bike forward with the brakes on
  • the brake pads sit evenly on the wheel rim – they shouldn't touch at one end and not the other
  • the cables inside the brake levers aren't frayed
  • the brake levers and handgrips are tight on the handlebars, all the nuts and screws are attached, and the ends of the handlebar tube are covered

Apply the back brake and go through the same checks. The back tyre should slide, not roll, when you apply the brakes and push the bike forward.

Handlebars and steering
All the parts on the handlebars should be tight and you should be able to steer freely. Release the brakes, stand in front of the front wheel and grip it between your knees. Then make sure nothing is loose when you try to:

  • turn the handlebars from side to side
  • apply the brakes and try to rotate the handlebars

Saddle
Your saddle should be set at a height that's comfortable for you.

Place one heel on the pedal. Your leg should straighten when the pedal is furthest from the saddle.

Make sure you don't raise the saddle high enough to see the height limit mark on the seatpost. If the saddle needs to be this high for you to sit comfortably, you probably need a bigger bike.

Move towards the rear of the bike and hold the saddle tightly. Check that you can't move it up and down or from side to side. If it moves, tighten it.

Chain, gears and pedals
Ask someone to work the pedals by hand while you hold the rear wheel off the ground by the saddle. Then:

  • shift through all the gears on the back sprocket (a small wheel the chain passes through) and front gear changer to check the chain stays on and moves smoothly
  • wobble each pedal from side to side to check they don't move too much – if they do, the bearings in the bottom bracket need replacing

Make sure the chain isn't hanging off, broken or rusty. Lubricate the chain with some oil if necessary.

For advice on buying and looking after cycling equipment and correct riding positions, go to Bike4Life or speak to the staff at your local bike shop.

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2014

Next review due: 01/03/2016

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Comments

The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

daveyjay14 said on 13 July 2014

Very interesting post.
Here's an article I recently published.

If you feel unhappy and stressed, follow these tips:-

1. Get up, and no matter what the weather is like, get out. If it's wet and windy, put on a hat and coat and get some fresh air. This will clear your head and you will immediately begin to see your problems from a different view point.

2. If you are living in an urban situation, start walking until find a local park, public gardens or some other area of open countryside, if you live in the countryside you are already halfway to gaining a perspective on your problems.

3. Take five or six really deep breathes, exhaling completely. Get rid of all that stale air that is fostering those thoughts of doom emanating from your brain and pervading your whole body.

4. Fill your lungs with that fresh country air, enjoy the scent of freshly cut lawns or on a summer evening the smell of wild herbs and the sound of crickets chirping. If you are fortunate enough to be up at sunrise, listen to the lark and blackbird as they sing their hearts out announcing the dawn of a new day.

5. You don't have to be religious to be inspired at the wonder of the world we live in and the realisation that we are so lucky to be, albeit a very tiny cog in the continuing evolution of the planet we live on.

These are the feelings, those of us who daily get on our bikes, whether to pedal to work or to just go for a ride, get by being closer to reality, or for those who are of a religious nature might say, closer to God,

The exercise, that cycling gives us, is total. It builds our leg, back, arm, neck muscles and strengthens our heart. It expands our lungs and improves circulation. The general improvement this exercise gives us in the way we feel, lifts our spirits and helps us to put our problems into perspective and to identify solutions that will put our lives back onto an even keel.

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PRH321 said on 17 June 2014

It is "fatamorgana" who is wrong. The saddle is adjusted so that the leg is completely straight when the heel is on the pedal and the pedal is at bottom dead centre. Then when you are pedalling correctly with the ball of the foot on the pedal, the leg will have the required bend.

In the part on lights, above, it should be noted that it is virtually impossible to buy a bike light that has the BS mark on it (especially in the case of front lights; there are some legal back lights but I have never found a legal front light in a shop or online).

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User802427 said on 10 September 2013

Cycling in London is still way too dangerous.

There's a transport expert, Christian Wolmar, who wants to stand for London mayor in 2016, it's worth checking out his blog - he wants to put safe cycling in London as a top priority.

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CC123 said on 22 June 2012

The advice on Bikeradar is aimed at enthusiasts and athletes, not beginners and is about maximising efficiency.

The heel on pedal technique is simple to do and will give most casual cyclists a good starting point. If it's not comfortable, adjust the saddle till it is.

If you're really worried, ask at a bike shop.

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fatamorgana said on 28 May 2012

"Saddle
...
Place one heel on the pedal. Your leg should straighten when the pedal is furthest from the saddle"

This is completely wrong. Go to the Bikeradar site and type in seat height or: bikeradar.com/fitness/article/technique-how-to-get-your-seat-height-right-14608/

The leg needs to be bent at about 25-30 degrees with the pedal at 5pm and you seated in the saddle.

Go check it out as the above information is completely wrong.

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