Tour de Fitness: With Le Tour just months away, Yorkshire aims to bring cycling to the masses but why should you get back on two wheels? Jonathan Brown reports.
Cycling in Yorkshire is already riding on the crest of Tour de France fever.
Aside from the county winning the right to host the first two stages of the world’s greatest cycling race on July 5 and 6, massive investments in cycling facilities and a region-wide legacy campaign are trying to persuade people to get back behind the handlebars.
Much is being done to give people the training and confidence to make that all important transition to riding regularly but the true benefits of the adrenaline-filled activity are easily underestimated.
On the face of it like any physically testing sport, cycling burns calories, gets your heart racing and can ultimately trim bulging waistlines.
But the impact that regularly taking to two wheels has on your health, compared to the weight-bearing pressure your joints face during running-based sports for example, means you feel the benefits of strenuous exercise without putting your body under stress.
When cycling, around 70 per cent of your body weight goes through your handlebars and saddle as opposed to your ankles.
As a result Dr Carrie Ferguson, lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Leeds, believes that “cycling is potentially more beneficial to running”.
She said: “One of the benefits of it is that some people don’t like high intensity exercise and with cycling you can make it what you want.
“Building it into part of your every day life makes it easier to do but of course the harder you exercise and the more that you do, the greater the health benefits.”
Regular exercise through cycling has been found to help reduce body fat, improve sleeping patterns and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Dr Ferguson explained that there is medical evidence out there showing that people who are more active feel they have a better quality of life and feel more alert as a result.
“It’s not just the cardiovascular health and other chronic disease risk factors that cycling can have a positive impact on,” she said.
“But if people did more physical activity a lot of the problems with chronic diseases would go away.”
Meanwhile recent findings by researchers at Cambridge University, have reported that the NHS would save £250m-a-year if just one in 10 journeys nationally were made by bicycle.
Undertaken for British Cycling, the study was used to back up the cycling governing body’s 10-point ChooseCycling plan that urged the Government to treat the sport more seriously through spending more per head on cycling among other things.
British Cycling’s policy adviser and Olympic gold medallist, Chris Boardman, said: “Local and national government needs to wake up and realise that cycling is the solution to so many of the major problems Britain is now facing.”
The ChooseCycling manifesto, which was presented to the Commons transport select committee by Boardman in February, aims to help bring attitudes to cycling more in line with those in places that embrace two wheels such as the Netherlands.
Boardman said: “In the 1970s, the Netherlands made a conscious choice to put people first and make cycling and walking their preferred means of transport.
“It is no coincidence that they are also one of the healthiest and happiest nations in the world.”
But with some investment being made in cycling provision in Yorkshire in particular at present and with the July Grand Depart just months away, the time is now to get cycling whether it’s to improve your fitness or get you into the good habit of commuting on your bike.
Current elite pro rider Tom Barras, who runs the training-pro.co.uk cycle coaching business, trains up to 15 cyclists at a time from club circuit road racers to middle-aged workers hoping to get fit.
The Leeds cyclist, whose father Sid is a former British cycling champion, claims that riders at the top level can burn up to 2,500 calories on a two-hour bike ride – the same as the average male’s guideline daily food intake.
And as much as the sport has proven his livelihood over the years, the 35-year-old, who is also a web designer, still enjoys taking to the open road.
He said: “As someone who runs his own business at home, I’m a lot clearer in my mind and more alert in work having been on a bike ride.
“On top of that you burn fat, you lose weight and get yourself very aerobically fit and it’s a very social sport. You’ll ride with your friends and stop at a coffee shop and then ride home while chatting.
“We’re lucky in Yorkshire because you can jump on your bike and within an hour you’re out in the countryside.”