Everywhere you look, people are jumping on the bicycle bandwagon. It's no surprise, given the thousands of miles of new bicycle lanes in cities across the United States and the environmental benefits. But riding a bike is good for more than saving the planet and your hard-earned cash. It's also one of the most effective workouts you'll ever do. Here's how it can make you a lean, fat-burning machine.
IT TORCHES CALORIES
A 135-pound woman pedaling 12 to 14 miles an hour blasts 488 calories in 60 minutes.
Want to lose weight fast? Which is more effective — cardio or weight training?
YOU CAN DO IT ON THE GO
Half of American workers live within five miles of their workplace, according to the most recent National Household Transportation Survey. That's a totally doable 20-minute ride each way. If you live close to your office, you can pedal to work twice a week and burn up to 3,000 extra calories — close to one pound of fat — each month.
IT TONES YOU ALL OVER
Cyclists are notorious for having killer legs. After all, the quads, glutes, and calves are propelling the bike. But working the handlebar sculpts your upper body too, giving you balanced tone, says Erik Moen, a physical therapist who treats elite athletes.
Strong to the core: This workout will give you six-pack abs in just weeks.
IT BOOSTS ENERGY
Feeling sluggish? A study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that bike riding improved energy levels by 20 percent and decreased fatigue by 65 percent. Why? Cycling triggers your brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to energy, says lead author Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at the University of Georgia at Athens. There's no need to ride hard to harness the perk. People in the study who pedaled at a low to moderate pace three times a week fought fatigue best.
IT SAVES YOUR JOINTS
"Riding a bike puts a lot less stress on the knees, ankles, and spine than walking or running," Moen says. Get the perfect fit: Your knee should bend just slightly (about 25 degrees) on the down pedal stroke. If it's too straight or too bent, bring your ride to a bike shop and have a professional fitter adjust your saddle.
EVERY MUSCLE FEELS IT
Find a hill that takes three to 10 minutes to climb, suggests Rebecca Rusch, a world-champion mountain bike racer. Ride up two or three times, spending roughly half the time pedaling out of the saddle. Pedaling while standing engages your core and triceps as you stabilize your body over the bike.
IT PROTECTS YOUR TICKER
Heart disease is the number-one killer of women in this country, and two top risk factors are high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol. In one study, researchers had 32 women ride at a moderate to high intensity three times a week for at least half an hour. After a year, they'd lowered their blood pressure and LDL, as well as significantly increased their aerobic fitness. "Look for a road or path where you can ride for at least 30 minutes without stopping so you can keep a consistently high pace," Rusch says.
Protect your ticker with this heart rate-boosting cardio workout.
Every major bike company offers women-specific designs, which may be one reason so many female celebrities are onto the cycling craze. Prices vary, but expect to pay at least $300 for a rig made to last. Here are our top picks, no matter how you want to roll.
Look for: Thin tires, a lightweight frame, and features like adjustable brake levers for smaller hands and a wider saddle with a cutout to relieve pressure on soft girl-part tissues.
Ride smart: To get the most body benefits, try intervals. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants increased their endurance and power by alternating 10-second intervals of super-hard pedaling with 20 seconds of easy-effort spinning.
Our picks: The Raleigh Alysa FT2 (right, $729, raleighusa.com) is perfect for new riders because its flat handlebar gives the feeling of better control. Not a newbie? You'll love the carbon-fiber fork and seat post on the Trek Pilot 2.1 WSD ($1,370, trek bikes.com for stores).
Look for: A downward-sloping top tube (makes it easier to stand over the bike), a rear rack or front basket, lights, kickstand, a bell, and fenders to protect you from road spray.
Ride smart: Cyclists must follow the same rules as motorists, including stopping at lights and signaling turns. Check bikeleague .org for a state-by-state list of bike traffic laws.
Our picks: ergonomic handgrips soften the ride on the Giant Transend DX W (above, $540, giantforwomen .com for stores). The front and rear lights on the Globe haul 1 Step Through ($660, globebikes.com for stores) will help you stand out on the road.
Look for: Fat tires, one to three gears, a comfy saddle, and an upright handlebar.
Ride smart: Cruisers tend to have coaster, or foot, brakes. To avoid skidding, "Place gradual resistance on the brake," says lindsey Bishop, a certified USA Cycling coach.
Our picks: If the lime green electra Peacock (left, $550, electrabike .com for stores) doesn't attract attention, just ring the handlebar bell. Work the three-speed shifter with a twist of your wrist. or try the one-speed Schwinn Starlet ($370, schwinn .com for stores).