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Time to hit the road: Cycling to supplement your martial arts


AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

With two good weeks of decent weather signaling the (potential) arrival of spring in Chicago, it is time to think about supplementing your martial arts training with outdoor cardioOne of the easiest and most efficient ways of doing this is to do incorporate cycling into your daily fitness regimen.

Cycling offers several key benefits for the martial artist:

  1. Improved cardiovascular fitness
  2. Increased core strength
  3. Injury prevention by conditioning key joints and improving flexibility

Generally, there are two ways to integrate cycling into your daily routine: allocate a separate time to ride, or use your bicycle as your primary mode of transportation.  Unless you are blessed with unlimited spare time, adding another hour or so of fitness to your day may be difficult.  Fortunately, Chicago and its surrounding suburbs are some of the bike-friendliest areas in the United States, and making your bicycle your primary means of transport is not as daunting a challenge as it may seem.

Before you embark on a cycle commuting program, there are a few preparatory measures you will need to take:

  1. Make sure your bike is properly fitted for you.  You can check this yourself, but your local bike shop may need to assist in remedying any problems.
  2. Use the ABC-Quick Check (Air, Brakes, Chain/Crank/Cassette/Cables, Quick Releases) to make sure your bike is shape.  Again, your local bike shop may need to get involved based on what you find.
  3. Make sure you understand your local bike laws and the location of bike lanes.  Bikes are required to adhere to the rules of the road, and in most cases, anyone over the age of 12 is not allowed to ride on sidewalks.  Chicago has an extensive set of resources designed to help the average cyclist understand local laws.
  4. Dress for safety First and foremost, make sure you have a helmet in good condition.  Simply put, an undamaged bike helmet that has never experienced any impact will do.  Make sure that it is fitted properly, and always buckle the chin strap.  Eye protection is also key, under any conditions, light or dark.  Pants should either be short enough to avoid getting caught in the chain, or clipped to prevent flapping hems.
  5. Be visible.  Dress in light, reflective clothing, and make sure you have reflectors both on your body and your bike.  Front and rear facing lights are important, but also remember that a majority of bike accidents are broadside hits, so make sure you are visible from all angles.
  6. Secure your bike.  The Chicago area is a smorgasbord for bike thieves.  Having a good sturdy lock (not a cable) is a key deterrent.  Like any security measure, a bike lock is never a sure thing, but most thieves are looking for easy marks, and your objective is mainly to discourage them and convince them to move on.
  7. Talk to, and ride with experienced cyclists.  Being well-informed and inspired are key factors to a successful start in cycling.  Local bike clubs are a good place to start.

Once you have begun riding, it is important to ride defensively and predictably.  Most cyclists focus on their rights, but remember that the phrase, "Share the road," involves many others, including motorists and pedestrians.  Understand your rights and responsibilities, but also be aware of the right of others. 

Awareness is your biggest ally.  As a cyclist, you can see and hear more than the average motorist in an enclosed car.  While you may legally be in the right in a traffic situation, it is better to be alive and outraged than to be right and dead.  Zanshin, or a constant state of awareness, is just as important for the cyclist as it is for the martial artist.

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