Here's How to Transition From Indoor Cycling to Biking Outside — the Safe Way

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You don't always have to stay inside to complete your cycling workouts.
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Working out during the time of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, can be challenging. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend exercise as a way to cope with the increased stress many are feeling during the pandemic.

If part of your regular fitness routine includes using a stationary bike or attending an indoor cycling class and your gym is closed, you may be considering riding your bicycle outside. But biking outdoors is very different than riding indoors. It's important to follow these expert tips to make sure you ride safely.

Is It Still OK to Cycle Outside?

The answer to "Is it safe to cycle outside?" depends largely on where you live. In general, always follow all federal, state and local government recommendations. Organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) will have the most reliable and up-to-date information.

The CDC suggests social distancing of at least six feet when you're out of the house and around others. When you're exercising outdoors, you’ll need to be alert to walkers, runners and other cyclist, so that you can keep a safe distance from them.

Wearing a mask is optional but use common sense. “If you ride two miles in a crowded area, I recommend wearing a mask, bandana or buff/neck gaiter,” says Earl Walton, certified cycling coach and Global Director of Training and Coaching at IRONMAN. “If you ride 20 miles on a quiet path, then perhaps you can simply carry a covering.”

1. Know the Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Cycling

If you're used to spinning your wheels inside, you'll want to note the major differences as you head outside. Riding a road bike requires a lot of balance — much more than when you're using a stationary bike, Walton says. "The other obvious differences are the external factors — weather, road conditions and traffic."

It's not just the environment that's different. "Indoor cycling tends to involve shorter bursts of intensity, while outdoor cyclists must be prepared for a more endurance-focused ride," says Lauren Wilson, a master instructor for CycleBar.

And you won't do any "out-of-the-saddle" activities like you would in an indoor class. "Outside, you are planted in the saddle to maintain power over longer intervals and of course for safety."

2. Equip Yourself for Outdoor Cycling

Your outdoor cycling equipment is different from what you need indoors, starting, of course, with a bike you can ride outside. If you don't already own one, you can buy one from your local bike shop.

Beginners might want to look into a hybrid bike, which combines features from the faster road bike and slower mountain bike, says Henry Sam, owner of Kayuh Bicycles and Cafe in Philadelphia.

If you have a bike you haven't used in a while, get it tuned up first to make sure it's safe to ride. Tune-ups usually start around $30 and generally include adding air to your tires, cleaning the bike, greasing parts and adjusting brakes.

In addition to a bike, you'll need the following to ride outdoors:

Tip

During the pandemic, bike shops may be limiting the number of people inside at a time, so check to see if you need an appointment to buy a bike or equipment or for a repair. Some shops, including Kayuh, may offer free pickup and delivery of bikes.

3. Learn the Rules of Outdoor Riding

Before you hop on your road bike, you need to know the rules. First, bicycles, like cars, are considered vehicles. As such, cyclists are required to follow driving laws, including stopping at lights and stop signs, using (hand) turn signals, riding on the same side of the road as traffic and yielding to pedestrians.

Some states (and sometimes cities) have additional laws that govern cycling. These laws generally cover whether or not you're allowed to ride a bicycle on sidewalks, at what age you are required to wear a helmet and whether or not you can wear headphones.

One unofficial rule of bike riding is to always do a weather check. Especially as a beginning rider, you'll want to avoid cycling in the rain or heavy wind, which can be difficult and even dangerous.

4. Stick to the Roadways

Even if it's legal to ride on sidewalks in your area, you may be tempted to use them, thinking that's safer than riding in a bike lane on the street. Not so, according to the American Bicycling Education Association, which states: "Sidewalks present many more blind spots and physical hazards than roadways do."

Plus, on that same sidewalk, you'll encounter walkers, runners and other cyclists. "Sidewalks don't have any rules — it's a free for all," says Rich Conroy, a certified cycling coach of The League of American Bicyclists and education director at Bike New York. "Runners and walkers often wear headphones, and aren't paying attention to bikers who may want to pass them."

Tip

Renee Eastman, a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach, recommends avoiding multi-use paths (which allow walking, running and biking), since they're more congested during the pandemic.

Instead, she recommends planning your route in advance and staying close to home. Bike directly from your house, stick to familiar neighborhoods and streets and avoid busy roads, she says.

5. Warm Up and Cool Down

To minimize injury and make your ride more enjoyable, start by warming up. Start by pedaling at a low intensity for a few minutes, says Erik Moen, physical therapist and owner of Corpore Sano Physical Therapy and BikePT.

After your ride, Moen recommends walking for a few minutes, then doing the following stretches:

  • Quadriceps Stretch: Stand, bend your leg so your foot touches your butt and hold your food there for 30 to 45 seconds on each side.
  • Glute Stretch: Stand and cross your right foot on top of your left knee, hinging your hips back and holding for 30 to 45 seconds.
  • Standing Back Bends: Stand, reach your arms overhead and bend back as far as your strength and mobility allows to counteract the hunched-over cycling position (hold for 30 to 45 seconds.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice

Consider spending some time practicing before heading out on your first outdoor bike ride. Unlike stationary bikes, you'll need to be comfortable stopping and starting quickly, shifting gears and making turns.

If you need help with any of these activities, there are many resources available. Conroy and Bike New York recently posted a series of very useful videos for beginning cyclists, including how to use hand signals, shift gears and enter the street safely. You can also reach out to a coach through CTS, USA Cycling or The League of American Bicyclists.

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