Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What if riding bikes were bad for you?

Much has been made of the news, in recent years, that riding bikes might not be as good for us as we like to think.  Traditionally, the health-based logic for riding bikes has been pretty much about the benefits of exercise:

1) low impact cardio
2) stress relief
3) increased metabolic rate
4) weight loss
5) etc.

For quite some time, the common sense health benefits of cycling were pretty much a given in the medical world, and if you weren't riding then that was your loss.

But the chinks in the armor have started to add up, and more media attention seems to be following things like:

1)  Potentially Adverse Cardiovascular Effects from Excessive Endurance Exercise
2)  How Safe is Cycling?  It's hard to say.
3)  Sudden Death During Exercise
4)  And a personal preponderance of mine, LiveLikeMike.org

Like it or not, there's some evidence that supports the hypothesis that biking - especially in the doses that many of us like to call "Fun" - is bad for you.  And, at the very least, I think we can all admit that Big Air on Cross bikes is probably not healthy for the common thirty-something office worker with a couple of hours to kill on his lunch break.

What the hell, might as well embed that one.  I'm not sure who to credit for this, but it's for the benefit of all mankind.

The questionable wisdom of jumping cross bikes nontwithstanding, I'd estimate that the miles and the scars add up at just about the same rate.  The cycling gods have sure dealt me a few along the way.  Internally, though? No idea.  But the data can make a grown man (and father, and husband, and under-insured financial breadwinner) wonder.

So it seems that there's a debate brewing in the popular media (which this blog has no part in whatsoever) about just how healthy or unhealthy cycling might be.  For the most part, you see guys in their cleats gnawing at a powerbar on their morning commute say things like, "I like my odds."  And they're probably right:  chances are, from a health perspective, they're at least breaking even when it comes to risk vs. reward.

But I'm here to profess the inverse, actually.  Not that riding bikes is actually bad for you, but the more reasonable conclusion: that even if it is, we'd still ride.

The sooner you can admit that riding is a vice, or an addiction, or a recreation that only runs congruent to your health by sheer circumstance, the sooner you can understand why you do things like buy $5,000 bikes that weigh less than the alternative, or take your bike on vacation to the beach, or rent a downhill bike at a ski resort, or go night riding in the snow.  We like to pass these things off as conduits to exercise, like somehow the health benefits outweigh the relative costs, but the reality is those experiences exist whether the exercise does or not.  Look within at the most critical point; where the two ideas diverge - your health and your bike - and think about which ride you're actually on.

Most of us, I reckon, would stay on the bike.

For that matter, and because I love the ethical hypothetical, what if riding were banned?  What if doctors and  lawyers and politicians and the world at large recognized just how truly awful it was for you, and how it was damaging our healthcare system, and how you really couldn't make that choice for yourself because you're an addict, and, like cigarettes, they taxed it out of existence, then banned it, and your only option for some singletrack on two wheels was illegal - and you had to show up at the 7-11 parking lot two towns over at 2:30 AM, and wait for an hour in the cold for your dealer to show up because he's late because he's half-high on his own product, just to get your sweaty, clammy, desperate mitts on that wonderful, illegal dual suspension drug to ride for only an hour, just so you could get your fix and give it right back, and already start scheming for the next time you might sneak away?

You could have what's left of it.  Behind me.  Behind most of us, I imagine.

No?  Technically, I bet you already do.  Ever skip work to ride?  Lie to your family to ride?  Can you distinguish between riding alone and riding with friends?  Are your friends really friends, or riding buddies?  How many times have you hit rock bottom, sworn you'd never let your ass touch that saddle again?  Substitute Meth, or Jack Daniels, or whatever illicit substance in just about any situation where your bike is today, and you start to get the idea.  Ours are the actions of addicts.

Then again, maybe this isn't you.  Maybe when Dr. Oz finally rolls out his expose about the negative consequences of cycling, you'll hang it up and become a gym rat.  There would be freedom in that, I imagine.  Just making the right decision based upon the medical facts before you.  Nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, owning up to the addiction isn't so bad either.  Aside from just realizing where you stand, it's freeing to know that this debate over the safety and health benefits of riding bikes doesn't have much to do with you.

Just about everything is on the rise.  Heat waves.  Obesity.  Eating disorders.  Population density.  Porn addiction.  Crack cocaine.  Riding bikes.

So, too, it may be with you.
Up, up, up.

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