Pedal Your Way to Health, Wealth and Happiness

Thirty-five years ago this week, my brother and I took off on our Raleigh ten-speeds on the first major bicycle trip of our lives, a 3,200-mile pedal-powered journey from our parent's home in Ohio to the Black Hills of South Dakota and back again.

At the audacious ages of 18 and 16 — with the Allman Brothers Ramblin' Man playing on the 8-track in our minds — the world was ours to devour. To say that we considered ourselves invincible is an understatement; our young minds were crammed with thoughts of high-adventure, rowdy times, and pubescent fantasies. Fortunately, we got more than our fair share of each of those over the next two months, and on countless bike tours in the years to come.

That trip and that machine — the simple bicycle — changed my life forever. Still today, hardly a day goes by when I don't pedal at least a few miles, usually to run errands or just stretch my legs, which admittedly aren't as supple or strong as they were thirty-five years ago. I recently pedaled my 85,000th lifetime mile and in another couple of years — crazy drivers willing — I hope to cross the 100,000 mile mark. Not bad for having owned just two bicycles (both relatively inexpensive) in my adult life, with my "new bike" having only about 30,000 miles on it.

If you've not been on a bicycle since you were a kid, maybe this is the summer to rediscover the joy and freedom of what it arguably the fastest machine ever invented by man, when you factor in the energy it requires to build/buy and get on down the road.

Or better yet, why not make your family vacation this summer a bicycle trip? It's inexpensive, eco-friendly, healthy, and, I bet, will give you memories to last a lifetime: Here's some tips:

Go the distance

With just a little practice, novice cyclists and even children (approximately age 12+) should be able to comfortably pedal at least 10-20 miles a day. And for adults and older children, it doesn't take much practice before 50 miles or even further is a manageable distance to cover in a single day, depending on terrain and your physical condition.

Keep it simple (and cheap)

Start and end from home. It's as easy as drawing a circle on a map of say a 100-200 mile radius from home and figuring out what there is to see and do in your own backyard. I bet you'll be surprised.

Pick a route

There are more than 38,000 miles of designated bicycle routes in the U.S. that connect two or more states, and many times that amount of local bike-friendly routes, hiking/biking trails, and other roads well-suited for cycling. Check with your state's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator.

Don't overspend

You don't really need fancy and unnecessary equipment. For short trips, an inexpensive bicycle or even a used bike from a thrift store is fine. Don't go gear-crazy: ten-speeds are more than enough.

Pack light

Take along only the bare essentials. Wash your clothes along the way rather than pack more. Buy food as you need it rather than take it from home. Ask yourself: "What's the worst thing that will happen if I don't take this with me?" Once you're packed, take a ten mile test ride, then go through your gear again and see if you've changed your mind about anything.

Safety first

Helmets and reflective clothing/gear are a must. Learn the rules of the road. Riding safely with saddlebags (aka "panniers") and other gear on your bike takes practice; take some training rides and specifically practice the skill of riding in a straight line and controlling your bike with the added weight.

Take a course

Courses in safe cycling, bicycle repair, and bicycle touring are offered by many local community colleges and bike clubs, as well as online.

Stay cheap

Cycle touring lends itself to camping, couch surfing, staying at youth hostels, and using the "Warm Showers" network, a nationwide community of fellow cyclists who will put you up for the night.

Have fun, and stop and say hello if you see me along the road. I'll be the tall guy on the old ten-speed, wearing the Allman Brothers Band t-shirt.

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture

I highly recommend bicycles; in fact, I can't recommend them enough. The only reason you should not be riding a bicycle is if your physical condition prevents you from doing so. There are too many positive things about bike riding to not do it.

Guest's picture

consider trying out a recumbent bike. It took a year of nagging from my un-husband to get me to try one--then I didn't want to ever get off! It's the closest thing I've found to that great "kid" feeling of bike riding.

Advantages: Seat is like sitting in a chair, so it helps with various problems like sciatica. Seems to be easier to pedal if you have problems with knees. Lower to the ground, so less chance of falling--you just put your feet out to keep from falling. (But still wear your helmet!)

Disadvantages: More expensive. Because it's lower to the ground, you may have more difficulty seeing in some situations (like city intersections).

Guest's picture

And if you need to, you *can* commute to work on a bicycle, even across the bay. My husband does this five days a week: Bikes through the City, crosses the bay via BART, then pedals all the day into the East Bay.

Guest's picture

I've been doing all my errands this summer on my bike. In the past 6 weeks I've spent $11 on gas - which is great! I enjoy the exercise, and I'm rediscovering my town. Not sure I'll still be doing it in the rainy season, but for now it's saving me money and making me happy.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hey Coco several of my coworkers do the same thing.  They bike to CalTrain in SF and come to work in San Mateo.

Guest's picture

amazing that you have cycled so much!!

Guest's picture

Bikes are awesome, save money and help the environment. great job here!

Guest's picture

Lost 4 friends on bikes. Three due to cars running them over and one due to a heart attack while pedaling to work in 98 degree weather.No thanks, I'll keep the car and drive my way into ill health, poverty and depression.

Guest's picture

So sorry about you friends.
I would like to ask where do you live? I have been riding my bike for years and know quite a few people that rode them all over the place including country roads and busy highways. I have yet to know someone that was actually killed or hurt riding one.

Also, I don't think anyone would endorse using a form of transportation that is so dangerous. Please, don't give up.