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Free-Wheeling Fun On the Road to Fitness

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People tell me that I'm a role model. At 68, a mother of five and grandmother of two, I ride my bike everywhere. It's not only for fun (although it is): I prefer to ride the eight kilometres into Nanaimo and back four or five times a week. I don't even own a car! It wasn't always this way.

People tell me that I'm a role model. At 68, a mother of five and grandmother of two, I ride my bike everywhere. It's not only for fun (although it is): I prefer to ride the eight kilometres into Nanaimo and back four or five times a week. I don't even own a car!

It wasn't always this way. My cycling career began a long time ago when, my tricycle outgrown, I'd ride a real bicycle down our wooded country lane to explore a gurgling stream beside a lake. Later my brother and I cycled paper routes for several years to help out a 1940s household without much money. When I was 12, it all stopped. It wasn't cool to ride a bike. It took 25 years to start again.

My youngest child's week-long cycling field trip around Vancouver Island needed a parent supervisor-and I was drafted. Borrowed bike, newfangled gears, out-of-shape parent; but the experience totally converted me to a bike rider again at about 38 years of age. I haven't stopped since.

For several years my work place was static so I sold my car and peddled the eight kilometre trip each way. It took about 25 minutes just the perfect workout to gear up for the day and wind down afterwards. Going to work was mostly uphill, home mostly down.

Now I find 30 kilometres is quite practical on a bike. My town of 76,000 people is 20 kilometres from south to north and totally accessible by bike. I ride that distance an average of four or five times a week to run errands (groceries, library, meetings), go to the gym or for lunch, play bridge or to join others for recreational rides.

I never need to hunt for a parking space and when traffic is congested, I pass cars-BMWs, Cadillacs, Jaguars. Although I may use the bus for long hills, putting my bike on the rack, I'm happy the bike doesn't pollute. I can cram a lot of groceries into panniers on each side. And I still get most of my good ideas while peddling.

Cycling to the gym, I'm already warmed up and can go directly to the weights. My goal is to do step aerobics three times a week and weights twice a week, although I confess other things often intrude on this schedule. Regular exercise helps keep a lower back problem at bay. I keep fit without trying.

Best of all, I meet interesting people, like those in the Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition, who have been instrumental in raising the awareness of cycling here and improving infrastructure for cyclists. We organize recreational rides for most skill levels, publish nine newsletters a year, have a Web site and this year organized an activity-packed Bike Month.

Getting Back in the Saddle

If you're inspired to get back on a bike again after years of inactivity, I recommend starting slowly and riding where you won't need to compete with cars. Get a bike that is truly comfortable from someone who knows about body mechanics as well as bike styles.

My bike sticker says "sport utility vehicle," which is true. It goes on recreation rides and it does the job. I usually ride a Kona Hahanna mountain bike without shocks, with indexed shifters and tires suitable for road use. It's reasonably light but sturdy enough that I can launch off curbs with no problems and ruts in the road don't cause spills. I also have a road bike assembled by a friend in the Coalition. Instead of the down-turned handlebars, it's got a straight handlebar for less neck strain.

I usually have at least one pannier for heavier items and a kit on the rack for smaller stuff. The bike has a rechargeable light and I make sure to pack a u-lock and water.

I always wear a helmet and cycling gloves (warm in winter, fingerless in summer). Depending on weather, I wear stretchy shorts and a T-shirt for summer, gradually adding layers (sweatshirts, fleece, windproof jacket) and long pants as weather gets colder. A change of clothes might be in order, less so now that I'm retired. If people at meetings don't like my cycling clothes, that's too bad. I'm busy setting an example. When working, I packed a complete change of easy-care clothing. Add rain gear and sun screen for longer trips and you have it: happy cycling.

Pedal-Pushing Fuel

Cycling has made me keen about nutrition and health issues. My diet has changed a lot in the years since I sometimes fed my family hot dogs or Kraft dinner. It's mostly vegetarian now but usually includes some cultured dairy products and cheese. I use few wheat products and prefer whole wheat when I do. I avoid genetically modified products if possible. I receive a box of organic produce once a week and love it! It has definitely encouraged more vegetable and fruit eating. I also take regular vitamin and mineral supplements.

For breakfast, I eat oatmeal or organic ready-to-eat cereal with fruit and soy milk. I also take vitamin C (1,000 mg), vitamin E (400 IU), iron-free super-multi and glucosamine (500 mg) for my joints.

Lunch is usually a salmon salad on whole wheat bread; or refried beans, salsa and lettuce in a tortilla rollup; or stir-fried veggies and sun-dried tomatoes and cream cheese in a tortilla, usually with fresh or dried fruit.

Dinner might be a vegetarian quiche; a rice, lentil and tomato cheese casserole; or lightly steamed vegetables with Parmesan cheese. That's when I take calcium-magnesium (500 mg), vitamin D (250 mg), garlic (340 mg), selenium (340 mcg) and more glucosamine (500 mg). At bedtime, it's cal-mag again.

On the road, I take water, an apple or orange and if it's three hours or so out of town, energy bars or other snacks. (I consider chocolate to be one of the main food groups.) For a day trip, I take lots of water, repair equipment and high energy food.

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