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Pedal Power: A Tips and Trails Guide for Cycling

Aug 10, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Becca Newell

Whether or not we find ourselves frequently gearing up for a bike ride, cycling is an activity we proudly learn as a child that sticks with us through adulthood—and for good reason (see below!). As bike trails and designated cycling paths become more prevalent, we’ve found ourselves reminiscing about the joys of this childhood feat. For those of you, like us, who haven’t saddled up in a while—and, of course, for those of you who do so often—we invite you to join us for a leisurely ride. The benefits are too good to pass up!

Exercise & Muscle Definition

A cardiovascular and aerobic activity, cycling with moderate effort burns about 255 calories per 30 minutes, according to the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities. The activity also increases your metabolic rate, so your body continues to burn calories even after you’ve stopped cycling. A 2011 study of young males revealed that 45 minutes of vigorous cycling on a daily basis led to increased “post-exercise energy expenditure that persisted for 14 hours.” Even a leisurely bike ride helps to tone and define various muscle groups throughout the body. Unsurprisingly, cycling works wonders for your legs. From your quads to your calves to your feet, it offers a full leg workout, including your glutes—particularly during uphill rides. Cycling doesn’t neglect the upper body either. Although those muscle groups mostly help with stabilization, cycling can lead to a strengthened core, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Correct Posture

In order to work muscles to their full extent—and avoid any potential injuries—it’s important to maintain correct posture throughout your ride. You should be able to reach the handlebar without fully straightening your arms and with your back bent at about a 45-degree angle. As for your seat height, your knees should have a slight bend to them (10 to 20 degrees) on the downstroke. If your knee bend is larger than this, raise your seat; if your knees don’t bend at all, the seat should be lowered. When pedaling, the kneecap should sit over the ball of your foot—adjust to the correct position by moving the seat toward the handlebars (if the kneecap is behind the foot) or away from them (if the kneecap is in front of the foot).

Better Sleep

Cycling regularly has also been linked to better sleep quality. Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that moderate amounts of aerobic exercise, as well as resistance training, can improve sleep quality. One study examined the sleep patterns of elderly adults suffering from insomnia. The adults were required to complete about 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise, like cycling, every other day. The results indicated those who completed the suggested workout fell asleep faster and slept for about one hour longer.

Bike Safety

The Maryland State Highway Administration requires bicycles operating in low visibility conditions to be equipped with a white beam headlight and rear red reflector (or a reflective lamp that emits a red light or flashing amber light). Riders under 16 years of age are required by law to wear a helmet. However, it’s recommended that even adults cycling on a road or trail wear protective headgear. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “sixty percent of bicyclists killed in 2014 were not wearing helmets.” And while many organizations are fighting for local ordinances to mandate helmet use for all cyclists, studies have shown this safety enforcement often leads to a substantial decrease in riders. For those concerned about the risks of cycling, like increased exposure to air pollution and traffic accidents, a 2010 analysis of various studies concluded that, on average, the benefits of cycling outweigh any risks.

Our Local Trails

Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park: A 15.5-mile path through Anne Arundel County, the B&A Trail features an eight-foot wide paved surface through suburban and urban areas, starting at Boulters Way in Annapolis to Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie. At its northern end, the trail joins the 11-mile BWI trail via a short connector path.

Broadneck Peninsula Trail: A short trail stretching a little over a mile, the Broadneck Peninsula Trail is ideal for a leisurely ride that’s suitable for the whole family. Running along College Parkway, the trail begins at Green Holly Drive and ends at College Parkway East with two, small offshoot paths to the Broadneck Library and along Cape St. Claire Road.

Cross Island Trail: A five-mile trail that opened in 2001, this family-friendly, paved path stretches across Kent Island. Offering beautiful vistas of the Chesapeake Bay, the trail starts at the Terrapin Nature Area (near the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge) and ends at Kent Narrows.

Washington Baltimore and Annapolis Recreational Trail: Along the former site of the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway, one completed section of the WB&A Trail runs about 5.6 miles through Prince George’s County, from Glenn Dale to the Patuxent River. Plans have been proposed (but not approved) to extend the path across the river and into Anne Arundel County, eventually creating a 22-mile route connecting the trail’s three eponymous cities.

For maps and additional information, visit

Spin Classes

If you’re looking to incorporate biking into your fitness routine, but have some apprehensions about safety or environmental concerns, spin classes might be a happy medium. These high-intensity workouts typically last between 40 and 60 minutes and take participants through cycling variations, including uphill, standing, fast paced, and recovery periods. An aerobic activity that focuses on strengthening the leg muscles, some spin classes combine weighted arm workouts or mind-body practices—think yoga or tai chi—for a more complete workout. It’s low impact (your knees will thank you!), but expect to sweat.