Using Errands for Bicycling Exercise
By nature, I'm more of a country cyclist than a city cyclist and more of a fair-weather cyclist than a rain or shine cyclist. Going on a long ride out into the countryside or making a long cycling trip in gorgeous weather is something I am always eager to do, but riding in traffic on a cold, overcast winter day requires some gumption on my part.
However, cycling on the pretty days alone is not a very good way to stay fit. Each day I stay off of the bicycle makes the next ride more difficult; I become pretty sedentary pretty quickly.
Fortunately, I have found two ways of motiving myself even when the day and the ride are not pretty -- riding to work and riding on errands. The ride to work quckly becomes the normal activity that I cease to even think about as unusual. Riding on errands requires a little more explanation.
When I was living at my cabin in the woods in the mid-80's, I was also returning to cycling, and I found cycling any great distance to be really difficult. For instance, a ride of just 20 miles took all day and left me both exhausted and unable to sleep well. While spending long days working at the cabin, I would become bored for someone to talk to and hungry for a drink or snack. However, my funds were low, so I told myself that I could go to the local store, five miles away, to buy something if and only if I would ride the distance on my bicycle. Pretty soon, that distance became rather short. I used the same trick with my son when he would come to visit me: if he wanted a coke, he would have to pedal the distance. Pretty soon we were riding the longer trip on into town, and the old van would gather cobwebs for weeks at a time.
Since then, I have always allowed myself to go out for a snack, as long as I was willing to walk or pedal to the store. I have used other kinds of errand-running the same way. In one town, I would drive by the supermarket on the way home and then get on my bike and go back to get my groceries, because I would not allow myself to use the van for groceries. In another town, I deliberately chose to shop at a supermarket on the far side of town every day, because that was the only way to ensure that I would ride enough miles during the week (a very discouraging town for bicycling).
While I ended up pedaling my bike more miles than I would have driven my van, and while my cycling took a longer time than the same trip by motor vehicle, I profited in several ways. First, I saved money by not burning gas. Second, I felt a little more virtuous because I was doing my bit to help save Mother Nature. Third, I was keeping myself in shape, even in the gloom of winter. And fourth, I was helping myself feel more cheerful.
You see, nothing gets me down like the gloomy, doomy weather of winter. Shut up in my cabin or in an apartment on a dark day is really depressing. I would really have to force myself to ride. That's why a pleasant errand made a good incentive. But after riding a while on the bike, my mood would lighten, and I would begin to enjoy myself. I think cycling has helped my mental health even more than it has helped my physical health.
Well, didn't I also run into problems while riding those errands? Yes, I did, but they were little things such as running into a rain storm or having to patch a tire by the side of the road, not major problems, and they did not occur often.
I highly recommend errand-running by bicycle as a good way to get out of the house.