Benefits of cycling
Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it’s also a form of transport.
- saves you money
- gets you fit
- helps the environment
It’s a low-impact type of exercise, so it’s easier on your joints than running or other high-impact aerobic activities. But it still helps you get into shape.
The best way to build your cardiovascular fitness on the bike is to ride for at least 150 minutes every week.
For example, you could cycle to work a few days a week, or do a couple of shorter rides during the week with a longer ride at the weekend. You’ll soon feel the benefits.
If you’re just getting started, check out our guide to cycling for beginners.
Cycling safety tips
- Look behind you before you turn, overtake or stop.
- Use arm signals before you turn right or left.
- Obey traffic lights and road signs.
- Don’t ride on the pavement unless there’s a sign that says you can.
- Don’t cycle next to another person on busy or narrow roads.
- When overtaking parked cars, watch out for car doors opening suddenly and allow room to pass safely.
- Don’t use headphones while cycling.
- Never use a mobile phone while cycling.
Safety gear checklist
Wearing a cycling helmet can help prevent a head injury if you fall off your bike.
It’s important to wear a helmet that meets the following criteria:
- It’s marked as meeting Canadian safety standards
- It’s a snug fit and positioned squarely on your head. It should sit just above your eyebrows, not tilted back or tipped forwards.
- It’s securely fastened by straps, which aren’t twisted, with only enough room for two fingers between your chin and the strap.
Make sure you replace your helmet every 5 years. Don’t buy a secondhand helmet – it may be damaged and may not protect you properly.
Lights and reflectors
If you use your bike at night, it’s compulsory to have:
- a white front light
- a red rear light
- a red rear reflector
- amber/yellow pedal reflectors front and back on each pedal
Reflectors fitted to the front and the spokes will also help you be seen.
You can get lights that are steady or flashing, or a mixture of steady at the front and flashing at the back. A steady light at the front is important when you’re cycling through areas without good street lighting.
If they’re flashing, it must be at a rate of 1 to 4 equal flashes per second.
Bicycle road safety check
Do the following checks on your bike regularly to make sure it’s in good working order.
Front tire and wheels
Lift the front end of the bike by the handlebar stem and then:
- give the top of the wheel a bang with your hand to check it doesn’t fall out of the forks or move from side to side
- check the wheel doesn’t move from side to side when you try to wobble it to be sure the bearings aren’t worn
- spin the front wheel – the brakes shouldn’t rub on the wheel rim
- squeeze the sides of the tire – inflate it if it feels soft
- look for gaps, cuts, or bulges on the tires – these are signs the tires are worn and need to be replaced
If you have a front mudguard, there should be at least 5mm between the front mudguards and the tire. Remove the mudguard if it rubs against the tip of your shoe when you pedal.
Lift the rear of the bike by the seat and go through the same checks for the back wheels.
Apply the front brakes. Check that:
- the brakes work – try pushing the bike forward with the brakes on
- the brake pads sit evenly on the wheel rim – they shouldn’t touch at one end and not the other
- the cables inside the brake levers aren’t frayed
- the brake levers and handgrips are tight on the handlebars, all the nuts and screws are attached, and the ends of the handlebar tube are covered
Apply the back brake and go through the same checks. The back tire should slide, not roll, when you apply the brakes and push the bike forward.
Handlebars and steering
All the parts on the handlebars should be tight and you should be able to steer freely. Release the brakes and stand in front of the front wheel and grip it between your knees.
Then make sure nothing is loose when you try to:
- turn the handlebars from side to side
- apply the brakes and try to rotate the handlebars
Your seat should be set at a height that’s comfortable for you. Place one heel on the pedal. Your leg should straighten when the pedal is furthest from the seat.
Make sure you don’t raise the seat high enough to see the height limit mark on the seatpost. If the seat needs to be this high for you to sit comfortably, you probably need a bigger bike.
Move towards the rear of the bike and hold the seat tightly. Check that you can’t move it up and down or side to side. If it moves, tighten it.
Chain, gears and pedals
Ask someone to work the pedals by hand while you hold the rear wheel off the ground by the seat. Then:
- shift through all the gears on the back sprocket (a small wheel the chain passes through) and front gear changer to check the chain stays on and moves smoothly
- wobble each pedal from side to side to check they don’t move too much – if they do, the bearings in the bottom bracket need replacing
Make sure the chain isn’t hanging off, broken, or rusty. Lubricate the chain with some oil if necessary.
For advice on buying and looking after cycling equipment and correct riding positions, speak to the staff at your local bike shop.
For more information about physical activity, nutrition, and health, the following sources may be helpful.
- Physical activity and your health. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/being-active/physical-activity-your-health.html
- Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdfn.pdf)
- Healthy Eating. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating
- Healthy Weight. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-weight
- Healthy Kids. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-kids
- Canada Food Guidelines (updated 2019). https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
Source: Information adapted from the National Health Service (UK) open licence.