Fitness Isn't a Goal, It's a Side Effect

Byron Kidd
In what I can only imagine is a very late New Years resolution my friend has started cycling to get into shape. Yet sadly after only a few rides she's losing her initial enthusiasm. She's discovered that when you're starting out, cycling can be hard work and to her it doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

I know how she feels. When I first took up running I was all enthusiastic, but running is hard work and its difficult to stay motivated. Running for fitness seems pointless, you have no destination, you're running for the sake of running, the stronger you get the longer you must run, you might as well be going around in circles. It's madness, and worse is that if you miss a running session you may start feeling guilty and nobody needs that kind of artificial pressure in their lives. Before long you justify quitting by concluding you just don't have time in your schedule for running.

Someone who has no love of cycling or bicycles who takes up cycling for fitness must feel exactly the same. Its a chore and we already have enough chores to get through each day.

This is why you need to turn your cycling time from dead time into meaningful time. I do this by cycling to work everyday. I'm getting daily exercise but the reason I'm cycling is to get to work, not to get fit. I cycle to the supermarket, I cycle to pick my daughters up from after school activities, I cycle with them to the park on weekends, I rarely cycle without a reason.

So, my friend lives in a small country town with a single main road and quiet backstreets, perfect. The town has a pub, a general store and a post office. So my suggestion to her was to forget cycling to get fit, instead decide that whenever she goes to the post office or general store she'll go by bike. Weather permitting, forget that the car is even an option for short trips within town. Before long whenever she leaves the house to go to the store she'll subconsciously head in the direction of her bicycle rather than the car.

Once you've established that pattern, you're getting exercise while actually getting something done. Your ride isn't as pointless as before, and the excuse "I don't have time for this" is no longer valid because going to the store is something you have to do anyway. Once cycling around town becomes second nature you'll never feel pressure to ride, you may not have to cycle every day either and as a result won't feel guilty about missing a ride because you're cycling when there is a real need, not an imagined one.

Before you know it your fitness will improve and you may even develop a love of bicycles and recreational cycling. But in reality, like millions here in Japan, you don't need to be on a fitness kick or even have an opinion of cycling in order to make the bicycle part of your daily transport mix.

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  1. This is exactly why I love to bicycle. I always do it either for just getting places or exploratory reasons. The minute I tried to make exercise the point, I would probably stop.

  2. Now I'm married and have children I'd rather spend time with my family than out cycling to nowhere. Therefore by cycling to work every day and using the bicycle for transport around the neighbourhood I get to indulge in my hobby without eating away precious family time.

  3. I cycled for 25 years, more than 15 of those in Tokyo. I gave up last year due to the increasing danger of negligent cyclists and non-existent law enforcement. Another reason was moving an extra 15 minutes from the Tama River, where with care one could get (until about 2009) a decent workout: hard intervals, long distance rides of 80+ kilometers. All that ended when I was faced with a 25 minute ride to the river instead of my old 15 minute ride. No, wait, not 25 minutes of riding. 15 minutes of riding and ducking taxis, buses, and trucks (that apparently have a quota on the number of accidents they must cause every week ) and about 10 minutes or more of wasting time at signals. Trash miles not training miles, (no training effect if you are beyond the rookie level) and tediously boring except for the danger. Not that cycling along the Tamagawa is at all safe nowadays.

    I started jogging and went back to the weight room. Of course with jogging there are still risks, known as wobblers on mamacharlies. Even on the jogging track at Komazawa Olympic park, you gotta watch out for salmoning cyclists wobbling down the wrong clearly marked lanes.

    It has been tremendously difficult for me to give up a sport I dearly loved, but the risks just got too high. Two serious concussions in 2 years due to inattentive, negligent people on utility bikes and the danger on the streets, as well as the increase in novice cyclists who ride road bikes like mamacharis was enough.

    I expect nothing to improve, instead, it will worsen. And having seen and experienced the governments idea of cycling lanes and cycling friendly roads, I get even more cynical.

    If someone can get in shape riding to the supermarket, more power to them, but compare to walking I seriously doubt it.

  4. Such a whining, unbelievable. I'm cycling in Shanghai where I live and the traffic and danger is much worse compared to Tokyo. Here people respect pedestrians and bicycles. Except the fact that you have to share the road with cars in most cases, I find people's behavior on the road is very good here. No problem to ride a bicycle in terms of safety.

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