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6 Tips for Getting the...

6 Tips for Getting the Best Workout From a 30-Minute City Bike Rental

Pro cyclist Robin Farina details how to get in shape cycling while participating in a bike-share program.

Professional cyclist Robin Farina says that the cruiser style of bike, seen in many city bike-share programs, is great for a quick workout.

The Divvy bike-share program in Chicago has been hugely popular since its June launch. Photo by Patrick L. Pyszka/City of Chicago.

The bike share craze is sweeping the nation, giving visitors and residents, alike, access to low-cost, short-term bicycle rentals. Cities large and small are distributing two-wheeled fleets, and programs have launched in places such as Boston, Massachusetts; Boulder and Denver, Colorado; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Miami Beach, Florida; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; New York, New York; San Francisco, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.. Bike share programs are in the planning stages in a number of other cities.

The process is simple: Riders simply register with the program and then purchase a membership (usually about $60 to $90 a year) or a short-term pass (30 minutes to 24 hours). Then, swipe a credit card at the bicycle kiosk and start pedaling around town.

Watching the growing popularity of bike share programs puts a smile on the face of Robin Farina, a professional cyclist and owner of Uptown Cycles in Charlotte, North Carolina. Farina is president of the newly launched Women's Cycling Association (WCA), an organization that seeks to raise awareness about women and cycling, both as a sport and as a mode of transportation. She says that city bike programs help to shift the mentality of our car-dependent nation.

“It’s changing a mindset of, ‘Let’s hop in the car and just go down the street,’” says Farina. “Well, here’s this beautiful greenway and bike path you can jump on and get the same place in less time because you don’t have to sit in traffic. It makes a lot of sense.”

Plus, cycling is a nifty way to sneak in a little workout while getting from point A to point B. “It’s great for your cardiovascular health, which we all need to work on three to five days a week,” says Farina. “This is a sport that can really keep and maintain your fitness throughout your life.”

And, in fact, the cruiser style of bike that most bike shares are using may look leisurely, but it’s actually primed for elevating the heart rate, says Farina. “I have multiple bikes I ride, but typically my cruiser bike is the best workout. You only have three gears to use, so you have to the push gears on these little hills or valleys the way you wouldn’t necessarily have to on a road bike, where you have a lot of options.”

We asked Farina to tell us how to get the best workout on a city bike. Because many cities limit your bike use to 30 minutes at a time before checking the bike in at a station, the pro cyclist focused on getting the most bang for your bike buck in just a half hour.

Here’s what she said:

Safety first. Before you even get on the bike there are a number of factors to consider. First, do you have a helmet? This is key, and it’s an element that is still lacking in the bike share world. Next, make sure the bike is in good, working condition. Do the tires feel full? Are the bolts all tight? Is the seat at the right height (you should aim for a level where your legs are almost straight when they’re extended on the pedals)? While the bike shares all have bike maintenance programs, keep in mind that the bikes have been ridden quite a bit, and they’ve spent a good deal of time outside. Make safety a priority before you begin your cycling adventure.

Work those intervals. If the bike you’re riding has gears, shift it into the most challenging gear and really push yourself. Keep going in high gear for one to three minutes, and then downshift and recover for a couple of minutes, but continue spinning those pedals. Repeat those steps several times. Interval work is a great way to get your heart rate up and bump up your fitness level.

Head to the hills. If you live near any kind of safe incline, take advantage of it on your bike. Get to the top of the hill as fast as you can and then coast down. Recover and then do it again. The more you master the mounds, the longer you’ll be able sustain that serious effort.

Get up, stand up. Riding a bike can be a full-body workout, as long as you strive to engage your core and your lower back. Try standing up while pedaling to add in some anaerobic activity to your ride. It might take a few times to get comfortable, but with a bit of practice, you’ll get used to it. Aim for standing up 15 to 30 seconds at a time, and build on that as your confidence grows. 

Track your progress. There are a number of great fitness apps out there to help you follow your own fitness routines. Farina recommends Stavra, which tracks time, distance, speed, calories burned, elevation gain and more. In addition to helping you set and monitor goals, you can also track your fitness level as your speed and distance increase over time.

Reward yourself. Rewards come in different packages. Maybe it means enjoying a cappuccino at the end of a ride, or meeting up with a friend when you’re finished. Maybe it means going on a social ride, with one person or a group of people. Find what motivates you and incorporate it into your workout. 

Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in features, health, food and travel stories for print publications and websites. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Men's Health, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine and many other outlets.

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