Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why cycle? Why not? It’s Good for You

Thanks for the contribution from David Wold, as follows:

Why cycle? Why not? It’s good for you.
By David Wold

Cycling is one of my passions. Whistling down a road through engaging countryside. Listening to the sweet hum of the tires on the asphalt. Observing the seasons. Smelling their various fragrances. Breathing fresh out-of-doors air. Clearing my mind. Thinking thoughts, sometimes relevant, sometimes not. Companionship. To boot, experts claim cycling is an excellent way to stay healthy.

These are some of the reasons why I cycle. If there are more or better reasons for doing it, let me know. I’m a willing listener.

Companionship is another reason I cycle. My cycling pals are just as eager as I am “to get out there”. The numbers of world threatening problems we’ve solved during our rest stops are innumerable.

The countryside and the seasons

Cycling, like the year can be divided into seasons. Clearly, the most desirable seasons for doing it are spring and summer. At least they are when I do most of my cycling.

I live in Säffle, Sweden a rather insignificant dot on the planet which lies at 59° 6.613', 12° 52.662 to be exact. That’s about the same as Anchorage, Alaska if that’s your point of reference. In any case, Säffle is pretty far north.

The cycling season here begins in April, with a little luck. The roads then can have the odd patch of ice, and the ditches are still snow filled while the snow in the fields has melted enough to reveal a little plowed earth.

Studded tires are a good choice when riding under these circumstances. With studs, it’s possible to ride in January, February and March if you dress for the cold weather. I do. Swedes say, “There is no bad weather only poor clothing.”

After April comes May! My God, what a difference a month makes. Winter with its last chance to reveal its chilly head gives way to sunshine. Young crops shimmer a soft light green in the fields. Wind-still water reflects the tree-lined shoreline and the blue enhanced-by-clouds sky. Spring flowers pop up in rapid succession.

First out is the butterbur, then the blue and white anemones. Soon yellow dominates the countryside with fields filled with blooming dandelions and buttercups and the ditches with marsh marigolds.

When riding at this time of year, I’m happy I have a nose. Lilacs and blossoming fruit trees are cause to slow down for a pleasant whiff. Passing by a farmyard or a field fertilized with manure can be cause to hurry on. Everything from the fragrance of lilacs and blooming fruit trees to the stink of manure is part of riding. I wouldn’t miss any of it.

From midsummer to the Winter solstice

At mid-summer everything is in bloom. So are Swedes. Midsummer is a big deal and the wild flowers available then play a big part in ceremonial celebrations.

Midsummer poles decorated with birch branches and wild flowers are erected for Swedes of all ages to dance around. Young ladies fashion midsummer crowns from wild flowers. They also place seven different wild flowers under their pillow to give rise to a dream about the man they will marry. It’s a magical time of year here.
The flipside are the complainers lamenting that from midsummer forward darkness is on its way. But that’s part of living this far north, I guess. And why not enjoy the beauty of this season while it lasts. There’s no reason to complain about things that you can’t change.

Light, particularly sunlight, is a must among Swedes. In the absence of it, they light candles. I‘m not kidding. At Advent, in the beginning of December, when it’s night more than day, the country is alive with light, artificial though it is. At the winter solstice, the days get longer and the squabblers turn into optimists.

During September, the fields and ditches slowly turn to brown. Leaves and the temperatures fall. As autumn approaches, the smells along the roads change from blooming flowers to the stinking manure farmers spread on their fields to nourish next year’s crops. Oh well. That’s part of the game.

Around mid-October, it’s time to change from short-sleeved jerseys and shorts to long-sleeved and long-legged attire.It’s colder out there but there’s still a lot to experience while on two wheels.

Performance enhancers

Cycling moves slowly. Riders in the Tour de France at their best average about 40 km per hour over a total distance of some 3500 km. My average speed is about half that during my tours around Säffle and the occasional week or two in Italy.

But I’m also about twice or three times the racers’ age and I’m not of their ilk. For me, cycling is much more than peddling as fast as I can to reach a finish line before everybody else.

Racers we now know used performance enhancers, and hopefully this is a thing of the past. The only performance enhancer I’m involved in is wine. And that’s only in Italy, where my cycling is almost exclusively where lovely wines are carefully nurtured.

Obviously, wine is readily available there. Is it a performance enhancer? Debatable. On the other hand, I find long downhill rides with a little buzz on are very, very enjoyable. Then there are the uphills. What goes down also goes up.

That’s the reality you experience when riding in Italy. At the cima, as it’s called in Italy, or summit, as it’s called in English, enough of the last enhancer is worn off to allow enjoying another one just down the road.

In Sardinia, where I cycle under the auspices of SardiniaCycling, the enhancer can be a Cannonau, a lovely red wine. Or it can be a beer. My favorite there is Ichnusa.

In the north of Italy, I select a Chianti Classico or other red wines produced from Sangiovese, the typical grape of Toscana. In the beer department, it’s Birra Moretti.

Once I asked a bartender while in Bosa, Sardinia for “Una Birra Moretti grande, per favore.” After his eyes rolled back into place after a brief visit in the back of his head, he tossed his hands in the air in typical Italian fashion, and in a voice not unlike the Godfather’s, he rasped, “Eh! Questa non è Milano.” So when in Sardinia, do as the Sardinians do. Drink Ichnusa. On the other hand, there isn’t much else to choose from.

Cycling is good for you

Recent studies suggest that exercise can be as effective as many frequently prescribed drugs in treating some of the leading causes of death, including heart disease and diabetes.

If you ask me, physical activity is invigorating and makes me feel raring to go. I believe that cycling in the fresh air, with friends or alone, has a positive effect on mental health and stress levels.

These are all of the reasons why I cycle. What are your reasons for doing it? If you don’t do it, the benefits of it are so plentiful that it’s worth giving it a whirl. Just do it. At whatever level that suits you best. Why not? I’m quite sure you won’t regret it.


Regular physical activity is regarded as essential to a healthy lifestyle and is linked to a wide variety of physical and mental benefits including:

•    Reduced risk of or protection against Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), high blood pressure, cancer (in particular colon cancer) and diabetes

•    Stronger bones and increased muscle strength

•    Better balance, suppleness and mobility

•    Improved sleep

•    Better maintenance of a healthy weight and reduced risk of obesity.

Companionship is another reason I cycle. My cycling pals are just as eager as I am “to get out there”. Here I am drafting my pal Erik in Toscana with www.gustocycling.com

Content for the Italian Cycling Journal is now based upon contributions from readers. Please contribute. Stories about rides, granfondos, touring, having a good time cycling in Italy, Italian cycling history, racing, etc. are always welcome. Contact me at veronaman@gmail.com.

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