We've got good news and even better news for you this morning — cycling keeps you fit (if you didn't already know) and even better, it can keep you healthy regardless of if you choose to wear Lycra skinsuits and ride a carbon aero race bike.
Of course there is nothing wrong with indulging your passion for the sport, but BBC and Channel 5 broadcaster Jeremy Vine is keen to change public perception of cycling and its health benefits. No, you don't have to be a 'proper' cyclist racking up hundreds of miles a week and keeping your average speed high to reap the health benefits which have been further emphasised by a study published this month in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.
The pedalling presenter's call comes after The Times newspaper reported the results of the research, led by Professor Alister Hart of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, showing that cyclists with an average age of 49 who cycled over 4,000 miles a year and had been riding regularly for roughly 15 years had "much lower levels of fat infiltration" on their backsides as well as "greater muscle mass" than inactive individuals of the same age.
Illustrating the story, The Times used a photo of a sport cyclist wearing Lycra and a helmet and presumably, if the picture dropped any lower, aboard a shiny road bike. An editorial decision Vine says "sabotaged" the "lovely piece".
Key fact: cycling is possibly the single biggest health intervention anyone can make in their life. As well as one of the cheapest. Especially for older people.
— Jesse Norman (@Jesse_Norman) March 28, 2023
"[It's] guaranteed to make 99 per cent of people think 'that looks like a professional sportsman'," Vine suggested. "Hey, cycle in anything you like and get just a fit as helmet-guy."
It is an interesting point. The study found that 28 "committed recreational cyclists", with an average age of 49, who had clocked up annual distances of 4,349 miles and had been cycling regularly for 15 years on average had just 14.8 per cent fat infiltration in their gluteus maximus muscles versus the 21.6 per cent average of sedentary people of the same age.
Likewise, on the gluteus medius muscle there was an average 11.4 per cent fat infiltration in the cyclists, compared with 16 per cent in the sedentary individuals.
"These lower levels of fat infiltration into the gluteus maximus and medius muscles are a valuable marker of muscle health, good mobility and healthy hips, that tend to decline with age," Professor Hart explained. "We now have clear evidence that cycling is a great way to stay physically healthy for longer. It helps to maintain muscles and prevent them from being weakened by fat infiltration, delaying some of the effects of ageing."
The cyclists were "a very long way from being elite but were enthusiastic". "In fitness terms they'd be on a par with people who train for 10km, half marathons or marathon events for fun," Hart told The Times, saying a study comparing the effects on the muscles of men and women will be published shortly.
Vine's point is that yes, while the description of the riders might on the surface scream middle-aged man in Lycra, there is no reason why a cyclist who does not identify as a sport rider could rack up the necessary eight-mile-long daily commute to hit the 4,300-mile number, thus by illustrating cyclists as people who ride for sport we may inadvertently be telling those who just want to ride to work or the shops in their everyday attire that these health benefits are not for them.
— CHAIRRDRF (@CHAIRRDRF) March 28, 2023
Another reply to Vine's tweet, from Jan Kenny, said it was "Quite refreshing to see cyclists in Amsterdam recently — not a scrap of Lycra about — all just wearing everyday clothes (indeed some very chic!)"
Leicestershire Loves Cycling, a campaign group promoting cycling in the East Midlands county, added: "Those images entrench attitudes around 'cyclists'. We will never get the cultural change we need to see unless people understand from pictures that cycling is for children, women, the elderly, the disabled. It's not just for those who are on racing bikes and sporty. That's niche."
In short, wear whatever you like while riding your bike...
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.