With Bike to Work Week 2018 already here, now could be the perfect time to embrace cycling—that is, if you’re not one of the 100 million Americans who already has. Whether you’re participating in Bike to Work Day on May 18 or simply want to mix up your exercise routine, cycling offers a quality aerobic workout that can also get you efficiently from Point A to Point B. And with the help of a cycling app, a basic bicycle ride can quickly transform into a next-level workout.
The health benefits of cycling
The aerobic advantages of riding a bike make it the top choice for many people eyeing a healthier lifestyle. The energy generated and consumed by your body while biking strengthens your brain, blood vessels and heart. Just as important, cycling can keep you in a good mood by stimulating the release of endorphins.
The action of cycling helps sculpt a number of muscles in your body. As you push those pedals downward, muscles ranging from your buttocks to your calves are called into action. The hips and hamstring muscles are employed in the backstroke of the pedals. Abdominal muscles help keep you balanced and upright, while your shoulder and arm muscles get a workout while steering and keeping the handlebar steady. That toned body might not be so far off—if you keep cycling.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is all too familiar to us. Cycling out in the open can help reduce this hormone, which has a number of negative effects in elevated levels. Meanwhile, a Stanford research study showed that certain insomniacs took half the time to fall asleep if they cycled for about 30 minutes a day.
Combined with a balanced diet, cycling can often feel like a less-daunting activity than hitting the gym every day. If joint aches are an issue, short cycling or spinning sessions could help improve your knee problems. A study recently highlighted the benefits of elderly people cycling, linking the activity with reduced knee pain and osteoarthritis.
The top cycling apps
The health and fitness app market has skyrocketed in the last three years, giving cyclists a ton of apps to choose from. Here are some of the better ones to get you pedaling more often—and more efficiently.
Strava: Designed by and for athletes, Strava is a top cycling app for enthusiasts and rookies alike. Using GPS, the app tracks, records and sums up your activities. By segregating these activities, Strava will keep a regular tab on your speed, elevation, power and heart rate. To top it off, Strava aims at becoming the social network for athletes, letting you share your progress with friends and followers.
MapMyRide: One of the first ride-logging services, MapMyRide still holds its own against tough competition. You can customize your routes, and its training tool helps you become a more efficient cyclist. The app also features a user-friendly interface and a courses section offering timed challenges. The developers boast of 40 million athletes on their network, making MapMyRide one of the most popular cycling apps.
Zwift: If you’re feeling left out of the app game because you prefer an indoor stationary bike, Zwift is here to make things a lot more exciting. Using state-of-the-art graphics, Zwift gamifies your training session by drawing up real routes that twist and turn like in a video game. It’s the perfect motivation tool for indoor bikers, who can even be part of virtual races against others.
CycleMap: This app has its basics right: you can track your progress, map routes and find interesting landmarks along the way. What sets CycleMap apart from the rest is its ability to find cycle-sharing stations in different parts of the world. If you’re travelling in a foreign country and want to explore it on a cycle, CycleMap will help you find a location where you can borrow one.
Endomondo: The perfect motivational app for cyclists who want to go that extra mile. Besides pre-recorded audio encouragement, the Pep Talk feature allows a friend to send you a personalized voice recording. Setting personal goals is easy, and the app gently nudges you toward meeting these goals as your cycling days go by. This is the personal trainer app you need if your will to keep cycling suffers regular setbacks.
Runtastic Road Bike GPS Cycling Route Tracker: This is the only cycling tracker you’ll ever need. Runtastic is a paid app, but it’s worth every penny of the $4.99 you spend on it. It searches for new routes, sends you weather updates, tracks all the personal cycling data you need and even lets you challenge your friends. And it delivers all this in an elegant interface that will get you hooked in no time.
Hangbiker: This one makes the list because it’s designed like a game of Hangman with cycling trivia. Unique to say the least and available solely on Windows OS, Hangbiker is the app your friends will make fun of but secretly want to download.
My Virtual Mission: It’s an interesting app for cyclists who want to know how far they’ve traveled virtually on their bikes. There’s always a certain sense of pride knowing the distance you’ve covered over the last couple of months or so could’ve gotten you to some exotic country. All you need to do is start a mission and keep a log of your distance within the app.
These apps are meant to motivate you toward achieving your next cycling milestone. Use them to set goals and keep track of your biking workouts, whether you’re taking part in Bike to Work Week or just tackling your daily cardio.