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Cycling not just summer exercise



When Neill Harmer of Oklahoma City lost a tremendous amount of weight, the one thing he didn't want was to put it back on.

Warming up
Keeping your cool

That meant eating right and exercise " lots of exercise. Running helped, but when he began cycling as part of a triathlon training, he found his new love.

"I never really enjoyed running; I did it because I had to," Harmer said. "My favorite part of the triathlon training was on the bike. For my body style, it just seemed easier for me. I enjoyed the scenery, and it's just fun."

Yet many beginners may shy away from cycling in the winter months, wary of the bitter temperatures and gray skies. Enthusiasts and bike experts, on the other hand, say winter is just as good a time as any to get started with cycling. In some cases, it may even be the perfect time.

Warming up

With the exception of a freak blizzard or the recent single-digit temperatures, Oklahoma usually boasts of moderate winters, which cycling enthusiast Brian Swingle said is the best time to ride.

"A lot of times, summers in Oklahoma are pretty intense, and cycling in that heat can be physically exhausting," said Swingle, a Wheeler Dealer salesperson. "Winter is a decent time to start cycling. Like everything else, start slow and build up to it."

Another option is trail riding, which Swingle says many road bikers turn to during the winter months.

"A lot of road bikers go off-road in winter to cut down on wind and because the ticks and snakes are gone," he said. "There are great trails around here: a 16-mile trail at Lake Thunderbird, trail miles at Arcadia. Oklahoma Earthbike's Web site has great information on off-road trails."

Swingle rides three times a week, but used to cycle 200 miles a week. Having the right gear and protective clothing is key, in both extreme heat and bitter cold, he said.

"I know we can look kind of funny sometimes, but cycling clothes, especially the tight-fitting ones, wick away sweat if you get overheated," he said. "The tight clothes keep you dry and warm."

Harmer also cycles two to three times a week at the least. Oftentimes, he leaves his Bethany home each morning, rides around Lake Hefner, and then cycles to his workplace off Northwest Expressway.

"To be honest, I can't tell you if it's easier to bike in the summer or winter. They both have their pros and cons," Harmer said. "There's really not much difference between cycling in the summer and cycling in the winter, except for the clothes."

Keeping your cool

According to the Oklahoma Bicycle Society, correct clothing can make the difference between a pleasant, invigorating ride and a miserable one. Cycling creates quite a bit of body heat, so warm clothes should also help control the buildup of heat and sweat while protecting against the chill and wind.

The outer layer for both tops and bottoms should be windproof in the front, but have breathable sides and backs.

"A good rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable before you start, you're wearing too much," Swingle said. "It's vital to have breathable fabrics to wick away that sweat. If you don't, that sweat freezes."

Under the outer clothing, layer fabrics made from such material as Thermax or Drylete. The layer next to the skin should be either wool or synthetics, as cotton can feel wet and cold. Avoid T-shirts. Don't forget the face. In freezing temperatures, cycling speeds can create wind chills low enough to freeze skin.

If the face begins to feel extremely cold or numb, stop and get warm. Watch other riders' faces for white spots, which can indicate frostbite.

"It feels gross, but putting Vaseline on your face, nose and lips really helps with chapping," Harmer said.

Winter also brings dehydration concerns. Dehydration in the arid, winter air, especially while exercising, can cause decreased blood volume, which makes riders more apt to suffer hypothermia and frostbite. Drink water frequently if riding for more than an hour.

"It comes down to common sense," Swingle said. "Start slow and build up. Biking is a great cardio workout, and it's great exercise." "Heide Brandes

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