When I was between fifteen and twenty-five years old, biking was a necessity; I needed to bike to school, the supermarket, the city, to work, to friends. I sometimes took the bus, but apart from the extra expenses that brought for me, buses were often not readily available at the times I needed transportation.
Hence, up to today I don’t associate biking (or cycling, if you wish) something fun, or an activity I would like to do in my leisure time. The period in my life I’m talking about I lived in Holland, that is, in the number one biking country in the world. What I mean to say is that it’s relatively safe to bike in Holland — if you respect using the special cycling lanes, the traffic lights and rules, and such — but in many countries biking comes with much more risks.
In most countries, biking in urban areas is mixed with other road users, such as pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks and cars, and really — biking accidents happen very often. And the roads may also have their own dangers, like being covered with mud, potholes and cracks, and so on.
The air you inhale in the midst of traffic is another story; but let’s just skip that. Yet, to top it all up, most bikers don’t use safety equipment such as helmets, knee and elbow pads, and appropriate clothing, which makes a slide, fall or hit even more riskier for one’s health and well-being.
In fact, even in the Netherlands (Holland) with its optimized biking infrastructure, yearly over a third of road deaths and well over two thirds of serious road injuries are cyclists. The cyclist fatality risk is more than eight times higher than the fatality risk for car drivers.
So, in my opinion, biking is not such “a healthy thing.” Of course, if it’s about movement and exercise for your body, let’s say your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular health or body weight, biking is certainly better than driving a car or motorcycle. It’s often the reason why people say that biking is “healthy,” and apparently cycling also has its mental health benefits, such as decreased anxiety, depression, and stress levels.
Surely it makes a difference if you go biking for fun, in your leisure time, for instance. Think of biking in the countryside or mountain biking. That can add the adventure or nature-factor to it, which gives it another level. It also allows you to span larger distances than going by foot, which makes it more time-efficient enabling you to see or do more.
Nevertheless, I think the core problem with biking is that it’s an unnatural activity for human beings. Prolonged biking can cause serious neck, shoulder, knee, spinal, perineum, fertility (notably for men), buttock and (lower) back problems, apart from not being a “total movement and activation” for all your body parts. Biking also involves an over-exertion of the hamstrings (rear thigh muscles) and calf muscles, which gives all kinds of other problems too, like cramps, tearing, less range of motion, and, yes, also back pain.
Thus, cycling is a limited type of exercise, and as such, I think it’s basically inferior to hiking or trekking, for instance. It also gives you less time to really appreciate Nature and take it in with full awareness compared to walking — basically you just bike past all the details of Nature as it were.
Some of the physical problems with cycling can be avoided by using a good adjustable bike, with light materials, a good saddle and steering bar, different gear options, and so on, but the better the bike, the deeper you will need to dive into your wallet. Believe me, a good bike isn’t cheap.
In conclusion, I would say that the overall health benefits of cycling can be good if you lead a sedentary life or if you compare it to driving a car or motorcycle. Nevertheless, risks on injuries are rather large depending on the environment you bike in and the protection you use. The quality of your bike and the amount of biking you do can also cause serious physical health issues for the back, neck, perineum, and so on, as described above.