It takes a certain kind of person to sit atop a bike saddle for hours on end, pedaling countless miles on trails or country roads, often alone and slurping down electrolyte-packed gels to keep them going. If you’re into long-distance cycling, you understand the appeal. If you’re not — or haven’t yet gotten the bug — well, it can be hard to grasp. But there are plenty of great reasons to give long-distance rides a try, and they extend far beyond just the physical benefits (of which there are many).
So, below we’ve rounded up 10 great reasons to ride long distances, from the physical to the mental — and even the navigational.
YOU CAN EXPLORE YOUR CITY
Relying on your car’s GPS makes it difficult to ever really learn your way around. Go exploring on a bike, however, and you’ll be more likely to remember all those roads, intersections and side streets. So, whether you’re new to town or just want to better know your own city, hop on your bike and start pedaling.
IT’S A CHANCE TO DISCONNECT
From work, from the 24-hour news cycle, from whatever you might need disconnecting from — this is your chance. On a long ride, especially one that gets you away from heavy traffic and cell towers, it’s just you, your bike and nature. Breathe in some fresh air, and let your mind wander far away from the rigors of daily life.
IT’S A GREAT STRESS RELIEF
Biking is like a moving meditation. Pedal, keep your eyes on the road and be present in the moment. Cycling has been known to help prevent or relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
Unlike running, lifting and sports like basketball and tennis, cycling goes easy on your joints. So you’re usually able to exercise for longer periods of time without experiencing the joint pain that might sideline you during other activities.
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR HEART
We all know cardio is good for the heart, but how, specifically, does cycling stack up? A Circulation journal study of more than 50,000 Danes found people who biked regularly had an 11–18% lower chance of developing coronary heart disease.
IT’S A MENTAL EXERCISE, TOO
Assuming you’ve been training, you can handle the physical aspect of long rides. So, it’s not your legs or your cardio that you need to worry about. Instead, it’s more about how you’ll mentally handle the hours to yourself, as well as the wind, hills and whatever other obstacles stand in your way. Ride enough, and you’ll become mentally stronger and better able to deal with adversity on and off the bike.
YOU’LL SLEEP BETTER
Prolonged daytime exercise leads to better sleep, and biking certainly fits that description. Research shows it helps to get and keep your circadian rhythm in sync, and it reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which can prevent deep, restorative sleep.
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Studies show people who exercise the most are least likely to develop upper respiratory tract infections, especially during the fall and winter months. That means fewer sick days and more time doing what you love.
YOU CAN COMMUNE WITH NATURE
Combine the cardio benefits of cycling with the many positive effects of being in nature, and you’ve got a powerful one-two punch. According to the University of Minnesota, “Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well-being, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.”
IT’S ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY
Speaking of nature, the more time you spend on your bike, the less time you’ll spend in your car. And that’s good for everyone. So rather than driving to the gym (and everywhere else), enlist your bike, and you’ll get in your workout while being eco-friendly.