There are two types of people in the world: those who grew up riding bikes, and those who did not. Those who did usually think it is fun to pedal for hours, and they rely on their bikes for fitness, for transportation and for a social life. But what about the rest of us—the football and soccer players, the tennis prodigies and the wrestlers of the world? We’re no strangers to sports, but we might not know the difference between a rear derailleur and a rear cogset.
No problem, says Matt Fitzgerald, coach, nutritionist, and author of Racing Weight. Those with athletic backgrounds are well-positioned to excel at riding a bike because of their strength, balance, and taste for endorphins. Better yet, cyclists come in a range of physiques, which means there is no “ideal body type” for the sport—at least at the recreational level, says Fitzgerald.
“There’s definitely more than one body type in cycling,” he says. “Sure, cyclists tend to be twiggy up top with muscular legs.” But, he adds, athletic prowess is more important for learning how to ride—and continuing to ride—than body fat percentage. More, “cycling” is a generic term for myriad disciplines of riding, which means that anyone with athleticism is sure to find a form of bicycling that suits them. New to the sport? Here’s a quick overview of the disciplines and the muscles they exercise.
Powering a knobby-tired machine over narrow trails, up and down hills and over obstacles is a marriage of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Mountain bikers generally have arm and core muscles as strong as their legs. Best fit for: track runners, swimmers, and baseball players.
A full-body endeavor that requires going as fast as you can on an obstacle course for rider and bike, cyclocross entails sprinting, leaping on and off the bike, and occasionally carrying it. From the minute the race starts, your heart is racing and your body is working to extremes. Best fit for: soccer players, hockey players and nordic skiers.
Road cyclists epitomize the cliche of the skinny rider with tree trunks for legs. Unlike mountain and cyclocross, road riding doesn’t require as much full body strength. Balance, endurance, and powerful legs are essential for long road rides. Best fit for: long distance runners, dancers and divers.
This specialized genre, also known as velodrome riding, tests cyclists on speed and strength. The most successful competitors have other-worldly quads and glutes. Best fit for: downhill ski racers, speed skaters and snowboarder cross racers.
Bottom line: If you’ve got balance, strength, endurance, and an affinity for hard work (or, in some cases, suffering), you’re ideal cycling material. The disciplines noted above? They are just some of your options. There are more—we haven’t even touched on unicycles, fixies or tandem cycling.
So even if you were off slugging home runs when your classmates were storming dirt jumps on their BMX bikes, it’s not too late. You’ve already got the strength and the sportiness. Now you just need a bike.