With several bike trails around the city and a new one on the way, biking is considered a popular hobby among all age groups in Athens. But aside from being an enjoyable pastime, biking offers a wide variety of physical and mental benefits.
Athens County will soon be home to Baileys Trail, the largest continuous mountain bike trail east of the Mississippi River, which will consist of 88 miles of pathways throughout the Wayne National Forest.
The new trail will provide cyclists around the area with a new place to enjoy a bike ride. It will also give visitors the opportunity to participate in what is one of the best ways to exercise, Marc Barr, an associate professor of instruction for exercise physiology, said.
Currently, cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. One of the best ways to prevent it is to increase your cardio-respiratory fitness by challenging your entire body with exercise, Barr said.
“We favor the bike because it doesn’t matter if a person is overweight, needs a knee replacement, whatever it is, (because) most people can use a bike comfortably,” Barr said. “A lot of people are limited when it comes to physical activities like running. That’s where the bike comes in.”
Leg muscles are the largest muscles in the human body and biking uses all of those muscles without stressing them, like jogging or running typically would, Barr said. On a bike, all of your weight is suspended on the seat, so you’re not using your entire body weight with each step.
Biking also has a higher value on the MET scale, a measurement of the energy it takes to do different physical activities, compared to other activities, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But aside from being physically tasking, biking also poses mental challenges, which are often just as rewarding and beneficial.
Meredith Erlewine, a community health worker at Athens City-County Health Department and co-owner of Athens Bicycle, said that mountain biking in particular can teach kids and adults a lot about themselves and can give benefits that people wouldn’t typically expect.
“Sometimes unexpected things can happen while biking, for example, you get caught in the woods in a thunderstorm, or you get a flat tire. You have to have the skills to get yourself out of that situation and finish the ride, and knowing how to do that builds self confidence,” Erlewine said.
She also said that bicycling is an activity that people can watch themselves get better at.
“You have to put in a lot of work to make it up the hills. It takes people months or years to accomplish the goals they set for themselves and it’s satisfying to see the progress that comes out of that hard work,” Erlewine said.
Building map-reading skills, which are necessary to have when mountain biking, is another unexpected benefit, Erlewine said. She said it is empowering to get to know the geography of the land and to be able to get yourself where you want to go based off of the choices you make.
Erlewine is also a certified bicycle skills instructor and is currently coaching a youth mountain bike team of sixth to 12th-grade students from Athens County.
“It’s really great to see the pride that these kids are feeling for being able to try a harder trail, or ride more miles or learn how to fix a flat tire,” she said. “They’re really proud. It’s awesome to see what they’re getting out of that.”