Mountain Biking-Best Social Distancing: a Guest Post by Andries from South Africa*
June 1st, 2020 – Nope, it is not a birthday or some kind of anniversary. That is the day when I was allowed to go outside and ride my mountain bike again after having been confined to my apartment for the last two months! I love riding my mountain bike, and it was one of the things I really missed doing during lockdown.
I live in South Africa, which has implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the world. During the initial phase of the lockdown, we were only allowed to go outside our homes to buy food or to seek emergency medical treatment. That meant my trusty mountain bike and I could only dream of riding some trails again!
However, the lockdown was eased from June to allow people to get some exercise as long as they could do so safely and in a responsible manner. I was really glad for this, as I was seriously starting to get some cabin fever from being stuck inside for so long!
In my opinion, mountain biking is the ideal safe and responsible form of exercise during the pandemic. And I will tell you why I believe this.
If you go out on a mountain biking trail, it is as much social distancing as you are likely to get. Chances are you will be the only person around for miles for most of the time you are out. Also, when you are on a bike and going at speed, it is pretty difficult to NOT social distance!
It Is A Great Way To Get Fit
I have never been the biggest exercise and fitness fanatic, but during the lockdown my level of exercise went to zero. I hardly moved from my desk or my couch during the day. And I could definitely feel it. After a while I started feeling bloaty and uncomfortable. When climbing some stairs, I would be out of breath pretty quickly! So now that exercise is possible again, I intend to get into some better shape. Not only will it help me feel better and stronger, but doctors have advised that physical fitness is good for you immune system…and a strong immune system is pretty important these days!
Mountain biking is a great way to get fit again after a long period of inactivity. I really do not like going to the gym (which is still closed anyway) or jogging. So that is where mountain biking has always been my go-to exercise to get fitter. I never get bored riding and tend to push myself much harder and further than I would with any other form of exercise. It is also much more effective at working your core muscles than other exercises such as walking or jogging, as with mountain biking you have to use a lot more of these muscles during the ride.
Mental Health Boost
During the pandemic, mental health and awareness around mental health issues has really become an important topic for a lot of people. This is to be expected, as people are struggling with the stress of possibly becoming sick, or losing their job and from being confined to their homes away from loved ones.
Mountain biking has been shown to be a great way of boosting mental health! In fact, I wrote a whole article on the amazing effect mountain biking can have on your mental health (you can check it out here if you are interested). There are five ways mountain biking helps to improve your mental health.
Firstly, there are the chemical boosts you get in your brain from riding, thanks to the endorphins and serotonin that gets released into your body. This really helps reduce stress and anxiety! There is some research that shows you can feel the “feel good” after-effects of exercise for hours or even days afterwards. One of the most common natural treatments to forms of depression, is exercise (you can read this paper on the effects of exercise on mental health).
Secondly, being in nature has been scientifically proven to help improve your mental well-being. In fact, there is a whole branch of therapy now called Eco therapy which is focused on the mental health benefits of being in nature (you can read a bit more about it here, if you are interested).
Thirdly, the satisfaction of achieving something challenging improves your self-confidence. Whether it was to complete a distance you weren’t sure you would be able to complete, or ride a very technical section of a trail, the knowledge that you did it will be extremely satisfying and help build your confidence.
Fourth, you will sleep better. During the pandemic people’s sleep has been affected, which also impacts your mental health in a major way. I myself have noticed during the lockdown my sleeping patterns weren’t quite the same as it was before. This often left me more irritated and anxious than I would normally be. However, even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise has shown to improve the quality of your sleep. I know when I did a proper bike ride during the day, I have much better quality and deeper sleep that night.
Finally, your heart will thank you. As is commonly known, cycling helps improve heart-health and blood-flow. This helps to increase blood-flow to your brain!
Personally, my own experience has been that when I ride regularly (at least once a week) and get out to a nature trail, I generally feel MUCH more relaxed and have lower levels of stress. During the lockdown I wasn’t able to get out and get any form of exercise for about 4 weeks. I definitely got a lot crankier and suffered more from anxiety in general. Now that I am able to get out again and get some riding done, I can definitely feel a change in my mood and stress levels.
You Are Supporting Local Businesses
The trails near me where I go to ride has not been able to generate any business during the lockdown period. It has been so bad, the owner of my favorite bike trails has said they have had a 90% drop in their business the last two months.
While they will be nowhere near the levels they were doing before, going out there and supporting their business will help them to get back on their feet. Even if it is just a take-away coffee or paying to access the trail, every little bit will help their business and keep their staff employed over these difficult times.
It Is Fun!
Last but not least, it is fun! Going outside, getting awesome views, seeing some animals, doing jumps over humps…you cannot get that being stuck in some gym!
Ok, so mountain biking is a great way to get some exercise in during this new era of social distancing. But how should we go about doing it safely?
Don’t Ride In Large Groups
One of the big things most mountain bikers love about the sport, is the social aspect where you can go ride and have fun with a group of your friends. However, for now you should probably rather only plan to go for a ride with one or two ride buddies.
Masks & Hand Sanitizer
I have gone for a ride or two wearing a mask, but found it really inhibiting to breath and really didn’t like it. When I am out on the trail with no one else with me I plan to ride without a mask as there won’t be much risk. However, I will keep my mask with me in case I do need it. If you do wear a mask, remember to wash it thoroughly afterwards!
I will also keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with me in my backpack. When you are on a trail there will possibly be gates or other common areas where others mountain bikers would have had to touch. So to keep safe, my hand sanitizer goes everywhere with me…even to the middle of nowhere!
I am really happy that I am able to get back on my bike to go out for a ride over the weekends. I might even sneak in a ride or two during the week if my work schedule allows!
Even if you are not a mountain biker, I hope this article has inspired you to get up and get moving around. Even if it is just to go outside for a short walk. Every little bit of exercise helps!
South African-based Andries is a mountain biking enthusiast who loves to blog about mountain biking topics that are relevant to the average person who likes to go for a bike ride. To follow him for more mountain biking related information, you can find him on Facebook or Instagram.