Use of the bicycle in competitive sport or in recreation. The classic professional races are held mainly in Europe; the first was held in Paris in 1868. There are basically two types of race: road races and track races. The first U.S. cycling competition, a six-day race, was held in 1891. Six-day racing was reintroduced to Europe as a two-man team event in the 20th century, but it has largely died out in the U.S. The first Tour de France, the premier race, was held in 1903. Cycling has been part of the Olympics since the first modern games in 1896. Events include a variety of open-road and circuit races for both men and women.
Learn more about cycling with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Cycling is the use of bicycles, or - less commonly - unicycles, tricycles, quadricycles and other similar wheeled human powered vehicles (HPVs) as a means of transport, a form of recreation or a sport. It is done on roads and paths, across open country or even over snow and ice (icebiking).
In many countries, the most commonly used vehicle for road transport is a utility bicycle. These have frames with relaxed geometry, protecting the rider from shocks from the road, and easing steering at low speeds.
Road bikes tend to have a more upright shape and a shorter wheelbase, which make the bike more mobile but harder to ride slowly. The design, coupled with low or dropped handlebars, requires the rider to bend forward more, which reduces air resistance at high speed.
The price of a new bicycle can range from US$50 to more than US$20,000, depending on quality, type and weight (the most exotic road bicycles can weigh as little as 3.2kg (7 lb))). Being measured for a bike and taking it for a test ride are recommended before buying.
The drivetrain components of the bike should also be considered. A middle grade dérailleur is sufficient for a beginner, although many utility bikes come equipped with hub gears. If the rider plans a significant amount of hillclimbing, a triple-crank (three chainrings) front gear system may be preferred. Otherwise, the relatively lighter and less expensive two chainrings may be better.
Many road bikes include clipless pedals to which special shoes attach via a cleat, permitting the rider to pull on the pedals as well as push. Other possible accessories for the bicycle include locks, fenders , baggage carriers and pannier bags, water bottles and bottle cages.
For basic maintenance and repairs, cyclists can choose to carry a pump (or a CO2 cartridge), a puncture repair kit, a spare inner tube, and tire levers. Cycling can be more efficient and comfortable with special shoes, gloves, and shorts. In wet weather, riding can be more tolerable with waterproof clothes, such as cape, jacket, pants and overshoes.
Items legally required in some jurisdictions, or voluntarily adopted for safety reasons, include bicycle helmets, generator or battery operated and audible signaling devices such as a bell or horn. Extras include studded tires and a bicycle computer.
Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists make different demands on road design which may lead to conflicts. Some jurisdictions give priority to motorized traffic, for example setting up one-way street systems, free-right turns, high capacity roundabouts, and slip roads. Others may apply traffic restraint measures to limit the impact of motorized transport. In the former cases, cycling has tended to decline while in the latter it has tended to be maintained. Occasionally, extreme measures against cycling may occur. In Shanghai, where bicycles were once the dominant mode of transport, bicycle travel on a few city roads was banned temporarily in December 2003.
In areas in which cycling is popular and encouraged, cycle-parking facilities using bicycle stands, lockable mini-garages, and patrolled cycle parks are used to reduce theft. Local governments promote cycling by permitting the carriage of bicycles on public transport or by providing external attachment devices on public transport vehicles. Conversely, an absence of secure cycle-parking is a recurring complaint by cyclists from cities with low modal share of cycling.
Extensive bicycle path systems may be found in some cities. Such dedicated paths often have to be shared with in-line skaters, scooters, skateboarders, and pedestrians. Segregating bicycle and automobile traffic in cities has met with mixed success, both in terms of safety and bicycle promotion. At some point the two streams of traffic inevitably intersect, often in a haphazard and congested fashion. Studies have demonstrated that, due to the high incidence of accidents at these sites, some such segregated schemes can actually increase the number of car-bike collisions.
Bicycles are considered a sustainable mode of transport, especially suited for urban use and relatively shorter distances when used for transport (compared to recreation). Case studies and good practices (from European cities and some worldwide examples) that promote and stimulate this kind of functional cycling in cities can be found at Eltis, Europe's portal for local transport.
In the Netherlands bicycle paths are widespread and are (in the cities) closed to scooters. Cyclists in the Netherlands are well protected as the law assumes the stronger participant (i.e. the car driver) is guilty until proved innocent (ie is the guilty party in all accidents involving weaker traffic unless evidence of the opposite is provided). Furthermore, drivers know to expect bikes, which are plentiful and treat traffic rules as guidelines to be ignored at will (increasingly common in the UK, also). Due to these issues the number of car-bike collisions with serious consequences is not alarmingly high in the Netherlands
Utility cycling refers both to cycling as a mode of daily commuting transport as well as the use of a bicycle in a commercial activity, mainly to transport goods.
The postal services of many countries have long relied on bicycles. The British Royal Mail first started using bicycles in 1880; now bicycle delivery fleets include 37,000 in the UK, 25,700 in Germany, 10,500 in Hungary and 7000 in Sweden. The London Ambulance Service has recently introduced bicycling paramedics, who can often get to the scene of an incident in Central London more quickly than a motorized ambulance.
Bicycles enjoy substantial use as general delivery vehicles in many countries. In the UK and North America, generations of teenagers have got their first jobs delivering newspapers by bicycle. London has many delivery companies that use bicycles with trailers. Most cities in the West, and many outside it, support a sizeable and visible industry of cycle couriers who deliver documents and small packages. In India, many of Mumbai's Dabbawalas use bicycles to deliver home cooked lunches to the city’s workers. In Bogotá, Colombia the city’s largest bakery recently replaced most of its delivery trucks with bicycles. Even the car industry uses bicycles. At the huge Mercedes-Benz factory in Sindelfingen, Germany workers use bicycles, color-coded by department, to move around the factory.
Bicycles are used for recreation at all ages. Bicycle touring, also known as cyclotourism, involves touring and exploration or sightseeing by bicycle for leisure. A brevet or randonnée is an organized long-distance ride.
One popular Dutch pleasure is the enjoyment of relaxed cycling in the countryside of the Netherlands. The land is very flat and full of public bicycle trails where cyclists aren't bothered by cars and other traffic, which makes it ideal for cycling recreation. Many Dutch people subscribe every year to an event called fietsvierdaagse — four days of organised cycling through the local environment. Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), which began in 1891, is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road, covers over 1200 km and imposes a 90-hour time limit. Similar if smaller institutions exist in many countries.Organized rides
Many cycling clubs hold organized rides in which bicyclists of all levels participate. The typical organized ride starts with a large group of riders, called the mass, bunch or even peloton. This will thin out over the course of the ride. Many riders choose to ride together in groups of the same skill level to take advantage of drafting.
Most organized rides, for example Cyclosportives, Challenge Rides or reliability trials, and hill climbs include registration requirements and will provide information either through the mail or online concerning start times and other requirements. Rides usually consist of 25, 50 and 100 mile routes, each with a certain number of rest stops that usually include refreshments, first aid and maintenance tools.Mountain Mountain biking grew in the late 20th century, including recreation and racing. It emphasises riding special cycles with high gear ratios over rough paths, special obstacle courses or directly cross country. While very popular as a sport, it has also been criticised for damaging the countryside.
Shortly after the introduction of bicycles, competitions developed independently in many parts of the world. Early races involving boneshaker style bicycles were predictably fraught with injuries. Large races became popular during the 1890s "Golden Age of Cycling", with events across Europe, and in the U.S. and Japan as well. At one point, almost every major city in the US had a velodrome or two for track racing events. However since the middle of the 20th century cycling has become a minority sport in the US whilst in Continental Europe it continues to be a major sport, particularly in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. The most famous of all bicycle races is the Tour de France. This began in 1903, and continues to capture the attention of the sporting world.
As the bicycle evolved its various forms, different racing formats developed. Road races may involve both team and individual competition, and are contested in various ways. They range from the one-day road race, criterium, and time trial to multi-stage events like the Tour de France and its sister events which make up cycling's Grand Tours. Recumbent bicycles were banned from bike races in 1934 after Marcel Berthet set a new hour record in his Velodyne streamliner (49.992 km on November 18, 1933). Track bicycles are used for track cycling in Velodromes , while cyclo-cross races are held on rugged outdoor terrain. In the past decade, mountain bike racing has also reached international popularity and is even an Olympic sport.
Professional racing organizations place limitations on the bicycles that can be used in the races that they sanction. For example, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body of international cycle sport (which sanctions races such as the Tour de France), decided in the late 1990s to create additional rules which prohibit racing bicycles weighing less than 6.8 kilograms (14.96 pounds). The UCI rules also effectively ban some bicycle frame innovations (such as the recumbent bicycle) by requiring a double triangle structure.
In the Vietnam War, communist forces used bicycles extensively as cargo carriers along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. There are reports of mountain bicycles being used in scouting by U.S. Special Forces in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and in subsequent battles against the Taliban. British troops, designated Light Bicycle Infantry LBI, used bicycles to patrol in Basra, Iraq in January 2005.
The last country known to maintain a regiment of bicycle troops was Switzerland, who disbanded their final unit in 2003.
Two broad and correlated themes run in bicycle activism: one is about advocating the bicycle as an alternative mode of transport, and the other is about the creation of conditions to permit and/or encourage bicycle use, both for utility and recreative cycling. Although the first, which emphasizes the potential for energy and resource conservation and health benefits gained from cycling versus automobile use, is relatively undisputed, the second is target of much debate.
It is generally agreed that improved local and inter-city rail services and other methods of mass transportation (including greater provision for cycle carriage on such services) create conditions to encourage bicycle use. However, there are different opinions on the role of the use of segregated cycle facilities and other items of the cycling infrastructure in building bicycle-friendly cities and roads.
Some bicycle activists (including some traffic management advisers) seek the construction of segregated cycle facilities for journeys of all lengths. Other activists, especially those from the more established tradition, view the safety, practicality, and intent of many segregated cycle facilities with suspicion. They favour a more holistic approach based on the 4 'E's; education (of everyone involved), encouragement (to apply the education), enforcement (to protect the rights of others), and engineering (to facilitate travel while respecting every person's equal right to do so). In some cases this opposition has a more ideological basis: some members of the Vehicular Cycling movement oppose segregated public facilities, such as on-street bike lanes, on principle. Some groups offer training courses to help cyclists integrate themselves with other traffic. This is part of the ongoing cycle path debate.
Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world where bicyclists take to the streets en masse. While the ride was originally founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city streets.
Midnight Ridazz is a massive established bicycle ride in Los Angeles based on recreational activism. The ride incorporates themes and ride routes designed to maximize fun and comraderie without any overt political agenda that might fracture the group of diverse riders. The one goal of Midnight Ridazz is to have fun riding a bike and thus inspire others to ride and have fun as well.
Cycling while seated is a relatively non-weight bearing exercise that, like swimming, does little to promote bone density. Cycling up and out of the saddle, on the other hand, does a better job by transferring more of the rider's body weight to the legs. However, excessive cycling while standing can cause knee damage. It used to be thought that cycling while standing was less energy efficient, but recent research has proven this not to be true. Other than air resistance, there is no wasted energy from cycling while standing if it's done well.
Cycling on a stationary cycle is frequently advocated as a suitable exercise for rehabilitation particularly for lower limb injury due to the low impact that it has on the joints. In particular cycling is commonly used within knee rehabilitation programs.
Excessive saddle height can cause posterior knee pain, while setting the saddle too low can cause pain in the anterior of the knee. An incorrectly fitted saddle may eventually lead to muscle imbalance. A 25 to 35 degree knee angle is recommended to avoid an overuse injury.
Most cycle deaths result from a collision with a car or heavy goods vehicle. However, a very high proportion of injuries to cyclists do not involve any other person or vehicle.
A Danish study in 2000 concluded that "bicycling to work decreased risk of mortality in approximately 40% after multivariate adjustment, including leisure time physical activity". This conclusion is open to various interpretations.
Injuries (to cyclists, from cycling) can be divided into two types:
Acute physical trauma includes injuries to the head and extremities resulting from falls and collisions. Since a large percentage of the collisions between motor and pedal vehicles occur at night, bicycle lighting is required for safety when bicycling at night.
The most common cycling overuse injury occurs in the knees, affecting cyclists at all levels. These are caused by many factors:
Overuse injuries, including chronic nerve damage at weight bearing locations, can occur as a result of repeatedly riding a bicycle for extended periods of time. Damage to the ulnar nerve in the palm, carpal tunnel in the wrist, the genitourinary tract or bicycle seat neuropathy may result from overuse.
Note that overuse is a relative term, and capacity varies greatly between individuals. Someone starting out in cycling must be careful to increase length and frequency of cycling sessions slowly, starting for example at an hour or two per day, or a hundred miles or kilometers per week. Muscular pain is a normal by-product of the training process, but joint pain and numbness are early signs of overuse injury.
Cycling has been linked to sexual impotence due to pressure on the perineum from the seat, but fitting a proper sized seat prevents this effect. In extreme cases, Pudendal Nerve Entrapment can be a source of intractable perineal pain. Some cyclists with induced pudendal nerve pressure neuropathy gained relief from improvements in saddle position and riding techniques.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has investigated the potential health effects of prolonged bicycling in police bicycle patrol units, including the possibility that some bicycle saddles exert excessive pressure on the urogenital area of cyclists, restricting blood flow to the genitals. NIOSH is currently investigating whether saddles developed without protruding noses (which remove the pressure from the urogenital area) will alleviate any potential health problems.
Riding a recumbent bicycle or quadricycle where ergonomic principles are more closely respected will largely address these health issues, particularly those related to chronic nerve damage at weight bearing locations, simply because the body is supported in the normal sitting position.
Cycling Advocacy & Safety
Sports-related cycling and fast-paced recreation
Utility cycling and slow recreation