Cycling For Fun & Fitness

By Kevin Gray

Cycling became such a big part of John Strom’s life that he biked to Allentown from Tatamy every day for his job.

“It became my transportation,” says Strom, who had been riding bikes since he was four years old. “I’m in love with the whole concept of a bicycle because it’s the most efficient machine that man has ever designed. The amount of energy that goes into it versus the distance you can cover blows everything else away.”

His deep passion for cycling is the reason the knee pain he began experiencing several years ago was so troublesome. Making matters worse, the doctors Strom saw had no cure for the pain.

“The pain progressed to the point that I thought I would have to give up riding,” he recalls. “It was upsetting because riding is such a big part of my life.”

Fortunately, while researching knee pain caused by cycling, Strom found a cycle fitter in Philadelphia who detailed the benefits of proper fit for bike riders. Preventing or lessening knee pain was among them.

“In two or three hours of working with me, he cured my knee pain,” Strom says. “The proper fit of the bike was the key.”

Based on his positive experience, Strom took cycle fitting classes and opened a bike shop—Cycle Fitters in Forks Township. It offers free fittings to cyclists who buy bikes there and also fitting for cyclers who already have their rides.

We’re blessed with great roads throughout the Lehigh Valley that are very cycling friendly, challenging and scenic

The shop—and many other bike shops and clubs throughout the Lehigh Valley—offer regular group rides. Cycle Fitters offers three rides on Saturday mornings; two are 40-mile treks that are more challenging and the third goes approximately 25 miles and is less challenging.

“If I go on an hour-long bike ride, I can cover some distance and see some really neat things,” says Marty Nothstein, the Lehigh Valley’s most famous cyclist and executive director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center (formerly the Velodrome) in Breinigsville. “Unlike running on a treadmill or swimming in a pool, cycling really broadens your horizons as far as getting out there and seeing some pretty great things. We’re blessed with great roads throughout the Lehigh Valley that are very cycling friendly, challenging and scenic. I have traveled all over the world racing and training, and the only thing that’s not cycling friendly here in the Lehigh Valley is the weather in the wintertime.”

Why is cycling such an attractive activity? With a proper fit, it has a low impact on the body and is suitable for riders of all ages. It also is an efficient fitness activity.

Nicknamed “The Blade” for his riding style and ability to pull out close victories, Nothstein—who is a Lehigh Valley native, three-time world champion in track cycling events and an Olympic gold and silver medalist—lists some of his favorite rides as those that take him around Hawk Mountain in Kempton, through Lenhartsville or along the base of Blue Mountain.

“I’ve been on many training rides where I’ve gone out for four hours and saw half a dozen cars and a dozen horses-and-buggies,” he says. “There aren’t too many places in the world where that happens. We’re also very lucky to have so many roads. I’ve been riding my bike for 20-plus years and I’m still discovering new roads and routes to take.”

Nothstein attributes the Lehigh Valley’s focus on cycling to the fact that it’s been in the area and community for decades.

“Since Bob Rodale had the vision of building the Velodrome in 1975, the residents of the Lehigh Valley have always shared the road with cyclists and understood the sport of cycling,” he says. “We’re so rich in history here with the center and the community programs it offers.”

Nothstein came up through the Air Products Developmental Cycling Program at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. This and other cycling programs at the center teach all levels of riders, from beginners to competitive racers. The community programs are offered either for free or at a minimal cost, and equipment—track bikes and helmets—are provided for riders who don’t have their own.

In addition to the facilities and programs that attract riders from around the globe, the local area is an amazing source of cycling information. The staff at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center is a valuable resource for aspiring cyclists. And Nothstein points to Bicycling magazine, which is headquartered in Emmaus.

“It’s the leading authority in the world of bicycling and it’s right here in our backyard so spend a couple dollars to purchase a copy,” he says. “The amount of knowledge about cycling that’s here in the Lehigh Valley—whether it’s top-level professional information or the absolute beginner basics—is astounding.”

For riders who want to get the most out of their time on the bike, they can supplement their cycling time with strength training in the gym. Aaron Behrens, owner of Motivations Training Facility in Bethlehem, says a personal trainer can design a training regimen that can help cyclists achieve their goals on their bikes.

“From a strength standpoint, it all comes down to how long and how often you bike,” Behrens says. “Strength training can enhance your ability to ride farther and elevate your endurance.”

For beginners, Nothstein recommends starting slow. He cautions against trying to keep up with more experienced riders.

“You control the speed that you go and the pain that you are willing to feel,” Nothstein explains. “Ride at the pace that you enjoy. As you feel more comfortable handling the bike, going up or down hills and turning, then you can start picking up the pace a little bit. You should ease into the sport.”

Beginners need to make sure they have the right type of equipment, including a helmet and, if they prefer, riding gloves.

“Also, they should make sure to bring a water bottle and stay hydrated,” Behrens says. “Dehydration can happen relatively quickly. And, they should make sure to check their bikes often and have them tuned up to ensure safety and performance.”

Then, there is the bike itself. Different bicycles are intended for different uses. Mountain bikes, for example, are intended for riding on more rugged terrain.

“Everybody is different and everybody has different applications,” Nothstein says. “Some people want to ride on dirt trails and macadam, and there are bikes built for that. Go to a knowledgeable bike shop, listen to the experts and have them properly fit you and position you on the bike. A lot of people complain about neck pain or back pain, and nine times out of ten, it’s caused by poor positioning on the bicycle.”

After all, much of cycling is about proper positioning, whether you’re a bike enthusiast looking for a low-impact, high-comfort ride or a professional competitor rounding the last turn looking to earn a gold medal for your country. When it comes to cycling, the Lehigh Valley has it all.

Kevin Gray is a former sportswriter and current freelance writer based in the Lehigh Valley.

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