ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Larry Schafer isn’t about to let the soaring cost of gasoline limit his leisurely rides across the Marion County countryside.
That’s because his preferred mode of transportation doesn’t burn ethanol, unleaded or even E85 gasoline. Instead, its fueled by a few bananas and a steady flow of good-old drinking water.
Schafer is an avid bicycle enthusiast, and he knows the health benefits of his favorite pastime is a gigantic bonus.
“I know I feel a lot better when I ride,” Schafer said from his farm five miles southwest of Hillsboro. “Health-wise and for weight loss, cycling is really good for you and it’s not as hard on your body as jogging or even walking because it’s a low-impact exercise.”
A native of southeast Kansas, Schafer connected with bike riding as an eighth grader.
“We lived about 10 miles out in the country and my aunt was the bus driver, so I wanted some other way to get to school,” he said. “My dad told me to ride my bike, so I did that.”
When Schafer discovered his hometown of Independence had a bicycle shop, the rest is history.
“The owner of that shop got me on to a lighter bike because I had been riding a Wal-Mart bike that weighed 36 or 42 pounds,” Schafer said. “He showed me the 21- and 25-pound bikes, and that made all the difference in the world.
“Lighter bikes just don’t have as much weight that you have to carry around,” he added. “Usually, the lighter the bike, the smoother the ride and the farther you can go.”
Schafer spent Saturday mornings perfecting his cycling technique.
In 1985, Schafer met his future wife, Lisa. Three years later, the pair embarked on a cycling trip that took them from Denison, Texas, to Chetopa in a Bike-Across-Oklahoma event that spanned 488 miles in seven days.
“I was already in pretty good shape (before the ride), but my wife spent about two months almost every night riding 20 miles,” Schafer said.
Schafer also includes a century ride-a 100-mile ride-on his riding resumé.
“After I rode 100 miles, I turned around and rode home, which was another 50 miles,” he said.
After leaving southeast Kansas, Schafer moved to Wichita, but found the availability of safe riding paths to be limited.
“It’s hard to ride your bike in Wichita,” he said. “You have to drive a good 20 miles to find riding space.”
Four years ago, Schafer and his family, which includes sons Christopher and Caleb and daughter Megan, relocated to their current rural residence.
Schafer initially worked at Tabor College then landed a job at McPherson. But the commute didn’t cost Schafer much.
“I’d leave at 4 a.m. and ride my bike to work, work 12 hours and turn around and ride back home and get there at about 8 o’clock,” Schafer said. “The ride would take me 11/2 hours and I’d cover about 25 miles.
“If the weather was bad, I’d drive or I’d call my wife to come pick me up.”
Now working in Wichita at Spirit (formerly Boeing), Schafer said he still likes to ride as often as possible.
“I always ride on Saturday, and once school gets out and the weather warms up, I’ll get out more,” he said. “I usually try to do about a minimum of 20 miles per day but on weekends, I want to do about 40 to 60 miles per day.”
Schafer said the benefits of riding a bicycle are numerous.
“It really saves gas, especially when it’s $2.50 per gallon,” he said. “You can really pay for a bike quickly at those prices.”
But high gasoline prices aside, Schafer said his main incentive for riding is for the health of it.
“You reduce your health problems when you ride- a lot.”
Schafer said riding is a good way to learn how to breath properly, something few people do.
“Most of us breathe too rapidly, but the proper way to breathe is deep breaths in and deep breaths out,” he said. “That cleans out the air in your lungs.”
Maintaining a healthy weight is also a key concern for Schafer.
“I feel healthier because of my cycling,” he said. “I found when I didn’t ride as much, I got sick a lot more often in the winter months and I know I gained a lot of weight, like 25 or 30 pounds.”
Another benefit is the opportunity to connect on a different level with Mother Nature.
“When you’re riding out in the country, you see a lot of wildlife and you can hear little mice or other animals running right there in the grass,” he said. “It’s nice just to get out and experience nature.”
Cycling also provides Schafer with the chance to involve the entire family in a wholesome, cost efficient pastime.
“It’s a great family activity,” he said. “We can go two blocks or on a 14-mile ride, whatever the family wants,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to ride with someone else.”
Schafer rides a Trek bicycle which weighs in at 18 pounds.
“The light-weight bikes start at about $600 to $800 while more experienced riders will spend somewhere around $800 to $1,200,” Schafer said. “But some of the more expensive bikes will run from $1,500 to $1,800, depending on what components you get.”
While the initial cost may seem high, Schafer said his first bike lasted six years.
“Usually the tires, tubes and rims will wear out first,” he said. “I take my bikes apart and regrease the bearings and lubricate the chains once or twice a year.”
Getting the bike to fit the rider properly is extremely important, Schafer said.
“It all depends on what feels best for you personally, but your back should be the main focus,” he said. “When choosing the right frame, you need to stand over the bike and make sure you have one inch of clearance between you and the top tube of the frame.”
Schafer’s decision to cycle rather than employ other forms of exercise also comes down to the economics of time.
“Cycling is a lot easier on your knees,” he said. “If you have your bike fit properly, you’ll hardly have any strain on your knees at all.
“Cycling takes a lot less time because I can ride to Marion and back in about an hour, but if I tried to jog that distance, it would take me all day.”
Schafer also bypassed the effects of the cold winter months with the use of either rollers, which he rides his bike on, or with a wind trainer, a form of stationary cycle.
“You can do cardiovascular tapes in the winter to keep in shape as well,” he added.
As with any exercise, Schafer advises starting in moderation.
“You need to start slowly, but I think any normal person can start out riding 10 miles per day,” he said. “The longer you ride, the more you can increase you distance. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can increase your mileage.”
When riding, Schafer recommends a helmet, gloves and good shoes for protection.
“You never know when something will jump in front of you or if you’ll blow a tire, so you need to protect yourself,” he said. “I always eat lots of bananas and drink plenty of water. The hotter it is, the more liquid you’ll need.”
Schafer also recommends carrying identification in case of an accident and carry a cell phone.
“But don’t ride and talk at the same time,” he added. “Pull off the road and stand in the ditch if you need to talk to someone.”
In theses days of rising health costs, Schafer knows everything an individual can do to stay in peak physical condition makes economic sense.
But ask Larry Schafer why he rides and his simple answer says it all: “I enjoy riding and it makes me happy.”
— Aerobic: Cycling uses major muscle groups (i.e., the legs), raising heart rate to an extent that benefits health.
— Low weight bearing: Many people cannot do certain sports because of the pressure it puts on their joints. Because the cycle takes the weight of the body, much less pressure is exerted on the joints whilst cycling. This makes cycling a good form of exercise for those with certain joint problems.
— Low skill: Many people are put off doing certain sports because of the high level of skill that seems to be required. Most of us know how to cycle, once you have learned you don’t forget. All you need is a cycle and a big of confidence.
— 7 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men are not active enough to benefit our health.
n Steady cycling burns about 300 calories per hour. A half hour daily cycle trip will burn 11 pounds of fat per year. Because the activity is daily, the weight is likely to stay off and weight loss will be even more effective if combined with dietary change.
— Studies have shown that brisk cycling of the type involved in the work journey will convey a 3 to 7 percent increase in cardiovascular fitness, a 5 percent drop in cholesterol and a 3 percent drop in body weight.
— A major study suggested that those who cycled 20 miles over the period of a week were half as likely to suffer heart disease as their non-cycling colleagues.
Did you know?
Not doing exercise or physical activity dramatically increases our chance of having a number of diseases in later life:
— coronary heart disease;
— high blood pressure;
— cancer of the colon.