Obesity and stress-related ailments are increasing in America. Efforts are mounting for people of all ages to get off the couch and get moving, to spend less time on the computer or in front of the TV and more time re-acquainting themselves with the great outdoors. For a growing number of people, accomplishing that is as simple as going back to a favorite childhood pastime – bicycling.

Since its beginning in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the bicycle has seen an abundance of changes in style and features. What hasn’t changed, however, is how it’s powered and the many positive things it provides. That’s a big part of what drew Christian Toews, a native of Durant, Okla. now living in Denison, back into bicycling. He’s taken what he enjoyed so much as a youngster and has turned it into a full-time passion, not only helping himself, but others.

“When I was really young, like 6 or 8, we used to ride the little BMX bikes. That was back before cell phones. My mom and dad would let us go ride our bikes around town the whole day. Their only instructions were to be back before the street lights came on. … We would ride those all day and just had all the energy in the world. It was awesome,” said 26-year-old Toews. “It was our only mode of transportation outside of walking, so we’d ride everywhere. That was your earliest kind of gang meet up thing before you turned 16 and got your driver’s license. You’d ride your bikes to everybody’s house, go gather your gang of friends and ride around.”

Like most teens, Toews said he forgot about bicycling after getting his driver’s license. He was in his senior year in college at Southeastern Oklahoma State University before he unexpectedly returned to his boyhood bicycling roots.

“I’d been running and swimming in college, then I was like, ‘Man, if I just had a bike, I could do a triathlon,’ so my parents actually helped me buy my first really nice road bike. Once I started riding that, I was hooked,” Toews said. “It was freedom from being in a car. I could experience the elements, go out and ride. It’s the ultimate mode of transportation for me. You’re the one powering the vehicle along, so you can go as fast or as slow as you want. You can feel the terrain – not like riding in a car – and you don’t have to buy gas!”

Toews has continued his cycling and triathlon experiences, competing at the national level several times. He is currently at the “elite” status and is preparing to file for his professional ranking. However, competing for his own gratification wasn’t what the young man wanted. A Dallas nonprofit business has provided the athlete with real purpose behind his passion. He uses his talent to manage a group of athletes spread across the nation as they raise money and awareness for T4 Global, a nonprofit, Christian ministry which focuses on working with oral cultures across the globe. The group not only brings the gospel to societies of people who can’t, don’t or won’t read due to lack of resources or education, but enables the groups to record in their own languages their cultures and stories. The organization also provides humanitarian efforts such as AIDS prevention, clean water resources, hygiene and other like services. Toews and his “Go Team” compete in a variety of triathlons and athletic events while raising money and awareness for T4 Global through online pages and personal appearances.

To keep up with his athletic goals, Toews trains 20 to 30 hours a week. It helps that there is an active, local cycling group, the Texoma Cycling Club, based out of the area’s only dedicated bike shop, Texoma Bicycle Works in Sherman. Opened in 2012 by avid cyclists Charlie and Pat Jenkins, the shop is now the hub for local bicycle enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. The club holds rides almost nightly with varying degrees of length and difficulty and new riders are always welcomed, whether seasoned pros or beginners.

Charlie Jenkins says the equipment used by today’s casual and competitive cyclists has changed much through the years.

“Like most sports, bicycles and cycling equipment have seen huge improvements,” Jenkins said. “Today’s bikes are lighter, stronger, faster and safer. Today’s average bike has greater gear ranges, facilitating efficient riding on any terrain. The gears are far more precise than in years past, ensuring quick, crisp shifting every time. The newest technology in gears is electronic shifting which guarantees that perfect shift each and every time. They rarely ever get out of adjustment and there are no cables to stretch, rust or corrode. … Brakes are another area we’ve seen significant improvements in. Disc brakes ensure greater stopping power, even when wet. Disc brakes have been popular on mountain bikes for several years, but have recently gained popularity on road bikes. …

“Originally, essentially all bike frames were steel. Over the years, aluminum and carbon fiber have become the new standards. Both are lighter than steel and equally as strong. Aluminum is much more affordable and is the standard for most of today’s bikes. Carbon fiber is the preferred material for performance-oriented bikes. … Today’s wheels are lighter, stronger, more aerodynamic and smoother. Lighting systems have also seen much improvement with modern lights being brighter than ever, illuminating the road and trails with similar brightness of automobile lights.”

Cycling is something the Jenkins, as well as Toews and his wife, Sarah, say they enjoy participating in together.

“We (Charlie and Pat Jenkins) are both cyclists. We’ve been riding for more than 40 years. Originally, cycling was an occasional weekend activity for us. Now it’s our lifestyle,” Jenkins said. “We ride both paved and gravel roads, usually on a tandem (bicycle built for two). Long distance cycling and ultra-distance events are our favorites. Our normal weekend-long ride is 125 miles. We’ve ridden numerous 300 to 500 mile events, ridden in the Race Across America as a team event for more than 3,000 miles, and in numerous other similar events and rides. This summer, we are riding from Texas to Canada!”

Jenkins, like Toews, stressed the benefits of cycling and added that it’s also a perfect way to strengthen relationships.

“Cycling is an extremely healthy sport and lifestyle. It’s low impact, great for weight loss and maintenance, and a good way to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. It can be enjoyed by all age groups and is a perfect group activity,” Jenkins said. “Cycling itself doesn’t cost anything to do as you can ride the roads and most trails free of charge. Tandem riding is a great way to spend time with your spouse or partner. It requires teamwork and definitely enhances a good relationship. It’s labeled the ‘relationship accelerator.’ It makes a good relationship better. Of course, it’s not necessarily recommended for troubled relationships as it could accelerate them in the wrong direction!”

Toews and his wife, Sarah, also share a passion for cycling.

“Sarah is a phenomenal mountain biker. She can go out and tear up some trails! … Cycling is one of our favorite things to go out and do,” Toews said. “We have an easy ride, talk, hang out and have fun together. I remember doing that when I was a kid growing up, so if you haven’t ever given cycling a shot, try it and see if it’s something that you like!”

Toews stresses that all cyclists, whether a casual rider or a hard-core competitor, share common bonds.

“Especially in a small community like this, you pretty much know each other, for one thing,” Toews said. “On top of that, you’re all facing the same challenges whether it be there’s not enough bike lanes or we don’t have places to ride, so it’s very dangerous. We all share that experience of, ‘Hey, I got side-swiped by a vehicle,’ and I don’t care if you’re going five miles an hour on a leisure ride or 26 miles an hour training, that’s still the same experience. … You’re all going out on the road and facing the same issues and challenges. … You’re all experiencing cycling, so there’s always common ground. We experience the same hills, the same wind. … I think that’s the main thing that draws cyclists together. It’s a shared experience.”

Safety is a key factor for cyclists. According to Toews, it’s a matter of educating cyclists and motorists alike as to the rules of the road in order to avoid collisions that can cause injuries or death.

“I’ve had close calls and people yell at me and tell me I’m not supposed to be on the road (while cycling). They just clearly don’t understand,” Toews said. “There’s an educational piece missing. People should be more aware that cyclists are allowed to ride on the road, and that you need to be careful. Both parties (cyclists and motorists) need to be accepting of the other one on the road. … We can work together to make it safe and fun for everybody. … If you have a collision with a car and it’s their fault, you lost. If it’s your fault, you still lose. The cyclist never wins in that situation, so awareness on both sides is important.”

Some basic rules of the road for cycling are given by Toews.

“Cyclists need to understand it is difficult to see them,” Toews said. “You hear motorcyclists talk about how they almost get hit all the time. You multiply that by about 10 for a bicyclists, so you need to be very visible. Have lights and wear reflective gear all the time. Always wear a helmet. I don’t care if you’re going around the block or doing a 50-mile ride, you need to have a helmet on. That’s cycling 101. … It’s easy to find the rules for cycling on the Internet and you can also find the rules for vehicles on the road, as well. A lot of us have a driver’s license, but not a lot of people actually know the rules of the road. Just being educated in that is a big safety step for cyclists.”

For someone wanting to explore the possibility of adding cycling into their lifestyle, Jenkins and Toews encourage a visit to the local bike shop and joining the bike club.

“The best place to start is with a local cycling club and local bike shop,” Jenkins said. “Your local bike shop can point you in the right direction to the cycling groups and can recommend places to rice and places to avoid riding. Determine what type of riding you want to do – road, gravel, mountain biking, triathlons, commuting, etc. … The bike shop will help you choose the correct bike the first time to ensure it meets your needs and desires. They will also ensure your bike is the proper size and fitted correctly and will recommend the equipment and accessories you need and which ones are optional. You can expect to pay $500 to $1,000 for a performance quality bike, helmet and necessary equipment you need. Of course, professional quality bikes can cost much more, but aren’t necessary for anyone just starting out. …

“Find a local group, ask questions and get out and enjoy the outdoors. Don’t worry about how fast or far you are riding, just enjoy the ride! The speed and distance will come in time. Be prepared for some sore muscles, improved fitness and health benefits and weight loss. If you are riding on the road, you will be sharing it with cars. The local bike club will help you learn how to safely ride with traffic.”

- See more at: http://heralddemocrat.com/living/lifestyle/bicycling-healthy-fun-everyone#sthash.wjlRTw9N.dpuf

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