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Cycling in Older Age
Recent research shows that regular cyclists have, on average, the health of someone ten years younger. .
There is no age at which cycling stops being an option, and anyone who cycles regularly into older age adds years to their life expectancy. Regular exercise can reduce stress and depression and cycling is a particularly low impact activity (second only to swimming) which keeps you fit and alert. Cycling can also be a very cheap form of transport for anyone on any budget. It gets you from A to B at virtually no cost, whenever you want to go. No waiting for lifts from other people: no reliance on buses.
There are more good reasons for cycling in older age: cycling involves smooth, regular movement: it doesn't put big stresses and strains on your body. Cycling four miles daily reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 per cent. It's good aerobic exercise, yet puts no load-bearing strain on joints or muscles – good news if you are arthritic, a bit overweight or generally unfit. Cycling for half an hour regularly should help shed any extra pounds. Regular cycling improves lung function: useful if you suffer from bronchitis or asthma.
If you have not cycled since your younger days, you may not be aware of just how light and efficient modern bicycles can be. The wonderfully diverse range of cycle types means that there's a bike to suit everyone, whatever their age. With innovations and advances in technology, manufacturers continually strive to offer improvements in terms of comfort, reliability and ease of use. There are puncture proof tyres, exceptionally comfortable saddles, and chain guards and mudguards to keep you clean. Compared to your heavy old all-steel roadster, today's lightweight bikes are easy to lift and agile in hilly terrain.
The best of today's folding bikes ride like conventional uprights and fold in seconds to a compact bundle. With a low 'step-through' it's easy to hop on and off. Modern materials and design developments mean that they are light and responsive. Kitted out with quality components, and often with suspension, you can ride them comfortably all day long. Owning one will open up a whole new area of recreational possibilities. Load them aboard a train or stash in the car boot and seek out somewhere nice for a spin in the countryside. Alternatively cycle out to visit a friend, fold the bike down and catch the bus home.
Need an extra boost to your pedal power? Electric bikes and trikes are everyday cycles with an added battery-powered electric motor offering transportation solutions between walking and driving. They work by assisting your pedalling. Although capable of pushing you along without your help, electric bikes perform noticeably better when you pedal. You can go 50% faster for the same effort with a range of at least 15 miles. With baskets or a trailer they become surprisingly practical vehicles. Do you remember that easy pedalling after you get your bike up to speed? That's the cruising feeling you get all the time with an electric bike.
People choose to ride electric bikes because they:
• help overcome hills, starting off, and headwinds
• make local journeys easier
• save money, meet new people, and protect the environment
• offer extra opportunities to exercise – even if it's just a little
• offer convenient, A to B transportation, and no need for a driving licence
Manufacturers are now thinking beyond youth-culture cycle fashion, realising that there will soon be, in most industrialised countries, many more active 55 to 70 year olds than there are teenagers. And young people can be a difficult market, with fashion changing like the shifting sands. For older people image is important, but so is quality, and anyone getting into active cycling at the age of fifty-five may well cycle for twenty or more years yet, as opposed to the five years of active cycling for many of the younger generation before they 'graduate' to motorised transport.
Take up cycling now and you can enjoy expanding networks of cyclepaths and other facilities. But there is still much work to be done. Millions of cyclists with decades of experience to call on, and the leisure time to apply it, can put further pressure on government for ever better facilities. Older people, with a lifetime of knowledge and experience can be a highly effective campaign group, mindful of the power of their vote and the authority of their voice.
Already, some older people are showing an independence of spirit by recognising the specific advantages which recumbents, and especially tricycle recumbents, can bring them, such as a low frame, relaxed position, lower wrist fatigue and, for tricycles, easy low speed manoeuvrability and very low no-wobble gearing on hills.
Recumbents are great but they are often expensive and challenging to store. For everyday cyclists what are some of the important features to look for in a regular upright bike?
Dropped top tubes, step throughs and ‘ladies’ bikes: We all know that our joints lose some of their range of movement over the years. As the passage of time makes it more difficult to raise a leg over a saddle there comes a point where a step through frame starts to make a lot of sense – for gents as well as ladies. The ability to get off the bike safely and quickly is a real boon in traffic and the removal of the gent’s style traditional top tube has little or no effect on the performance of a modern city bike.
Upright bars = upright riding position: There comes a point in every cyclist’s life when the appeal of high-speed dropped racing handlebars gives way to the need for a little less efficiency in the name of comfort. Upright bars may be less aerodynamic but they are safer, they give you greater control of the bike and a commanding riding position. There are side benefits too – if you find it difficult to turn your head as far as you once did an upright position makes it easier to see around you and it reduces the amount of body weight carried by tired hands and wrists.
Modern technology can come to our aid - Controls: Strong brakes are safer for tired fingers, GripShift gear shifters allow us to use our whole hand to change gears rather than individual fingers. Modern saddles (some featuring 'gel' inserts) ergonomic grips and active suspension can all help to banish discomfort.
More relaxed frame geometry: Without going into too much of Pythagorus’ Theorem… A more 'layed back', less racy geometry achieves two things. Firstly it makes it easier to achieve the optimum leg extension without placing the saddle too high for comfort and secondly it makes the bikes' handling less twitchy and nervous. A bike with relaxed geometry may not win many races but it’ll get to the finishing line safely and comfortably.
Many cycling holiday companies cater for the needs of the more mature cyclist. It's a great way to meet new people, and to discover what you are capable of in a supportive and controlled situation. There's time to explore at your own pace, and to experience different environments and cultures. One very welcoming international cycling holiday which our sister company runs every year is the Get Cycling Week.
The very adventurous can follow in the tyre tracks of intrepid retired English headmistress Anne Mustoe, who has cycled alone all round the world. Read one of her many books and be inspired!
Cyclorama's Bike Culture archives are full of great advice for new cyclists (no matter how old they might be!) and for people returning to cycling after a break. The Practical Advice and Beginners Guide are great places to start to find the information you need.
We welcome comments which might help us make Cyclorama more useful to new cyclists, old cyclists and everyone between, please feel free to email us via our contact page with your suggestions for articles, or indeed if you'd like to contribute.
If you’re a ‘newbie’ – welcome to cycling. And if you’re returning – welcome back!
Truly, the bicycle is the most influential piece of product design ever
Hugh Pearman, 2008