Ways to Get More People Cycling, Part Five: You’re Never too Old to Ride a Bike


Well, after a brief glimpse of spring a week ago, we’re back to normal February temperatures, made even more bitter by a bitingly raw wind that supposedly is blowing in from the north east, but seems to attack from whatever direction you face.

You're always the right age to cycle
You’re always the right age to cycle

Saturday’s two hours in temperatures peaking at three degrees before flatlining at two, were enough to persuade me to leave the bike in the garage yesterday. For the experts though, Siberian winds present the same type of challenge as acute gradients: Patrick, my bike mechanic assured me with his usual insouciance, that on his 100km morning race the first half hour, as usual, was the worst as, after that, you stop feeling anything anyway.

In truth, once you do get going and, as long as you have chosen the right combination of layers, a brisk, undulating two-hour ride is just about right to work up some heat, but not too lengthy to lose all feeling in toes and fingers. And. I must admit, I did feel pleasantly toasty as I sipped a hot cup of tea and freshly made muffin on my return.

Getting the blood circulating is important, of course, particularly in cold weather and especially for the many regular cyclists who, let’s say, are the other side of middle age. Sure, as you get older, you probably have to pay particular attention to keeping gaps, like those around the small of your back, covered but riding a bike puts far less strain on joints and bones, compared to say running.  And, consequently, is an activity that attracts so many people not in the first flush of youth and one where older participants can more than hold their own with their younger counterparts.

I was reminded of how cycling is such an ideal recreation and mode of travel for older people when I met two septuagenarians eating their sandwiches in the sun (it was about 12 degrees at the time) a week ago. Their solid, expertly packed, Claud Butler tourers displayed bicycling experience and expertise and their conviviality was characteristic of most of the experienced riders I have met on my travels.

Both had impressive sporting pedigrees – he as a former time trialist and she as a club hockey player – and continued to cycle regularly for fitness, mobility and pleasure. Their biggest regret was that now, when they take their grandchildren out on their bikes, they have to restrict them to off-road routes, like the Tissington Trail, as even rural back lanes are too dangerous.

It was fascinating to spend 15 minutes or so listening to their tales of bike touring throughout the UK and Europe from the late 1950s into the 60s and 70s, especially their adventures when taking their children with them.

But listening to their experiences also highlighted just how age and ability inclusive cycling is; how it is as suitable a way of keeping fit for those in their 70s as it is for lycra-clad 20 somethings and how it can provide people of any age with opportunities for greater mobility and social inclusiveness.

And, while it is brilliant to see the UK’s cyclists performing so well again in the   recent World Championships, we need to utilise this legacy to continue to lobby for cycling as an activity for all, of whatever age, class or location.

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Ways to get More of Us Cycling, Part Four: Go on Yourself


Another beautiful late winter’s day; snowdrops flirting in the sunlight, the green shoots of spring’s bluebells peeking out from the forest floor, blackbirds suddenly re-occupying the garden, tunefully demanding yet more crumbs and, with the temperature reading an agreeable 11 degrees, time to dispense with at least a couple of winter layers.

Today was our fourth consecutive springlike day and, given the inclement conditions that preceded (and will doubtless follow), far too enticing not to take advantage of. You don’t have to be a fair weather cyclist to appreciate sudden, unseasonal even, good weather and a lovely still morning combined with clear blue skies and great visibility are as good an encouragement as any to coax would-be bikers out of hibernation.

But one of the other great assets of cycling is that you can gan oan yersel, as they would say in the West of Scotland. Roughly translated this means, go on and do it yourself. Now while cycling is a perfect activity for socialising in a healthy way with likeminded friends, it is also one of the few activities that is equally suited to doing on your own. I passed probably a dozen fellow cyclists on my circuit today and all, bar an elderly couple happily eating lunch at the side of the road, were on their own. On a weekend, there will be routinely more pelotons, but solo riders will still form the majority.

IMG_1857 I suppose many riders go out on their own because they want to cycle a certain route, or distance. In my case this weekend, there was no one else around – half term probably responsible for that – and I was determined to make the most of the weather. But it is certainly an interesting comparison to consider the number of solo cyclists and runners, compared to the few people who choose to walk on their own, particularly in rural areas.

Take away dog walkers and you see very few solo walkers. I’m not sure if this is because of social reasons – some years ago a neighbour told me one of the worst effects of losing his dog was that other people regarded him very suspiciously when he walked alone over the same fields – or safety considerations, or whether walking is simply regarded as an essentially convivial activity.

Whatever, the same preconceptions, happily, don’t seem to apply to cycling and this is another real advantage when it comes to attracting more women into the saddle. Without getting sucked in to too many generalisations, it is the case that most women have to juggle time very effectively and, as a result, it is not always possible for them to fit it with friends, or join an organised event at and for a specific time. Cycling frees you from these restraints and gives you the independence to come and go when it suits you, without any social stigma attached to being on your own.

It’s often overlooked, or not appreciated, that the bicycle was one of the most liberating factors for women in the late 19th and early 20th, allowing them far greater autonomy, liberty and mobility, as well as playing an important part in the Suffragette movement. It’s not too fanciful to suggest that the humble bicycle could provide a similar measure of independence, as well as major health and economic benefits, to women in the 21st century.

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Ways to get More of Us Cycling, Part Three: Silk Scarves and Woolly Gloves

Depending on your take on the subject, it’s either crazy, astonishing, predictable or just sad, that one of the reasons most regularly given by women as to why they don’t cycle is their worry about how it will affect their appearance.

From paranoia about helmet hair to distaste about having to gear up like a lycra warrior, there is little doubt that a negative image about how you will look if you cycle is a deterrent for many people who currently do not get on their bikes.

And, given that this image is a particular obstacle predominately (if not exclusively) for women, it is another, important barrier to higher female participation in cycling.

Here, yet again, we compare very unfavourably with our European neighbours in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, where the percentage of female cyclists is much higher. But, although dedicated cycle lanes and more protection from the law undeniably contribute to this, take a look at the people on their bikes in these countries and they will invariably be wearing ‘normal’ clothes. All part of a very different cycling culture of course, but an important facet of it, nevertheless.

Clearly the nature of your cycling and the type of bike you use will determine how you dress: a tweed coat would look as out of place on a carbon fibre racer as lycra would beside the wicker basket on a Pashley. There are, of course, certain safety precautions, such as not having anything flapping loosely around your pedals, or wearing long flowing clothes on a bike with a crossbar, that should be sensibly observed when cycling, but it is nonsense to contend that you can’t cycle in ordinary clothes.

And, given that this is particularly the case for short journeys to work, or school, or to the local shops – the very type of travel we should be encouraging by bike and not car – then persuading more people that you don’t have to dress up like a spaceman to cycle takes on even more importance.

Happily, there has been more focus on this in recent years and a number of retaillers selling adaptable cycle gear – “as at home in the office, as in the saddle” or such like – have sprung up, to the extent we now have the Lauren Lavernes of the world recommending their cycling gear of choice. All very well, and if it encourages more people on to their bikes, even better, but essentially this is still specialist gear and it continues to  conform to the belief that is necessary to wear particular clothes, whether specialist, adaptable or fashionable, before you can feel comfortable about cycling.

That this gear will be, by definition, expensive, compounds the problem and also fits into the growing fashion industry that is now outdoor gear. Indeed  the great outdoors is fast becoming  the new fashion catwalk. Open any magazine devoted to outdoor activity these days and at least half the pages will be devoted to advertising and ‘testing” gear. Of course exposure in the outdoors requires certain warm, waterproof and some specialised kit, and expert advice is  helpful. But the line between advice and the impression that expensive kit is a necessity, is a fine one, and one whose emphasis will, inevitably, conspire against those who cannot afford it.

After years of spending money on all kinds of ugly, smelling, uncomfortable ‘technical gear’, I now unreservedly admit that my mother (who knew nothing about outdoor gear and whose idea of an outdoor expedition was to navigate her way between Harrods and Harvey Nics, but did know her fashion and fabrics) was right all along in her advocacy of natural fabrics. Wool and silk will keep you warmer, or cooler, than any man made fibre and warm when wet.

So, a wool scarf, tied appropriately, will not only look better, but keep you warmer than a polyester buff and wool gloves will, unlike any of their technical equivalents, keep your hands warm even in soaking rain – see my experiences in Arran.

Silk scarves and woolly gloves

As for hair, I don’t intend to become embroiled into a debate about helmets, but if you do see the benefit of wearing a helmet, there is a simple solution to the dreaded ‘helmet hair’. Tie a silk scarf, as a turban, or bandeau, under your helmet and, even if you have thick, voluminous hair like me, it will not flatten. I promise! And before you shriek about the cost of silk scarves, in my experience, old ones that I’ve had for years but no longer wear, have tended to be the best, perhaps because they may have a higher proportion of silk. But have a trawl round your local market, charity and ethnic shops, as well as the internet, where you can pick up lovely, cheap and colourful silk scarves very reasonably – you never know, you may even be able to coordinate the colours with your cycling clothes!

So you can keep warm, or cool, or both and look good on a bike, without spending hundreds of pounds – and it  can be the excuse you needed to sort out all those accessories at the back of your wardrobe.



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