25 Feb 2013

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

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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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