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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Love this Winter Cycling

If a week is a long time in politics, then just a few days can witness a sea change in climate, landscape and mood. Gone – at least for the moment – are the dank, dog days of late autumn, suddenly replaced by the sharp brightness of early winter.

Sure, it’s cold, but  isn’t December supposed to be a month of short days and long cold nights? And the unbroken ice blue skies of the last few days have more than made up for any accompanying Arctic blasts of the wind.

One of the big advantages of flexi working time during winter weekdays is the opportunity to take advantage of the short window of ideal cycling time; after any ice has melted, but before the sun sinks too low and the 4×4 wags plough their way back to the school gates. Pick your roads carefully and on weekdays, you can also avoid the leisure traffic and the embarrassment of being overtaken by a peleton of Sunday morning mamils.

True, I will admit, this morning was just that bit too icy to risk riding before lunchtime and the biting wind was the Siberian side of north, but over the last week I have persuaded myself on to the saddle to take advantage of the cold, serenity and enjoy some of my best cycling days this year. Unlike in the so-called summer months it has been dry and still and the cloudless skies have revealed the full allure of austere, frosty-edged landscapes.

“Isn’t far too cold to be out on a bike on a day like this?” is the usual reaction of friends and neighbours when they see me taking to two wheels. Well, I admit it takes me an age to get geared up and ready to ride, but once I get started, I’m always pleasantly surprised how quickly I warm up and and the fear of sudden chill is the best spur to sustaining a sufficient level of effort.

And, in response to the second most common question I’m asked, no I don’t tend to wear THAT many layers. Trial and error have convinced me that if I wear more than three layers, I get too hot and they feel far too heavy. So, I’ve settled on merino base and mid layers, topped off by a micro down jacket, if very cold, or a winter cycling jacket in all but the most extreme days. Usually my winter-weight cycling tights are fine; if it is really cold, I wear some normal tights underneath. Add a neck buff extended over the ears and a pair of insulated gloves and, crucially, some fleece-lined bootees to keep my feet warm and I’m ready for the coldest of dry days.

My new bike has also come into its own over the last couple of weeks. Lighter and with a more comfortable riding position than my old Marin (and apart from  a slight reservation about the brakes), I feel more confident on the Scott.

So, after the wettest summer I can remember, I’m more than happy that the weather has turned colder, and drier. I might have to dig out my mountain bike if it snows but, until then, I’ll wrap up warm and make the most of the shortest days of the year. Who would have thought I’d need my sunglasses more in December that in June and July? It really has been a strange year.

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