Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Second Life: on Cycling and Aging

On My Own Two Wheels, by Malachi O'Doherty
Reading On My Own Two Wheels by Malachi O'Doherty*, I am transported from the North Shore of Massachusetts back to the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, where I spent some weeks on my bike this past Spring. The Belfast-based author describes many of the same roads I traveled on - the same challenging hills, treacherous weather and glorious scenery - making me long to return there even more than I do already.

But the main theme of the book - whose subtitle is Back in the Saddle at 60 - is that of the author's return to cycling after an absence of three decades, and of the relationship between cycling and aging. Overweight and diagnosed with diabetes at 60, Malachi O'Doherty turned to what had been a favourite pastime of his youth in attempts to regain his health and energy. What follows is a complex and engaging personal account that is part memoir, and part commentary on what it is like to ride again as a changed man in a changed world. It is no longer the 1980s and the author is no longer in his 30s. Confronted with a new breed of bicycles, high-traffic roads, newfangled cycling infrastructure, and a society where cycling is far from a normative behaviour, the author finds himself in a state that is a mixture of wonderment, disappointment, frustration, and delight.

On My Own Two Wheels is a personal narrative. It makes no generalisations, gives no advice, offers up no lessons to the reader. But I suspect the experiences described will be widely relatable. I would estimate that as many as a quarter of this blog's readers are middle aged men and women who had cycled in their youth and have recently gotten back into it, or are attempting to do so. I have met many such cyclists riding for transportation in Boston, and more recently at randonneuring and club ride events. I recall reading that the average age of a Paris-Brest-Paris participant is in their 50s. 

There are some specifics in Malachi O'Doherty's story that I find intriguing. One is the way he faces changes that have taken place in the bicycle industry during his time off the bike. Of those who return to riding after decades of absence, many gravitate toward the type of bike that had been popular in their youth - seeking out vintage or classic machines, even taking pains to refurbish them with period-correct components. Some want to ride an exact replica of the bicycle they raced or toured on in their 20s or 30s. Others purchase the kind of bike they had dreamed of, but could never afford back in the day. But the author falls into the category that prefers a clean start and turns to contemporary industry standards. He went to a bike shop, asked for advice, and purchased a modern touring bike - fitted with brifters and clipless pedals in leu of the downtube shifters and toe clips he had used three decades earlier. The new aluminium bike is a size smaller than the steel bike of his youth. It handles differently. Far from feeling at home on the alien machine, O'Doherty nonetheless accepts the new technology and the challenges it presents. I get the sense that for him this is part of the deal: As fondly and nostalgically as he recalls the spirited rides and long touring trips of his 30s, reliving the past is not what he is after; he intends to start a new chapter. 

Another choice the author makes early on is to stay away from the racing and club cycling cultures - or any particular bicycle culture, for that matter. He describes his preferred riding style as "tootling," or simply wandering around by bike. And yet, he notices contradictions in himself - competitive impulses and cravings for speed that seem to come out of nowhere and undermine (or enhance? it's not always clear) his experience of the two-wheeled journey. He relates these paradoxes in cycling to paradoxes in life. Perhaps cycling offers a means of understanding himself better.

At the time of writing this post I am 33 years old. What draws a person to the bicycle at the age of 50, 60, 70 and beyond I can only speculate. Some are motivated by health and fitness-related concerns. Others take it up as a hobby after retirement. For others still it seems to be a matter of nostalgia. But regardless of the motive, a not uncommon result is that cycling becomes more than just an interest, but a way of life. A "second life," as one local cyclist in his 70s put it, throwing a slender muscular leg over the top tube of his racing bike and giving me a meaningful wink: "I am in better shape now than I was thirty years ago and my mind is sharper." I believe him. Riding with some exceptionally strong cyclists in their 60s and 70s has made me look forward to that age in a way I hadn't done before. I'd like to be like them when I grow up. 

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*Malachi O'Doherty is an online acquaintance, and I am a great fan of his political books and commentary. A reviewer's copy of On My Own Two Wheels was sent to me by the publisher. 

52 comments:

  1. Upon reading your comments, I immediately requested a copy of this book from my library - in hopes they will add it to their collection. You are probably right about the many mature people who are returning to cycling. That is the case for a number of riders in my senior's cycling group. Several like myself have ridden throughout our lives. Cycling did change for me at retirement 5 years ago. After having been largely a recreational or exercise cyclist, I found myself refitting old racks and panniers (from former touring use) and becoming more of a commuter cyclist, not that I had a job to commute to. But shopping, library, friend's homes, etc., all became cycling destinations as long as the weather and light were accomodating; light is a precious commodity many months of the year because I live north of the 49th parallel. Thanks for the book reference. I look forward to reading it.

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  2. Hi , I found your blog a few months ago and do enjoy it. I had been a cyclist in my youth and returned to it at about the age of 55. I was a keen kayaker and has detacthed retinas and wasn't allowed to go . I asked if I could cycle and was told yes. It didn't make any sense but I followed the adviice. Within a year I completed the North Sea cycle route through 7 countries nearly 3000 miles. DH came with me as "security". It took us 9 weeks.
    We have since continued to ride almost daily and we go off cycle campin g when we can. I have even started to blog about it. I'm now 61 and while I am not thinner , I am much fitter. I love the freedom cycling offers and the sense of achievement I get from travelling hundreds of miles under my own steam.

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  3. great post, in cycling active (uk mag) there was this month article by guy struggling with obesity, and nihilistic feelings, about cycling as a journey to loosing weight and having hope, which i can recommend. i'm 43, you'd be very surprised how like 33 it feels, and how blisteringly fast ten years go.

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  4. I can relate as I turned 65 yesterday. Three years ago I got on a bike again after being sedentary a long time. I loved it so much I had to ride every day. I bought faster vintage bikes [nostalgia and beauty] and learned everything I could about bicycles and cycling. I only have one vintage bike now. The rest are new - mostly 4130 steel. I know I can't club ride without more risk and the traffic is heavier, the driver attitude different today. People younger than me have had heart attacks while cycling or on their trainers but there are some older cyclists who have cycled a long time and they manage club rides. The very nature of a bike makes me want to go fast but I go as fast as I feel I can push myself and most of the time I just ride for the enjoyment and do light commuting. On the weekends I go further and try to keep up a cadence that I can manage. Cycling gives me a since of freedom and being closer to the environment than I could ever feel in a car. The air conditioning is better than walking and the mosquitoes can't get you as long as you're rollin'. It means I cycle alone but thats okay.

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  5. Nice post. I can believe that about the PBP mean age. I was surprised by the number of really fit guys in their 60s and 70s ripping up hills when I visited France last summer. Passing me like I was standing still. I don't know about the mean fitness level of the French population as a whole, but I would put their pensioners up against any group in the world.

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  6. It warms my heart when I see an oldster pedaling. It’s life-affirming and gives hope.

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  7. Picked up a copy for my Kobo for 6 bucks. Very much look forward to reading it. A number of years ago I road most of a charity tour alongside a thin but muscular man who kept an astounding pace for someone whom I had pegged at his early 70s. I eventually asked him his age. 86.

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  8. Good review. I will have to look out for the book.

    I stopped riding after starting grad school in '87. When I started riding again in '99 my weight was still below average and I was otherwise relatively healthy. 13 years of cycling, going on 9 of them bike only, I am even more thin and overall stronger than I was (I don't lift weights anymore so do not look quite as buff I guess).

    My Spectrum is a virtual clone of the Masi a neighbor used to let me ride from time to time when I was in High School. The tour/commuter bikes I have had over the past 13 years are a mix of old and new.

    I've tried and emphatically dislike clipless pedals and brifters. Less experienced riders telling me I should give them a try annoy me less than in the past. You get used to things after a while.

    I could not say that riding a bike has brought me to any greater sense of self understanding. Certainly I know my city and the areas I have toured better than I did when I relied on a car for transportation. It is interesting how much I have come to dislike driving (which I still do via Zip Car a few times per year) and even flying. With most of my travel open to the world, being confined in small spaces is difficult.

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  9. Thanks for plugging my book. You are getting the message to the people it's intended for, those who know that cycling keeps you younger and fresher. And cycling, for me, is so much more than a fitness regime, since it transforms my relationship with the territory around me and acquaints me with the countryside and with myself again. Sometimes it is gruellingly hard and then moments later, over that hump, it is like sailing, almost like flying. I call it mood-surfing. You don't just go for a spin to be fit and content; you go to awaken every part of yourself, from forgotten muscles to the whole range of emotions. Hopefully when you get back to Ireland we can take a tootle together.

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    1. Just ordered your book. I took up cycling again aged 57 and diabetic. I lost 6 stone. Am now 61, 13.5 stone in weight and find riding does everything you say. Ever find yourself laughing, crying, whooping with joy at the sheer elation of riding?
      P.S. It has led to obsessive behaviour. I now have seven bikes and enough clothing to kit out Team GB!

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    2. Well said. I'm going to read your book. People do tell me I look younger than my age since I've been cycling. BTW, I call the descent after a sizable hill "the payoff" - we fly. I have 7 bikes. I love bikes and how each feels a bit different. Keeps cycling more fun. I have lots of cycling stuff and accessories for each bike. I'm always finding that I need to sell something but I can't decide what to sell.

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  10. Another older rider, here. Health/disability issues -- primarily having to do with balance -- had kept me from cycling, but a strong desire to ride led me to my six-speed adult tricycle.

    Six hundred miles later, I'm now back on two wheels much of the time, fitter and leaner as a result of cycling.

    Having the time to ride, as an older adult with reduced domestic/professional responsibilities, has allowed me to ride as much as I wish, with all the attendant benefits.

    Cycling is an unalloyed pleasure in my life, and I relish, too, the ways in which it liberates me from always depending on an auto in the suburban area in which I live.

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  11. I took up cycling for the very first time on retiring at 60.

    I did it because I wanted to have my own independent form of transport instead of my Daughter, Niece and Nephew constantly ferrying me around by car if I fancied a shopping trip around town or a visit to one of the local places of interest.

    I hate public transport as it's expensive and time consuming waiting for buses and trains.

    I can't say I actually thought of the health aspect at the time, but I am of course very much aware of them now.

    Cycling is just such good fun, and why have the expense of a car once one has retired because it certainly is no longer an essential.

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  12. I am closing in on 50 myself and have rekindled my interest in cycling. I've never really lost interest but with the responsibilities of job and family it has been difficult to make the time for it. Starting last summer I set a goal to commute to work on my bike 1-2 days a week while the weather wasn't too cold. There are plenty of weeks when I don't hit that goal for various reasons but I'm riding more now than I have in years. The motivation was primarily to improve my health, both physical and spiritual. It certainly helps with that and I've concluded I need to do more. It was while researching commuter bikes that I stumbled across this blog and have followed it almost daily since. Thank you for the continued technical information you share but even more so for the inspiration. (Here's a picture of my commute to work with the bike I pieced together from various craigslist finds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43155337@N00/7705078062/in/photostream )

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  13. I had not ridden a bike since I was a child--not just a young adult--and was somehow attracted to it this past year. I started commuting to work in the spring and I love it. I have no interest in racing or centuries, but I do look at possible vacations on which I can bring my bike and see the world. And I am 57 years old!

    I did not set out to lose weight, but have lost a couple of pounds. I am stronger, and feel better. Extra perks from something that I do just because I like it.

    I like your blog, too!

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  14. I just downloaded the Kindle edition for 6.99

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  15. Swimming serves as a nice complement to cycling. When it is too hot or cold for the bike, one can always go for a swim, especially if there is an indoor pool nearby. It also works muscles that cycling does not while remaining low impact. Because it is a radically different exercise, it will chase away any burnout and equipment/clothing needs are minimal, even zero if you are in the right company : )

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    1. That is an excellent idea. I've got a gymn pool almost literally across the street; must sign up for membership.

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    2. Please check the rules before skinny dipping, but in my opinion it is the only way to swim!

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  16. I was looking for a good books to download for a upcoming trip. This sounds perfect. I returned to biking recently at 51 after a decade hiatus and a running injury forced me to rethink my fitness goals. I have never been happier. The author sounds a lot like me so I'm really looking forward to reading his book.

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  17. I rode my bike exclusively until I was almost 21. Then I got my license and drove a car for 3 years. When I wrecked that car in 1977, I scraped up the $500 to fix it, then splurged on a dream bike instead. I dated my wife on that bike and rode it for 6 years until jobs, family and distances put me back in the car again. Three years ago, I hated that I had to spend $70 a month to park my car. So at 55, I started commuting on that 1977 Centurion Semi Pro that I still have. I have a collection of bikes from 77 to 83. For me, I was delighted to still have my health when I started riding again, and daily riding is a celebration of that.

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  18. Very interesting article; thanks for publicizing O’Dougherty’s book. I’ll have to download it.

    Having ridden a bike for over 50 years, “enthusiastically” for over 40 – apart from a 10-year stretch in my 20s when I took up running and rode only occasionally – I must say that cycling remains as fun today as in my young 30s and 40s; probably more so.

    Why? Several reasons. One, I’ve lost, or am beginning to lose, the obsession with speed: I no longer feel I have to identify with racers. That saves a lot of pain! One thing one loses with age is the ability, or at least the willingness, to put up with as much pain. Riding must be fun!

    Secondly, and correspondingly, I no longer feel the need to choose my riding equipment and riding style with reference to this narrow category; in particular, I have long since given up chasing the latest and lightest – what a bore that futile attempt is! My bikes now are built around simplicity and reliability.

    Thirdly, I’ve come to understand my own riding preferences which have largely resolved into two: utility riding and fixed gear riding. By “utility” I don’t mean grim, eco-conscious, penny pinching choices, but simply that I prefer to have at least a nominal destination, and so at least 8/10 of my riding is long detours to get to the store, or PO, or someone else’s house, and my bikes of choice are usually road-bike-biased fixed gear commuters with lights, racks and full size frame pump. (I do retain one “gofast” – stripped of all but the essentials for fast road riding, but even this is a fixed gear and every so often I think about converting it into another commuter type bike. But a light bike, fast on hills, has hitherto been too much fun.)

    Even my off road bike is relatively simple: a Noodled, Silver bar end shifted 3X7 Fargo with 65 mm tires for soft dirt and 35 mm Kojaks for road riding: basically a touring bike with low bb, long stays and room for very fat tires. 16-18-20-22-24-28-34 for the Big Apples, 15-17-19-20-21-24-29 for the Kojaks, with the cruising gears being the 46 /20 and 46/19. (Yes, Miche makes outers up to 16 t.)

    Fourth, with experience one learns what equipment and what setup best suits one’s riding style and purpose. My bicycles are far more comfortable and powerful (insofar as power is determined by position) than they were 20 years ago, with bars circa 1” below saddle and with saddle quite rearward for high torque, low cadence pedaling.

    Lastly, one hopes, one learns to put cycling in better perspective: as Grant Petersen said some 10 years ago or so (paraphrasing from memory), “The most important things in my life have nothing to do with cycling.”

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  19. "What draws a person to the bicycle at the age of 50, 60, 70 and beyond I can only speculate. Some are motivated by health and fitness-related concerns. Others take it up as a hobby after retirement. For others still it seems to be a matter of nostalgia. But regardless of the motive, a not uncommon result is that cycling becomes more than just an interest, but a way of life."

    Don't know why it has to be any of these new "developments". The people who say, "hey this bike thing is great like I was a kid" baffle me, like it's something cast aside as detritus in becoming an adult. Sure we're cultural but people are so...sheep-like.

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  20. This is a great review; I've always enjoyed your writing ever since I discovered this blog two years ago.

    I just turned 56, and have been riding bicycles off and on since learning how at age four-and-a-half. I mostly use my bike to commute to work and a few day tours when I have time.

    My wife has recently gotten interested in riding with me after not being on a bike for many years. She'll be 60 this September. I'm hoping she keeps with it. I'm not pushing her because I don't want to ruin it for her. This requires a bit of patience on my part; I basically call up in my mind the article your wrote a while back on riding with a spouse or partner, and all is fine.

    Steve D.
    Seattle

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  21. I am nearing 50, but only started cycling about 12 years ago. After road riding and racing exclusively for 5 or 6 years I started commuting, gradually acquiring the equipment-fenders, fat tires, studded snow tires, etc.-appropriate for commuting year-round in Maine. About two years ago I started touring, mostly light-to-moderate, and I like that a lot. I dont race anymore, but still enjoy competitive group rides. I would race, but it's more of a commitment in time and energy than I am willing to make these days, and I like riding for fun; that is, without any goal in mind. I guess I satisfy the race thing with the fast group rides. So I would say that rather than changing preferences, I have added things I like to do on the bike. On the other hand, I have not been riding as long as some others my age.

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  22. I took up cycling at 52. My wife and daughters are good cyclists, but rubbish at teaching cycling so I got myself a Bauer Trisalu 26" Tadpole (two wheels in front) Tricycle and did 2600 kilometres on it the first year I had it. At the time I was working in Germany and the cycle paths were great. Not so good when I returned to England and at 57 took some cycle lessons in York for the over 50s and found myself on two wheels. I now have a Pashley Princess Sovereign road cycle (a step through was preferred), a Ridgeback X3 Mountain Bike and a Brompton folder. I love it and where I work I can cycle about 10 miles a day without heavy traffic. I'm still a bit nervous in traffic, but moving for the next 5 years to the Belgian/Dutch border where the cycle paths are usually off road and glorious with considerate drivers to go with it.

    I just bought the Kindle Book.

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  23. I really enjoyed this post; and enjoy most of your others, as well. I can relate to Malachi in that I rode bikes up until my early 30's then got back into it at about age 50. I'm currently 55. I live and ride in rural southwest Missouri and "tootle", too. There are not really any club rides such as that of which you write. The only racing I do is to outrun aggressive dogs. :) None the less, I really enjoy my bikes and riding them. I, too, am in better shape than I've been for quite some time.

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  24. I turn 64 next week. When I retired three years ago I began wondering about riding my 30+ year old Raleigh Sports again or buying a new bike. Then I discovered your blog through the article you wrote about "Lucy". The decision was made. Thanks to you, I cleaned up the Raleigh, made a few updates and have been happily riding ever since.

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  25. I reverted to vintage one day while working on my sweetie's bike. She's had one bike and only one bike since she got it new in 1975. Yes, she rides it and always has. And it occurred to me that riding aero brifting weightless stuff was a pointless detour. And it's much easier now that everything in the house is tutto Campi.

    It's not just nostalgia. Us older riders own the tools, have boxes of parts, understand how it works. Most all of the headaches and heartaches that younger vintage devotees have just don't happen to us simply because we know what works and what to expect. And they remain the most comfortable bikes ever as long as you aren't fighting them all the time. Those who have not lived with them will not easily understand how easy it can be.

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  26. I haven't stopped biking except a few years here and there. At one point I flew off my brother's bmx too many times, I was in a major accident, then a broken foot and lived somewhere I thought unbikable. At 37 despite a waiflike immune system and hobbles, technically I am in great health, and the years of biking have helped. Same clothes for years etc.. Strangely, I always thought of serious road cycling as a retired person sport. I would often and still see very elderly people dressed in their lycra, on state of the art machines and going for glory. I hoped that I would still be riding at that age. I never thought to ask, but wondered if they(especially the women) had always biked, or if it was a new thing? Apparently people in their 60's upward gain a new sort of stamina that makes them really good at long distance running and such.
    I do enjoy seeing older women especially on their vintage bikes going to work, library, pool etc and running errands. I don't see it where I live, but a trip to the city has me smiling left and right.
    With the high gas price scare a few years ago I thought more people would be switching to cycling...even my mom was threatening to. But no, people have just eaten the higher prices...so far. I can't even convince my dad to bike again and he's damned spritely and healthy.
    All in all, it's great to see people wanting to get back into riding, that it isn't just frivolous or just for sport. Sounds like Malachi might have been happier on a mercian or something similar. I often see older newly back to cycling people toddering on carbon fibre bikes and not very happy about it. I think carbon fibre is too performance orientated.
    And it must be nice for many to actually be able to afford their dream bike of the past. Stainless steel lugged bicycles-oh my!

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  27. I'm 54.

    I stopped riding regularly when I bought a car and moved from relatively flat greater Boston to flamboyantly unflat San Francisco when I was 25. Prior to that, I had commuted by bike (up to 20 miles/day) and occasionally did all day bike rides on the weekends and what would now be called credit-card touring. I didn't define myself as a cyclist, but I never felt so free as I did on my bike.

    My partner of many years hates cars and is a life-long cyclist. Every few years, he'd longingly suggest a bike ride, but I couldn't deal with even the smallest of California hills with my 80's Boston gearing, and I always said no. I put on 60 pounds, and thought I'd never ride again. However, by three years ago, I had bought an exercise bike, and was pedaling it for an 60-90 minutes 4 or 5 times a week.

    Then about two years ago, my partner suggested a ride again -- and I was bored with the exercise bike. I went for a 6 mile ride, uphill all the way to work, but then gloriously downhill all the way home. And I did it again the next day. And I did it again the next day, and stopped on the way home at a bike store and bought a modern hybrid bike and discovered modern mountain drive trains and modern brakes and -- you know those people who find their high school sweetheart on the internet and leave their spouses and their lives to go back to the love of their youth? When I'm on my bike, I feel like I got to go back to my highschool sweetheart without leaving my partner! In fact, my getting back on my bike has brought new energy and joy to our relationship.

    I'm no speed demon. I'm still fat and old and slow, but I'm a cyclist. I go on all day rides, a little faster than "noodling" but not much. I go up mountains, and absolutely every other cyclist passes me, but I get to the top -- and then I get to fly down.

    I have been learning about bikes as I go along. I put 1800 miles on the hybrid in about 6 months, but as I began to go on longer rides (over about 40 miles) I realized its shortcomings. I bought an old Univega touring bike, but missed the modern drive train, and it was too big. I bought a Long Haul Trucker, and loved it, and put 4000 miles on it in about a year, but as I did more riding, I realized it was too big. I rode a modern carbon bike and loved it, but I knew I'd want to tour, and didn't want to tour on a carbon bike -- and I knew I'd want lower gears than I could put on a pure road bike. Finally, in April, I sold the hybrid and the Univega, and I worked with a great local bike shop to build the bike of my dreams: custom steel, with randonneur geometry and mountain gears. It wants to climb, it goes a couple of miles an hour faster than the Trucker with no more effort, and it feels like an extension of my body. The love of my youth, only better, and I get to share it with the other love of my youth! I'm so lucky.

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    1. What an inspiring story! This is my whole point, that the rewards are always greater than the investment in struggle and pain. In a way it's like cheating nature. The bicycle is a machine with which the operator is the cargo; you put in the work of getting yourself fit but you get a free ride as well.
      We have the Olympics in London now with a lot of cycling victories but I worry that the message of the coverage is that cycling brings extreme pain and that it's only worth it if you win. This is absolutely the wrong thing to say about cycling. What I love about this site is that it emphasises pleasure, even indulgence in cycling, health and well-being, not mortification.

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    2. I agree on both counts, Malachi.
      I spent my 20s cycling in SF and know how challenging it can be. (Santa Cruz is not for the faint of gearing, either.)
      Having my interest return to bicycles in my early 40s has done wonders for me, too, personally.

      "What I love about this site is that it emphasises pleasure, even indulgence in cycling, health and well-being, not mortification."

      I've never met V in person, but I strongly suspect she's not dedicated to Mortification Of The Flesh. (faint smile)

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  28. Well I'm going to have to get this book now, aren't I? I'm in that category of coming-back to biking, a few years ago at 53. I went with a modified retro/new tech approach (or new-to-me). Settled on a steel frame right away, it was just a matter of which one, but loved the clipless pedals and brifters.

    Won't go into the prime reason I got back into it, but once I did, I rediscovered the simple joy.

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  29. Lovely article. I'm constantly amazed at how popular cycling is getting amongst older people. I ride with people in their 50s and 60s and even 70,s and those 70 year olds can ride with the best.

    As our society gets more and more car centric, and as we tend more towards poor health in old age from lack of activity, it's wonderful to see more and more people bucking the trend and getting out of the car, onto their bikes and enjoying all that cycling has to offer. Exercise, fresh air, fun and great company, none of which you get sitting in a car.

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  30. I am middle aged aor took up cycling for transport a few years ago, having been a sporting cyclist up till then, I also got a long term health condition which meant that high intensity cycling was out of the picture. All I required of my bike before was speed, but now I love restoring old bikes, I like them more than new ones and find the process so satisfying, as well as the end product which then becomes a way of getting around town, it's a win/win!

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  31. I bought my first ten speed a Schwinn Varsity in 1970. I was 14 years old at the time. I had a Peugeot in college while my Varsity was delegated to younger brothers. Fast forward to 1987 and I bought my first "fast bicycle" an Italian Fiorelli with Falk Steel tubing. It weighed 24 pounds however that bike handled and rode like a dream. I did a number of centuries on it and it always felt really comfortable. Fast forward to present and I have a Giant aluminum hybrid bicycle for running around town and an Italian Gios Compact that I bought two years ago from Excel. I also am building up a Fuji Connoisseur that I bought in a closeout last year from Nashbar. I became a type 1 diabetic in 1981 and cycling gives me the outlet to control my blood sugar and contributes to my current good health, I am glad I discovered such a great activity to do and also takes me outside six days a week. For the future I would like to get a touring bicycle and maybe a Rando style bike,

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  32. My return to biking started with a garage clean-up project. We had some old bikes that needed repairing, so I headed off to the local bike co-op with the intention of donating them. I ended up joining the co-op and repairing them myself, with a little help. I thought I would keep one of the bikes as an everyday around town bike but none of them was quite the right fit. Instead, I found a retro city bike (a Public D8) which my family bought for me for my 60th birthday. My plan is to cut back on driving and do more walking and biking. Riding a bike fits well in a plan to simplify my life, slow down, and live healthier.

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  33. At 47 I'm loathe to thinking of myself as middle aged but let's face it, I'm likely past the midpoint in life. I sort of stopped bicycling once I got my drivers license then dabbled in cycling sporadically from my late 20s until my late 30s. Hurt my neck in a car accident 8 years ago and had to give up lap swimming. Riding was the only exercise that didn't hurt my neck so I got back into it. I've since gone through 5 or 6 bikes that were either too small, too big, or too limited in tire size and now I ride a just right Soma San Marcos with 30mm tires and a Nitto Technomic stem at full mast.

    Nostalga being what it is, I had been searching for a couple of years for a 1980ish Vista Silver Shadow, which is what I rode in high school. I remembered it as being supremely comfortable with touring/recreational geometry. While I couldn't find one for myself, I found a mixte version and bought it for $70 for my daughter. Aside from the fact she hated the color, when I went to modernize the components it occurred to me why I sold my Silver Shadow in the first place. It has a bolt on derailleur hanger, stove-pipe tubing, a 52/39 steel ringed crankset and a weird Shimano precursor to an external bearing bottom bracket (pulled the cups and replaced with a normal BB); like my old bike it's anything but light. I suppose I was caught up in the romance of reliving my youth but in reality, the old Silver Shadow wasn't so great and life as a 16 year old probably wasn't much better.

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  34. I renewed my interest for the same reason as Mr. O'Doherty: health. I'm 64 with diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglycerides. The "nostalgia" notion doesn't quite describe why I chose the bicycle as the way to fitness.

    When I was growing up, the bicycle was our freedom card, as Frank Zappa once said (about drivers licenses, however). Being able to disappear from home for hours at a time with friends when one was 10-12 years old...was simply exhilarating. And we could just ride away because it seemed our parents believed we were somehow protected by our bikes, like it was an adult with us. Freedom and protection...

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    1. John, I forgot that part of biking as a child. Even though I lived in the city (Chicago) my parents never thought twice about telling us to go ride our bikes!

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  35. My grandma is now 99, and doesn't ride a bike any more. She stopped c. 9 years ago, when she had to swerve round a stupid pedestrian, fell, and broke her hip. Hip is fine now, but she lost courage there. Too sad.

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  36. Oh I forgot about my parents, now 87 and 79, who both still ride. My father has the occational crash, but his falling technique is top notch, so he's never really hurt. His riding style is somewhat scary for a man his age. My mother is of course a lot more carefull, hehe.

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  37. Well, I'm not riding again yet, but will be as soon as I get the disc brake adjusted on my Fuji copy of a Dutchie. I have new Schwalbe tires on it, and I managed to figure out how to get the back tire off while dealing with a full chainguard.

    My husband was the bike mechanic for the bicycle coop in Portland OR back in the 70s. We had both ridden 10 speeds when we lived in the flat lands in California. We rode through Portland until we moved into the Gorge. Riding up and down steep hills all the time was not fun and you couldn't really use them for transportation in that area. I haven't ridden since. I am still trying to find the right bike and I do think this Fuji is the one. If I enjoy riding again, I will probably look towards an electric assist bike in the future. And it remains to be seen how much I like riding when it's raining :)

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  38. Being a 65 yr old man, I rode a red JC Higgins bike as my first kid bike. Then a black 3 spd Raleigh. Gave up riding in high school. In the 80's got back to riding with my son and daughter. Bought a new 1987 Schwinn touring bike. Around the late 90's no kids around and busy as an engineer, put the bike in the barn. 4 yrs ago our daughter and 2 sons moved back home with us. Got the bike out to ride with the boys. Have not looked back. My health has always been good but now I have the blessings of helping be a role model for the grandsons. Also joined the local bike club and do weekly rides and charity rides. The boys and I are doing a family 10 mile ride Sat. Not bad for a 9 and 5 yr old. Also bought a modern alum and carbon rd bike. Have started to buy older bikes to fix and ride on solo easy rides. Bought a French Gitane 10 spd this week. Thanks for the good blog.

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  39. I learned to ride during the Kennedy Administration, more or less stopped 20+ years ago, then got back on 3 years ago commuting daily. And I am a devotee of a growing stable of three-speed Raleighs, my principal wheels being the Superbe I bought used in 1979. Besides the nostalgia pull (the ne plus ultra of bikes when I was a kid - but I only had a hand-me-down single speed Schwinn Tornado that I converted into a chopper pseudo Stingray), these bikes are simple, reliable and easy to self-maintain.

    I went on a first time new group ride last week and 90% were in 50's and 60's. On a trip to Japan it struck me that most of the riders I saw were quite elderly.

    Can't wait to read the book. I recommend in like vein "Bicycling Beyond the Divide" by Darryl Farmer - a tour of the Western states by a guy in his 40's retracing the journey he made at about 20 on same bike.

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  40. I'm a little jealous that I never stopped cycling just so I could experience the joy of returning to it. It is always encouraging to hear about people in their 70's and 80's still pedalling though. At 47, I occasionally worry that at some later stage I may have to get over my car hatred. So far my plan for aging is: the Surly until I can't swing my leg over the top tube, a loop frame (I've always wanted one) whilst I can still get places under my own steam, then, "cheating" with an electric bike as a nursing home resident!

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  41. The owner of the bike co-op where I sometimes work on my bike sells electric assist cargo bikes and rides one himself with a huge cargo platform in the front. http://www.thebicycleworks.org/ He says that many people think that electric-assist bikes are "cheating" but that in his mind driving a car is cheating. He uses the electric motor to help him go faster, to go up hills and to extend the range that he can travel with his bike. He has an old pickup truck that he uses on those rare occasions when he needs to haul something large or travel a longer distance. He's a young man in his twenties and lots of his customers seem to be young parents who use electric-assist cargo bikes to carry their kids and run errands.

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  42. I'm enjoying this book and should finish it today. Although I didn't take up cycling again at 60, but started cycling close to that. His observations on cycling today are spot on.

    My learning curve with cycles continues. Yesterday I decided to tackle the Hudson Way which goes along the old railway line from Beverley to Market Weighton in East Yorkshire. We have the infamous Dr Beeching to thank for these trails which came about from his railway closures in 1965. Some of the lines have been surfaced such as the one in York and make a lovely ride, but the Hudson Way is very rough and narrow a lot of the time, sometimes just a rut for your bicycle tyre. I took my Ridgeback MX-3 Terrain Mountain Bike while my wife and youngest daughter took a Pashley Poppy and a Pashley Princess Sovereign. The latter two not the greatest bikes for this type of terrain.

    We had a 3 mile journey to the Hudson Way. Interestingly I found the combined bicycle/walking pavement (sidewalk) more difficult to negotiate than the on road cycle lane that appeared about a 1 1/2 miles into the journey. The cycle/walking path runs right best a 70 mph road that is very busy with holiday traffic, buses and HGVs. In addition you have to negotiate families, romantics, dog walkers and cyclists coming the other way and the whole path is only a metre or so wide with overgrown trees and hedges and bus shelters. The road cycle lane was a lot less stressful. I also noticed that raising my seat height isn't without it's disadvantages. Fine when you are on a road or street and can use the curb, not so good on paths. I had to revise my push off technique.

    Once we got the 3 miles to the Hudson Way things were pretty straightforward, if extremely rough in places. There was a busy road to cross and 3 not so busy. The busy road involved a long set of steps down one side and up the other and the ladies had not an easy time with the heavy Pashleys. Too bad they didn't put a little grooved rail for the bicycles. I have seen this in York and when we have been in Holland. Near the end of the journey the path widened and we had a mile or so of very relaxed cycling. It took us about 3 hours to do the 15 miles with some stops for water and rest. We arrived at Market Weighton at 3pm just as the pubs stopped serving Sunday food, but a plea to a pub landlady resulted in 3 Sunday Roast Dinners, a few pints of beer and filled waterbottles for the return journey. We met some walkers, dog walkers and cyclists on the journey, perhaps a dozen of each. All were incredibly polite and did all they could to assist our journey. The round trip was about 30 miles and I must confess to being a bit stiff today.

    Back to normal cycle routine today which consists of cycling at work on a Pashley Sovereign Princess and a 6 mile loop on the MX3 after work. Luckily for me I am stationed at an Army base (former RAF station) and traffic is plentiful, but very controlled and in the evening I have the old airfield to cycle on without the worry of traffic. I never thought life, as I am about to begin my 7th decade, could be so enjoyful and cycling is contributing to it.

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  43. I'm just coming back to cycling after about 30 years. My partner, a randonneur and lifelong lover of all things bike, got me a lovely blue step-through sit-up-and-beg-style Giant bike last weekend for my 48th birthday. The reasons I finally came back to it? Wanting to spend more time with the cyclist I live with and an inability to walk far, due to a herniated disk and arthritis in my spine. My physical therapist said the bike would be good for me (he said to be sure to get one that would keep me in an upright position and the bike shop got me a small frame to help with that) and I'm really liking it, though I have a lot to learn!

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  44. I'm in my 60s and love to ride my bikes. I've toured quite a bit. In company and on my own. I'm quite gregarious and ride with two clubs. One is getting too competitive and the other is quite laid back and likes tea stops, lunch and idle chatter.
    Guess which one I go out with more often?

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  45. My case is a love affair with her every sunday in the forest, here in La Rioja, Spain. I call "her" by her name, Scotty (Scott is her brand). Now in summertime is marvelous to get lost in the wood going up and up and up! I agree with some of the statements I have read up here: it is much more than a regime or care activity; I find myself knowing new paths up to the mountain. I am nearly 49, and hope keep on riding 30 more years I guess. Suppose I should change someday the hard slopes for the flatty roads; but I still can burn a good fire with Scotty´s help.

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