In the end, cycling isn’t about speed or power output, it’s about pleasure
8 Wonderful Ways Cycling Improves With Age
Whether it’s something that concerns you directly or whether it’s something that you never consider, ageing does affect each of us, whether we like it or not.
Think of the number of anti-ageing products available these days, the perceptions of age in the media, our obsession with youth and beauty, the fact that most high-level sportsmen retire by the time they are 30 (why don’t we watch “veteran” sports?) and how flattering it is to be told that you look younger than your age.
Many societies value and cherish their older generations as oracles of wisdom. They’re treated with reverence and respect yet, despite the millions we spend on life lengthening medical research, so many of our older generation end up on the scrap heap, unwanted and unvisited in homes and secluded behind closed doors.
Maybe I’ve just been lucky but, despite having had my share of challenges in life, as I’ve got older I’ve only really gradually become a better version of my younger self.
Like I said, maybe I’m lucky but my 4th decade has been considerably the best of my life and now, on the verge of my 50s I wouldn’t want to be any other age.
For me, cycling has been one of the major factors in keeping me both physically and mentally in shape and, as a slightly older rider, I can definitely say that it gets better with age. In fact, we’ve previously shown that cycling makes you 10 years younger.
Like a fine wine, whisky, cheese, jeans, cast iron pans, beef, balsamic vinegar, fine leather, pickles and slippers – cycling only improves and becomes more enjoyable as time goes on. I might not be the fastest or strongest but as the saying goes “age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill” and most older cyclists still come back from a ride with a big grin on their faces and here’s 8 wonderful reasons why:
1. You can see the bigger picture
Now, I’m not going to deny that there’s a particularly delectable pleasure in overtaking a cyclist 20 years your junior on a hill. It’s hard not to shout “there’s life in the old dog yet” or other such ridiculous affirmation that you’re not yet dead as you wheeze past. There really is something sincerely moving about your slightly creaky half century old body propelling itself forward at speed almost against all the odds and not disintegrating into a dust of brittle bones or grinding to a halt amid some sort of heart seizure.
However, generally speaking, the slightly older cyclist might find that what s/he lacks in outright speed can easily be made up by employing the wisdom and cunning of experience. Or, put more bluntly an older rider will probably have bonked so many times that they have finally learned their lesson and know a) not to set off too fast at the start of a ride and b) to keep eating!
We are able to view the big picture, pace ourselves with object maturity and, firm in the knowledge that “slow and steady wins the race” view the ride as a whole and eke out our energy accordingly rather than get swept away with youthful over-enthusiasm by going too fast too soon and burning out.
2. Cycling is the perfect exercise
Most importantly, cycling is really easy on your joints and body, especially compared with running and, as a form of exercise for the older rider, it’s perfect in it’s ability to maintain cardio health whilst being safe and low impact. Think of the number of calories you can burn on a two-hour cycle ride and how cycling can become the perfect antidote to combat the dreaded middle-aged spread.
Coupled with this, there’s an almost infinite variety of ways to enjoy cycling from cafe rides to time trials, sportives to MTB, popping to the shops to touring and so on. There really is a style of cycling to suit almost everyone and the older cyclist stands little chance of getting bored or tired of doing the same old thing on their bike.
3. Mechanical issues don’t phase you
Rather than being a massive panic, a stop off to fix a puncture or a transmission problem becomes an interesting diversion rather than a stressful tragedy for the older rider. The chances are that you’ve seen it all before, you’ve been mending punctures since 1975 and with your “make do and mend” experience, improvisational capacity and massive DIY experience gleaned over the years, you can fix almost anything at the roadside.
Let’s face it, the chances are that you’ve probably dealt with everything from tantrumming toddlers to impossible teenagers. A bit of roadside bike fixing is a piece of cake and a pleasant distraction. Anyway, if you can’t fix it you can just use one of those new-fangled mobile devices and call for help. We didn’t have those when I rode a Chopper in the 70’s.
The other great thing about cycling is that it actually gives us the opportunity to indulge in a bit of mechanical tinkering. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction to be had from working with your hands, particularly on mechanical things and particularly on things that can transport us around. Years ago we all used to tinker with our cars and now that particular pleasure has been denied us (have you looked under a modern car bonnet recently!) bikes offer the perfect alternative.
The older rider understands this, isn’t afraid of getting his/her hands dirty and takes great pleasure in keeping the bike in great running order.
4. You’re prepared for anything
Now you might think that the older rider has a bit of a gung-ho attitude to things going wrong but, to a certain extent, you would be incorrect. The more mature rider will be prepared for anything and, with a keen eye that’s been trying to decipher the weather in this country for possibly half a century or more, will be able to go on a cycle ride perfectly attired for every possible meteorological eventuality.
Not only this, but the years of experience gained in trying to attain the perfect riding temperature will have paid off with the ability to minutely adjust every zip and flap at precisely the right moment to make sure that the older body doesn’t overheat or get too cold.
This is an art form and a skill that can only be marveled at by 20 to 30-year-olds who will constantly be either too hot or too cold (and will always complain about it) when out on their bikes.
The older rider will also have all manner of useful items in their saddle bag. If you have ever been brave enough to delve into the depths of a more mature ladies handbag I’m sure you will know what I mean. Handkerchiefs, chocolate bars, nuts and bolts, scissors, razor blades, money, credit cards, half eaten sandwiches, pens, keys, medicines and inhalers are among the more repeatable items that might be found in the older rider’s saddle bag.
“Be prepared” is the mantra of this generation and experience has shown that it pays off.
5. Taking time to appreciate the ride
Somehow your priorities change when you are a little older and the small details of the ride become little pleasures that, in previous years, you wouldn’t have noticed or you would have missed due to inexplicable obsessions with average speeds and counting your cadence.
I’m not sure why, but you become much more able to “stop and smell the roses” along the way, take in the view and become more immersed in the experience. A cycle ride becomes more of a fully rounded pleasure rather than a means of pushing yourself and getting from A to B as fast as possible which is often a priority in earlier life.
Mid-life cycling is less stressful, your priorities change, you somehow give yourself permission to enjoy the experience more and to relish the moment.
6. You are comfortable with your ability
Part of this ability to slow down, is an acceptance of your place in life and becoming comfortable with your own abilities. Now, I must admit to being a bit torn on this still because, deep down I’m very competitive, but, as a mature rider you come to realise that the real competition isn’t everybody else. The only competition that it makes any sense to compare yourself with is yourself. Anything else is essentially destructive.
Now, I’m not saying that competitive racing is a bad thing at all or that being competitive at any age should be discouraged but I do think that there is great peace of mind to be had by accepting your ability level and not comparing yourself constantly with others.
This doesn’t mean that you gradually get slower and wait to die! It’s not literally about speed, it’s about peace of mind and accepting your level. I’m literally about to go out on my bike and do my regular hour or so of interval training and I will probably push myself fairly much to my limit. I’m aiming to go a bit harder or a bit longer than I did the last session. I am, however, in the broad realm of things, relatively slow and I accept that. What gives me the greatest pleasure is trying to prove to myself that I can go faster for longer.
7. Calmness in judgement of other road users
A wonderful by-product of our extremely mature acceptance of ourselves is that we are far more likely to accept shortcomings in others and remain calm and non-judgemental towards other road users. Yes, this is extremely difficult when you have just been cut up at a roundabout for the third time that day or a car has just overtaken you within inches of your handlebars – the temptation is to shout and wave your little fist around in a futile gesture of anger but, in reality all this will really do is increase your stress levels and blood pressure.
As a mature and experienced road user, the older cyclist will simply mutter “dickhead” or some other expletive under their breath and then immediately get back to the business of unadulterated cycling pleasure.
The other great thing is that a majority of older riders will be experienced drivers and road users anyway and this does give you a bit of an advantage in that you can read the road from a motorist’s point of view, ride a little more assertively and probably avoid getting into a majority of problematic situations anyway.
8. Cycling is massively social
Finally, the more mature rider will probably over the years have accumulated a huge number of cycling friends and acquaintances. Possibly so much so that every event or cycle related outing becomes a bit of a meetup and an opportunity to indulge in one of life’s greatest pleasures – chatting to friends and enjoying other people’s company.
And this is a great thing. Whilst some younger riders might be obsessing over their Strava segments alone in front of a laptop the older cyclist will be enjoying cycling for it’s social and community aspect and their lives will be so much richer because of it.
In the end, it isn’t about speed or power output, it’s about pleasure. It’s about savouring the experience and sharing that richness with others. For myself, I wouldn’t want to be 25 again with all it’s uncertainties and pressures. My life and my cycling have significantly improved in my middle years and I can only look forward to that continuing for years to come.