Recall your first bike? Perhaps you were a tad afraid of falling. But then you found your balance, tested the brakes, and life got bigger. Remember spinning the pedals, the newfound freedom, watching the scenery whiz by? When the days were dark and hope not to be found, you mounted your bike, and soon your only thoughts were the ride you were taking.
When the pandemic began to dominate my consciousness, fear moved in. Every sore throat and cough got my full attention. The day I came down with a low-grade temperature, I was inclined to call my kids to say good-bye. My fever disappeared after Tim replaced the old thermometer. While ocused on family health during coronavirus time, something else was happening. US bike sales were fast pacing upward. It makes sense. Six months in, experts told us that the spreading of coronavirus infection is lower outdoors than indoors. Biking makes keeping physical distance easy.
This summer, friends Bob and Jeanne visited us in Colorado after spending two months RV’ing national parks out west. Walking with Jeanne, our conversation shifted from talking about hiking to seeing the country, parks, and places, via automobiles with bikes in tow. At a point during our walk, Tim with Bob some distance behind, motioned for us to join them. They were conversing with a couple of bikers. It turned out the bikers were Florida neighbors, Vickie and Bucky, driving from Utah back to Florida, stopping at bike trails to take in the beauty of our country from bike seats instead of car seats. This incredible coincidence could mean only one thing; it was time to consider making biking an earnest part of my life. What else could it possibly mean?
The road leading to this trail rendezvous was peppered with moments that, in hindsight, I now see as Edith’s bike trail awakening. But I recognized the boulder-sized hindrance I’d need to budge for my spouse to see my awakening as his revival. Although I can go solo, there is an emotional comfort having a companion. You see, Tim doesn’t want to get more stuff, especially the kind that he has to take care of. Nor do we have room for more of anything in our two tiny garages. His antennas are always on alert, is Edith plotting to shake things up or cluttering his garage spaces. This is a justified concern. It wouldn’t be the first time I led him to a dead end or a fast u-turn. Strapping our bikes on a rack on the back of our CRV will take a toll on his nerves. But I will remind him that biking is an environmental perk and a health fringe benefit. If that’s not enough, I will say that the car rack is highly rated, very light, and that I know how to attach it. Easy Peasy. Two of the three are true.
For older folks taking up biking at 70 or 80, we must loosen our grip on societal norms. Your biking days are behind you. Biking is too dangerous. So is sitting on the couch watching television. Just think back to when you were a kid and the freedom you felt riding around. To get back this freedom!
Technology is transforming bikes and enhancing riders’ experiences. The weight of bikes has decreased while the comfort, limiting the jarring of rough roads, has increased. Shifting gears by turning the handle, clunky lights replaced with LEDs, seats have dual shock absorption, and helmets allow airflow. Today’s bikes are not your parents’ bikes.
As we age, our world shrinks. Sometimes it’s caused by illness. More often by mental conditioning, aptly named fear. People at 70 don’t start biking all over the land; I can hear them say. But who gives people the right to inflict us with their rigid-minded opinions? My research for this blog revealed that many of us 70 plus folks are adding biking to their routine. Quoting Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places you will go. The things you will see.” Perhaps there are no good biking trails near you, the voice of discouragement whispers. So what? Don’t listen. Lift your bike on the rack, drive to a trail where your wheels help you discover the unknown around the next bend.
Hiking in Colorado, I stopped six feet away from an older man sitting on a bench by the river, his bike next to him. We chatted. He smiled and shared this was his regular route. At 95, he could still experience the freedom of biking in a place of beauty. Sure, we may not have longevity genes, but while we’re still kicking reasonably well, just think of all that we could see.
But as with any new habit, there is a learning curve. According to Robbie Webber, a bike instructor, the first lesson is to “go easy on yourself” and that we don’t have to be in the best physical shape to start biking. All kinds of people ride, dads with kids, college students, seniors. She points to herself, “I am overweight and out of shape. But I can bike because I just take my time, and I’m not worried about others passing me.”
Robbie tells her students to take little steps like biking up and down the street. Extend our rides only when we feel emotionally ready. Pick roads with little traffic or local parks with small hills. We are not competing with anyone.
What gear do we need? To start with, we only need three items: bike, helmet, and a backpack or basket to keep items secure. That’s it.
When buying a bike, new or used, let the salesperson know what kind of biking you plan on doing, paved trails, streets, gravel or all three. The best way to find the most comfortable fit is with a test ride. Your legs should never be totally straight when riding a bicycle. At the bottom of your pedal stroke, there should be about 15 degree bend in the knee. What about wider tires for a better balance? As a kid, I could ride one-handed. Now signaling to turn conjures images of toppling. I turned to my granddaughter, Amanda, an athlete and personal trainer. Yes, wider tires might help, but for better balance, the key is to work your core. A baby step toward a stronger core could be, she offered,”brushing your teeth on one foot.” She clearly knows to put the bar low for her amma.
Robbie’s safety recommendations and reminders: bike lights, reflectors on clothing, and follow the road rules. Don’t use headphones and signal when turning. If the road is too narrow, ride in the middle of the lane to discourage drivers from squeezing past you.
My Florida neighbors use the Trail Links app to find trails near them. Using the app, I discovered trails near by Florida home, Amelia Island, Black Creek, and Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trails, to mention three of many more. Today, we have better bikes, better information, and GPS units that track your ride and apps that rate bike paths for difficulty. Not our parents’ world. We can pick routes suitable for our ability and enjoy an up-close view of our beautiful country. Biking may not add days to our lives, but it will add life to our days.
From Vickie’s email: “We are in Kansas. Just rode on the nicest trail through the woods. We are headed to Arkansas to ride again.”
Will it require effort? Yes. Will it cost money? Yes. Will it require new learning and effort? Yes. Will it be worth it? That depends on you. Does making biking a part of your routine have the potential to give more flavor to your life? Absolutely.