Friday Group Ride #419

Friday Group Ride #419

I am lucky to talk to people about new bikes all the time, people of every stripe. There are a fair few who are genuinely trying to go fast, either to beat up on their friends on a weekly throw-down ride, or to achieve some real race or distance goals. And then there’s another category who all want, basically, “to just keep riding as long as I can.” These are my favorite people to talk to, with the onboard humility of having once been fast, lost that, and then come back to some pure place, where they appreciate every day on the bike, no matter what.

Many of them are older, of course, but some too have had accidents, illnesses, or injuries that put them off the bike, sometimes off their feet entirely, for long periods, former military maybe, or serious diabetics, cancer survivors, and people who didn’t manage to walk away from a car accident, but learned to walk again and now want to ride. You can hear in their voice that they’re excited even to be considering a new bike.

So sometimes I think about how much road is left in front of me. This is, touch wood, a mostly academic exercise. I’m 46. I’m in excellent health. I try not to think too hard about illnesses, because I imagine you think plenty hard about them when you actually have them. The average life expectancy for an American man is currently 76.3 years, a few more because I live in Massachusetts evidently. So that means I have 30 years give or take, maximum riding left.

How many of them will I ride?

That’s not this week’s question. That’s the question I ask myself. I’ve watched my father’s physical deterioration, exacerbated badly by Parkinson’s disease, and noted the way his body changed and became less able. I see his peers, some of them spry still, buy many hobbled by back and hip issues, lack of muscle mass. They don’t walk well, even if they can still ride. And I know that even then, you CAN ride, but you have to maintain the will to do it. You have to continue to find the joy in it. Am I that kind of resilient? I don’t know.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how long will you ride? I know that some of you are older than others. Maybe you can give us your view, physically, from where you are and illuminate the challenges, if there are any. I’m not as fast as I was, but I may be a better bike rider generally, and I enjoy that part of riding much more now than I used to like duking it out with faster riders. Maybe I’m just and old (slow) soul.

Image: Podium Cafe

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  1. Neil Winkelmann

    57 years old. Having the season of my life and I “feel” faster than ever. I know I’m probably not. But I am in close to the best shape and perhaps lightest I’ve been since high-school, and I physically feel like I’m 25 again. I think I have another 25 years to go, then finish it up on a e-bike. My 80 year-old father in law is still putting in solid km with his riding group.

  2. Quentin

    Holy cow, I could have written this! I’m also a 46-year-old son of a Parkinson’s sufferer. I’m about 6 years short of the age at which my dad was diagnosed, and it crosses my mind regularly. I don’t own an e-bike, but I’ve briefly ridden one and can see how it’s a game changer for extending how long and far I could plausibly ride. If, God forbid, I follow the same path as my dad, I could still probably ride to around age 70 with the help of today’s e-bike technology. If I turn out like either of my grandfathers, it could well be 90. I see no reason why I wouldn’t give it a try either way.

  3. Aar

    My intention is to ride up to and including the day I die. I’m 51. 3 years younger than the age of my father’s passing and 9 years shy of being the longest lived male on either side of my direct descent. I’m three years post total knee replacement, have lost 85 pounds since then and lighter than I’ve been in 18-20 years. Most of my riding is solo and when asked about my cycling goals I just say “cycling is just part of my life”. Nonetheless, I’m proud of being able to efficiently take my pulls in the local A rides for the first time in about 12 years. I’ll enjoy that while I can and continue to enjoy cycling in whatever capacity I can for as long as possible.

  4. Rod

    Considering my life habits, general good health and a fairly robust family (stroke on one side, but the other was like granite only undermined by lifestyle choices) I’m likely to ride until the day I die.

    Probably under the wheels of a jackass checking tweeter or a text. But that’s how it is.

  5. Jay

    I am 63 years old and I still ride. Less than I would like, but mostly due to time constraints. For me it is more about getting out and enjoying the outdoors by bicycle. I used to want to always go fast, but most of the younger riders are all faster. I decided that it was okay to be dropped. I ride my own pace. I enjoy the scenery. I look for wildlife.
    I know that the Velominati evoke strong reactions with some, but their Rule 6 sort of sums it up rather nicely: Rule #6 // Free your mind and your legs will follow.
    Your mind is your worst enemy. Do all your thinking before you start riding your bike. Once the pedals start to turn, wrap yourself in the sensations of the ride – the smell of the air, the sound of the tires, the feeling of flight as the bicycle rolls over the road.

    I hope to ride for all of my remaining days.


  6. Harris

    My old man throws it down pretty good at age 72, so I hope I can do at least the same. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing, in the last year has purchased his ‘dream’ bike, and gets bigger miles than anyone I know. He and I talk a lot about gear ratios and such as he gets older, and I told him to go as far as he can with what he’s got, until the ebike becomes necessary.

  7. Girl

    Like the others, I hope to ride into my geriatric years. (They call it the “old old”.) What with the rise in e-bikes, perhaps many more elderly folks will find themselves able to enjoy riding in the company of the same community of riders (cycling clubs and such) that they enjoyed when they were younger. I expect to live to 100, so when I become unable to balance on 2 wheels, I’ll ride a 3-wheeler of some sort. Yes, I’ll be the little old lady on the step-through tricycle with a basket on the front.

  8. Brian Ogilvie

    I’m 50, so the actuarial tables give me about 30 more years. (You have about 34: life expectancy at birth has been going up, though it has started to plateau in the US, but that’s counteracted by the fact that you are part of your birth cohort that hasn’t yet passed on.) I plan to keep riding (and running) as long as I can. I watched my father’s final illness and know that I might reach a state when it isn’t possible. But I’ve also seen older people whose mobility has become progressively limited because they don’t have a habit of keeping active. Insofar as possible, I’d like to avoid that fate, which also means being more cautious about taking risks as I get older: injury leads to inactivity which leads to degeneration.

    My inspiration is Pamela Blalock, who has survived cancer and a broken back (hit-and-run while cycling in NC), and came back to riding after each. When she had a complete shoulder replacement recently, she bought a recumbent trike to ride until her doctor cleared her to get back on the diamond frame. She’s amazing. She hasn’t blogged a lot recently, but if you don’t know her, her blog has some great stories:

  9. Steven Down

    Joe Friel’s “Fast After 50” convinces me that with the right actions on my part I’ve every chance of riding into my 70s.

    The difficulty my in-laws have had recovering from a car accident in their 80s act to remind me that it’s not just my actions that have a bearing on this.

  10. Jeff O

    I’m turning 50 this week and occasionally ride with a group of guys who range in age from 55 to 80. I joke on these rides that I want to grow up to be like Walt & Ken, ages 75 and 80 respectively. Currently I trying to regain my 2013 fitness which was my best year on the bike before a Masters program and house remodel. I’m confident that I can physically keep riding into my 70s as long as I’m consistent and don’t get run over. However, I worry that mentally I may run into some issues as my 75 yr old father suffers from Alzheimer’s that was diagnosed a few years ago. He’s still very physically fit, but his brain is going flat. I figure if I can keep riding, the Alz won’t be able to catch me.

  11. Richard Grahn

    I’m a 70 year old disabled veteran who began riding at 50. Two years ago I had a single bike accident that resulted in fractured vertebrae at C3-C4, in other words I broke my neck doing a faceplant on pavement. I had been riding 15 – 35 miles per day prior to the mishap and participated in Metric Mile charity rides regularly. I was forced off riding for a year while I learned to operate my body in a manner nearing “normal”, but was able to participate in the Great Cycle Challenge in 2017 riding 103 miles in the month of June. I rode it again this year for 150 miles. The longest ride I’ve accomplished since the accident is 20 miles. But I am riding! The hardest part is getting on and off my bike, but I can still ride… Never give up! ☺

  12. Cat 6 Racer

    I turned 50 this year. I expect to continue being an amateur endurance athlete for as long as I live. Cycling has been my outlet for several years now, and I don’t see that changing. Hundreds of rides plus investments of time and money in the sport have given it tremendous momentum in my life.

  13. Parker English

    76 next Saturday, a B+ rider doing 4000+ miles per year, mostly solo but occasional bike-packing tours with a friend. Retirement’s improved access to such miles. Am fortunate the bike-related physical challenges have so far been met with two-months of physical therapy for a chronic cramp, and one cortisone shot for a stiff knee. Perhaps not true for everyone, but would guess my current attitude and body have benefitted from never having raced. That said, I do enjoy pulling against roughly equal strangers met on the road . . . and then chatting. Have also benefitted from lots of scenic local roads with very little traffic. Philosophers might say there’s usually a material equivalence between wanting to ride and feeling good while riding. Always enjoy your columns.

  14. Tominalbany

    I’m 53 and still loving it! I feel good, for the most part. I do feel some aches and pains at times but, nothing that seems joint-based. I’m trying to learn to rest a bit more than when I was younger so that my body can have time to recover. I still feel, though, that my body DOES respond positively to the stress of a good, hard ride.

    My father is almost 82 and has finally admitted he probably needs to slow down. I’m hoping to be equally stubborn up to that point!

  15. Shawn

    As long as I can.

    E-bike might be a game changer. However, if I’m old and still riding I probably should not be doing 20mph. Maybe a beach cruiser…

  16. ken ashton

    My father is 76 and is happy to have lived longer that his father and grandfather. He had a newspaper route in the town that he grew up in, delivered to 1/2 of the town. Now that he has retired, twice, he has been riding a bit, once or twice a week for 5-10 miles.
    I don’t push him to do more that he wants to, he’s happy to do what he has time for.
    There are guys in my club in their early 70’s and they RIDE. A couple of century’s a year is good for them, and plenty of motivation for all of us. We like to say that you can’t stop.

  17. Michael

    Currently 53. I’ve been a runner for going on 40 years and an avid cyclist for over 20. I rode over 3000 miles last year and also do yoga 3-4 times a week. I had every intention of continuing these habits for as long as possible, probably well into my 70’s.
    I say “had” because since being hit from behind by an uninsured motorist earlier this spring all of this is in doubt.
    I was in the hospital for several weeks with a traumatic brain injury and severe trauma to my neck and knees. I was fortunate to survive and have for the most part healed and have been discharged by my therapists and neurologist. I still have a strong desire to return to riding when I’m physically able.
    My problem though is that my spouse is adamantly opposed to my doing so. This was the second time I’ve been hit by a car (neither time was I “at fault”, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re lying bloodied by the side of the road).
    So I can see her point, and, out of respect for her, I’ve had to think long and hard about this.
    I was doing everything right, Riding to the far right on a road with a more than ample shoulder, Using a rear flashing light. But it didn’t matter because a single motorist was not paying attention.
    I’m not sure there was ANYTHING I could have done to prevent this from happening, and that bothers me.
    Rod’s earlier comment that his cycling days might end “under the wheels of a jackass checking tweeter or a text.” was probably meant to be tongue in cheek… but it’s all too possible.
    So I’m truly struggling with this. I have every intention of remaining physically active and vital as long as possible. I hope that cycling can be a part of that. I currently MISS cycling. I miss my shattered S-Works bike and the camaraderie of my group rides.
    I LOVE cycling, But I’m not sure that I want to die for it.
    I’m not posting this comment for sympathy or even to complain. I’m simply saying do everything in your power to be safe and be seen.
    And cherish every day and every ride. Riding is a wonderful thing, it enriches your life and your soul. Don’t take it for granted.

  18. Rick

    I’m 60. Riding farther and faster than ever. Currently averaging 1000 miles per month. Zwift has been an off-season game changer. Not losing fitness during the winter (US – midwest) makes a world of difference once it warms up again. I ride with folks from ages 25 to 81 and some of the strongest are in their 50’s. I’m sure that having the time to ride is a large part of that. I plan to ride until I drop dead or get taken out by a car or truck.

  19. Geoffrey Knobl

    This is a subject that’s been on my mind recently. There’s a constant feed of information, some of it contradictory but most not. My time is less than it used to be to ride mostly due to a change of jobs. I ride once per week or less. However, I run when I can too. That’s harder for me physically but easier to just go and do. There are benefits I hear to running, like building up the joints in muscles in ways that may help keep them from atrophying as much into old age. I’m 55 now too and my age is finally telling in my ability in both areas. Last year it didn’t very much. This year my times everywhere are down. I’ve had less ability and time to practice regularly too and that makes a big difference. But also, I hit a point in spring indoor riding (Zwift) where I peaked than notably dropped in my extended power output. I am still unsure if that was due to pushing too hard, improper eating during training, or something else. If it’s the latter, that is worrying. I wonder about various possible underlying illnesses and “borrow trouble,” as my wife puts it.

    Then there’s a long time acquaintance in our local bike club I just found out has a degenerative illness. He’s hoping to get a double lung transplant in hopes of extending a life. This guy organized rides, biking trips and helped in numerous ways throughout the years and now can’t ride bike except on the flats but really just on an indoor trainer. There’s a move afoot to get him an ebike so he can keep things working well. I hesitate to include the gofundme link but if anyone’s interested, I’ll get it to you.

    My own personal goal is to somehow keep riding until I’m in my 80s then go for a record of some sort at that age. But still, I worry, really worry about what can happen now to my body to cut my life and bike riding/running short. I enjoy both, biking most, and really, REALLY want to keep doing it. I wish Mark has a miraculous recovery from what is otherwise a terminal prognosis. People need him riding. The bike community needs him riding. I hate seeing this happen to anyone.

  20. Stephen Barner

    At 63, I take inspiration from Giuseppe Marinoni, who custom built my still favorite bike back in 1982. At 80, Marinoni reprised what he also did at 75 — set the hour record for his age group. At almost 24 mph, I doubt that I would have been able to keep up with him for even 30 minutes. Here’s what he had to say about aging and cycling;

    “When I’m on my bike, I’m ageless,” he says at Cycles Marinoni, north of Montreal, after his morning training ride. “I don’t feel I’m 80. I push myself to my limits just like I did when I was 20.”

    Today, I rode up to a local ski area: a 4.5 mile, 1,900′ climb with some very steep pulls. I was thinking that I not only felt really good the whole way, but perhaps better than I ever have, even though I’ve been riding it for 35 years. What was different was thst I used my brakes a lot more on the ride back down than I once did. I don’t have any desire to be competitive at all, in anything. My goal is to stay competent, until I no longer have any choice in the matter.

    No one knows what their future holds, but average life expectency is irrelevant to those who stay active. After 60, it becomes very clear that there’s a huge difference in the way couch potatoes age and those who stay active in aerobic exercise. Add drugs, smoking, or even alcohol to the mix and the differences in appearance, physical capability, overall health, and even cognition can be dramatic.

  21. Dano

    “When I’m on my bike, I’m ageless,” he says at Cycles Marinoni, north of Montreal, after his morning training ride. “I don’t feel I’m 80. I push myself to my limits just like I did when I was 20.” That says it all, thanks Stephen.

    Approaching 70 I have gone from peloton alpha to an after thought. I plan to ride as long as I can throw a leg over the top tube and keep the rubber side down. I imagine I will be testing the minimum speed necessary to remain upright any day now. Well, amor fati.

  22. Zvi Wolf

    I’m 60 and had my physical early this week. My cholesterol levels, respiration, heart rate and blood pressure would all be the envy of someone ten years younger. I’m on no meds. I attribute much of this to having taken up cycling seriously just over eight years ago. Along with the health benefits, cycling has provided friendships and pure unalloyed fun. As others have said above, I’m going to go as long as I can.

  23. Dropoutdave

    I am a 75 year old mountain biker and find that as I progress through my seventies I find climbing increasingly difficult, but I also find charging headlong down a loose stony trail not completely in control absolutely irresistible, and so far worth the pain of the climb.

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