Cycling at a certain age

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Okay, maybe it’s time to confess what this blog is really about. Trish and I are very excited about our bikes, and our rides, and even all the great stuff we’ve had an excuse to buy. But the truth is that a lot of the excitement stems from the realisation that we can ride at all.

We’ve touched on this in various posts, but I want to spell this out on the off-chance that it might encourage someone else who thinks that cycling is beyond them.

Geezer on a bike - who knew it was possible?

Geezer on a bike – who knew it was possible?

Although I’ve cycled at various times in my life, and have always loved it, I gave away my Peugeot bike because I hadn’t used it in years. There were numerous contributory factors to that, but among them was declining health and increasing age – or so I thought.

I have osteo-arthritis in all of my joints. The most problematic areas are my hands and neck. As a professional journalist and amateur hacker, I’m investing a lot in ergonomic IT kit to save my hands, but they’re pretty much permanently painful now and I’ve lost some ability to grip. The neck is even more problematic – not only can I not turn my head very well, I also suffer from cervical vertigo. After Sunday’s 12km ride on the old (borrowed-back) Peugeot, and in spite of various preventive measures (such as a hot bath), I awoke at 5am with the room spinning. So that was Monday screwed…

Part of the problem with the Peugeot is the riding position. It has a standard road/mountain bike configuration where the handlebars are at about the same height as the saddle. In order to look ahead as you ride, you have to crane your neck back, which is very bad for me. Alas, the bike is so knackered that I haven’t been able to raise the bars.

Finally, I have an aortic aneurysm. That means I have to avoid what my cardiologist calls ‘gros efforts‘. The kind of leg-pumping, heart-thrashing effort an ordinary cyclist might engage in to get up a hill could, literally, kill me.

I hate it when people whine on about their ailments, but I’ve detailed all this by way of providing some context. Because having been through a period of feeling sorry for myself, I’ve now come to appreciate the wisdom of my great friend Doug, who has often told me to focus on what you can do, and not what you can’t.

And it turns out, much to my surprise, that cycling is one of those things I can do.

We’ve bought Dutch-style e-bikes, solving two problems at once. The Dutch style affords an upright seating position, easing the issue with my neck. And the electric assist effectively eradicates hills, eliminating the need for gros efforts.

I’ve made some other investments, too – Ergon handgrips, panniers that are easy to open and a good, wide Brooks saddle.

I’m amazed how much I’ve managed to ride in the past week or so even on the old Peugeot, with three trips down the voies vertes (here, here and here). It’s come at a slight cost, but has boosted my confidence that this cycling malarky is possible – and enjoyable – at my age and in my condition.

Already (and even before my new e-bike has arrived) I’m starting to think in terms of building a bicycle matched to my needs. I’ve considered a recumbent, which would certainly help with the neck thing. But I do like to be high on the bike – it contributes to that feeling of flying. All I need is the right geometry and configuration. Somewhere in my fantasy is a dream hybrid with high bars, Rohloff hub gears, Kalkhoff’s Impulse Drive, and a Gates belt transmission.

When you have health issues, it’s all too easy to persuade yourself that certain activities are impossible. But cycling is one of the most accessible activities there is. All you need is the right bike.

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