Cycling with Years

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

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I do not accept that I am old – merely enjoying the second flush of youth! But let me offer a few thoughts on cycling from the perspective of someone with slightly more life-experience. These issues normally creep up on us gradually. I had almost 15 years without cycling before I started again when I was just over 60, so a lot had changed in the meantime and I noticed some of the changes, perhaps more than most.

  1. It seems that younger people tend to cycle a lot faster these days – but experience says there is a lot to be said for enjoying the journey, not just getting to the destination. However, cycling still moves you along with ease and freedom that is truly exhilarating compared with walking or urban driving!
  2. The bike in the shed that you used in your 20s may no longer be fit for purpose. My back doesn’t bend over as easily as it used to and my lungs appreciate more space to inflate than the racing cyclist’s ‘full tuck’ permits. Not to mention that something that I simply don’t recognise obscures my belt buckle when I bend forward! Forget about racing – unless that’s what you are doing – and adopt a more relaxed riding position. That may mean just altering the positions of saddle and handlebars. Or it may be good to choose a different bike – which needn’t cost the earth. There are lots of good used bikes for sale around Cambridge – try Owl Bikes or any other good bike shop. I have used University Cycles and Kingsway Cycles, but wherever you go, it is easy to find cycle purchase intimidating. If you have a knowledgeable friend, ask them to help, and don’t be rushed. I would always visit a couple of shops to see what is on offer and compare prices. And I would buy from a shop – if there’s a problem you can take it back!
  3. The first time I rode into town last year, I rode up the hill to Coleridge Rec and had to stop for a breather before tackling the station cycle bridge. I do it without a hint of breathlessness now but I notice that if I get out of puff, it takes me longer than before to recover. A lot of people of experience find that an e-bike takes the hard work – and recovery time – out of hill-climbing. People who have used them talk about how they feel confident to cycle greater distances with an e-bike than they did with a conventional bike. That has to be good. When I get one I’ll tell you what I think of it.
  4. I was a bit nervous of getting back out on the road on a bike. Everyone seems to go faster these days and I didn’t want to fall off or make a fool of myself. For my first ride I walked my bike round the corner to Cherry Hinton Hall during school time. No cars and no kids. Within five minutes I felt as if it had all come back to me and I was enjoying sunshine, birdsong and breeze, leaving only tyre-tracks behind me. Once you have learned to ride a bike, you really don’t forget! Cambridge has such a network of cycleways that you can get to many places with few encounters with traffic. The council produces a free cycle map which you can pick up at the Guildhall or from our Camcycle stall at events.
  5. Garden centres and caf├ęs seem to live on the grey pound. Once you’re back in the saddle, treat them to a grey cyclist. The cake tastes better if you’ve cycled there – I know!
  6. Several groups around Cambridge organise gentle rides. Try the #CamRide Home or CTC Cambridge rides. The U3A in Cambridge has a cycling group which organises rides from March to July and October to November. It’s a funny thing, but every organised cycle ride that I’ve been on seems to involve refreshments to a greater or lesser extent!
  7. Cycling is great for general fitness and develops a healthy appetite. But if you have not been physically active for a while, do start slowly and listen to your body. Remember to use your gears to turn the pedals a bit faster with a lighter load to preserve your knees and don’t be afraid to pull into the kerb for a breather – remember the hare and the tortoise!

Alan Ackroyd