As the years and the miles roll by, bicycle rides cover less distance and take a little longer than they did in the past. Routes charted at the start of a ride mysteriously change midcourse to avoid steep hills that used to be enjoyed. Warm-ups and cool-downs last longer and include ice bags, heat and pain relievers.
The body that was once a faithful ally is now a treacherous stranger who betrays with aches that never seem to go away. The words to that Little Feat song arent so funny any more: You get to know that youre over the hill when your mind makes a promise that your body cant fill.
Whats an aging cyclist to do?
You can deny it. You can rage against it and not go gentle into that good night. You can bull your way through the unending hurt and overcome it with mental and spiritual grit. I tried that; it didnt work. It just got me into more trouble and into doctors waiting rooms.
You can try to medicate your way through it. You can take aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen for minor maladies. There are plenty of new analgesics out there to alleviate the chronic and transient pain that accompany age and physical activity.
You can meditate your way through it. Marshall your alpha waves and block out the pain. Summon up all of the Eastern Philosophy you can find and accept the Yin-Yang of pleasure and pain as part of your natural universe: Just say Ohm.
Or you can accommodate it.
Doesnt that just sound so pathetic? For Type-A hard-chargers, this kind of thinking must be a hard pill to swallow. For a high mileage, day-tripper like myself, its a major inconvenience. Even groovy, holistic Zen cyclists have to feel its a cramp in their lifestyle.
OK, how do we accommodate this new friend, pain, into our lives?
OK, for how many seconds? For those of you with hard-tail mountain bikes, when was the last time you careened down the side of a hill? Was it on purpose? Our choice in bicycles can contribute to or lessen the pain factor in cycling.
I know its an emotional process to think about putting an old bicycle out to pasture. I have too many miles and memories wrapped up in the two road bikes I have in my garage to make this kind of decision easy. But my body demands it.
If youve made the big decision to change bicycles, consider a "hybrid," or "cross-trainer" model. With a more upright riding position and a fully suspended seat and front fork, you wont experience as much road shock as on other types of bicycles.
Speaking of distances, take a closer look at how you ride, how often and how far. Your rides probably need to be spaced out over the week differently.
You may only be able to go full-tilt-boogie one or two days a week. Your body might request you cycle fewer days during the week. Your weekend jaunts may have to shorten a bit in distance or may take a bit longer in duration. Those hills you used to climb without a second thought may need to be spaced out differently or eliminated from some rides altogether.
Be flexible enough mentally to make the smart decisions physically. Your body will tell you when youve got the right combination.
Look at your pre and post-ride regimens. Stretch before and after you get on your bicycle. Be prepared and bring along the appropriate ice bags and anti-inflammatories. Use them before the pain starts. Stay ahead of the pain curve.
By making these little alterations in your cycling life, by making these little pit stops on the race to infirmity, you can extend your love affair with your bicycle for years to come. I know I plan to.