Tips for older cyclists to get more out of riding

You can still enjoy cycling despite advancing years
Age brings pain just as sure as Santa brings presents.

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?

  • First, visit your doctor for a good read on your overall physical condition. Chronic pain is nothing to joke about. Find out what might be causing your particular problem. Messy cartilage? Incipient arthritis? Aggravating tendonitis? The problem may require physical therapy, medication, or an operation. At least youll know.

  • Look at your body carefully. Are you the rail-thin cyclist you used to be, or are you a bit more pear-shaped than in the past? Consider dropping those few extra pounds that, along with the force of gravity, are adding pressure to aching muscles and joints.

  • Look at your exercise program. Do you have one? Low-impact aerobic exercise like walking, stationary cycling and swimming all help to reduce weight and promote well-being. Resistance training builds muscle tone where you may have lost it. Stronger muscles around your back and joints can take up the slack and ease some of the pain of weight-bearing activity.

  • Dont spend as much time doing one type of exercise. Spread your time in the gym over many different types of activity. The sad news is we may have to spend more time getting in shape to cycle, rather than getting in shape by cycling. Its the price we have to pay.

  • Look at your bicycle. Is it as appropriate as it once was for the cycling youre doing these days? Be honest. For those of you who own a road bike, when was the last time you got down in an aerodynamic crouch with your hands on the lower portion of those drop handlebars?

    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 youre not ready to change bicycles right away, consider changing seat posts. The new suspended seat posts are inexpensive and adjustable, so you can accommodate your weight and the amount of cushioning you want. Make sure you have a fully padded seat with the correct anatomical cutouts to protect sensitive areas.

    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.

  • Or consider a recumbent, the ultimate easy chair on wheels. Anyone with serious back problems will love this bicycle. Once you get past the clown-like feeling of riding it for the first few times, the solid comfort a recumbent provides is hard to beat. It might take you a while to get used to turning and pedaling up hills, but its a small price to pay for the pleasure it provides.

  • And of course, there is the aptly named Comfort Bike. While it may look like the old 40-pound two-wheeler from your childhood, its anything but. Made with lightweight alloys, a longer wheelbase, and internal hub gearing that requires no derailleurs, Comfort Bikes are designed for the cyclist who wants to ride shorter distances at a slower pace.

    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.

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