Cycling, for love and for life

Cycling at any age may result in elevated levels of joy, freedom, and fitness.


by Shawna Culleton

Are you looking for a go-to activity that improves strength, endurance and balance, and helps keep your body healthy, strong and fit? Get on a bike! As we head into autumn, few forms of physical exercise are as joyful, free and easy as cycling.

Whether you think of it as a sport, exercise, transportation or past-time, cycling is an activity you can participate in at any age or level of experience.

Just ask 72-year-old cycling enthusiast Robert “Bob” Marshall.

“Cycling is fun. It’s an easy way to keep fit. I enjoy it, and I know I feel a lot better psychologically when I’m fit and working out.”
Marshall, who leads a daily 40+km group ride from his summer home every year, May to September, has introduced new riders of all ages into the sport – including newbies as young as 70.

“You can be a rank beginner and get out for a ride and have a great time, or you can be a former athlete and use this as a means to keep fit. I find we get a lot of ‘re-treaded’ runners taking up cycling later in life. Running can be harder on the knees [as we age], whereas cycling is a low-impact way to maintain your fitness.”

As a communal activity, cycling has a way of bringing people together and boosting their individual performance. According to Marshall, “When you ride in a group, you can go 10 to 20 per cent faster than on your own, making it easier for cyclists of different abilities to ride together.”

Even better, he adds, having a common interest “breaks down the age barrier between riders.”

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A life-booster

When it comes to pedal pushing, the benefits go beyond joy, freedom and fitness. A recent British study found that people aged 40 to 69 who ride their bike as part of their daily routine showed a 41 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and general mortality than those who do not.

“Cycle commuters had a 52 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease,” wrote the study’s authors, “and a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer at all.”

According to the same study, women are more likely to reap the health benefits of daily cycling than their male counterparts.

The right bike for you

Ready to ride? Great! Now you need to find a bike that keeps you motivated, comfortable, and injury free.

No matter your age, the most important thing is to get the right bike for your riding purposes and goals, says Alter Ego Sports owner and bike fit specialist Heather Martin.

“We have customers in there 60s, 70s and even 80s who are avid cyclists. We also have senior customers who just want to get out and ride around the block every other week. Their needs may be much different, but their goal is the same: a bike matched to their activity and their level of strength and flexibility.”

Shops like Alter Ego Sports often have staff trained to properly size up your needs and ask key questions to determine which bike will give you the best rider position and make you the most comfortable.

“Local bike shops will also offer a test ride experience,” Martin adds. “You can’t know if a bike will work for you unless you ride it. Don’t buy a bike you can’t take outside and take for a test spin. At the very least, ask to pedal on a bike trainer in the store.”

A local bike shop will do their best to set you up with the things you need to get the most out of your new bike. If you plan to use your bike to grocery shop or visit the library, you may need a rack or bags, a lock, or a basket. If you want to ride longer distances and increase your fitness, a cycling computer, lights for safety and some proper bike shorts can make the experience better.

E-bikes

If you’re worried that cycling is a bit beyond your current fitness level, or you’re recovering from illness or injury, electric bicycles – or E-bikes – are a great way to get rolling on two wheels.

“These pedal-assist bikes allow riders to go further and over more varied terrain with greater confidence,” explains Heather Martin.

If you’re concerned about your heart health, some models can even talk to your heartrate monitor and trigger a mechanism that helps you ride without overworking.

Daily movement, for life

Getting your body moving on a regular basis will have an impact on how your body ages. It’s never too late to start — or start again. By choosing an activity like cycling, which uses all four of the pillars of movement — strength, flexibility, balance and endurance — you can reap the benefits for years to come.

Group riding

Indoors and out, group riding is a great way to make friends and stay active.

  • The Manitoba Cycling Association offers a full list of retail bike shops and bike clubs: https://mb-cycling.ca/cycling-for-all/rec-trans/clubs-shops/
  • Check the schedule at your local gym or fitness centre for indoor spin classes to keep you fit and motivated during the winter. They’re also a great way to gain strength, endurance and confidence as you prepare for outdoor riding.

Types of bikes

  • Road: For riding on smooth pavement. Built for speed.
  • Mountain: For riding on rough trails.
  • Cruiser: For casual riding in a comfortable, upright position.
  • BMX: For trick and stunt riding.
  • Folding: For riders without a lot of storage space, or who often need to carry their bike on busses, trains or elevators.
  • Recumbent: For riders who are uncomfortable in a traditional bike position. These bikes have a long, low design and a full-sized seat with a backrest.
  • Adult Tricycle: Ideal for older riders or those with balance issues. Great option for running errands, as these bikes come with cargo space!
  • E-bike: Ideal for riders looking to improve strength and endurance.
  • Tandem: A bicycle built for two is twice the fun!