When he was 19, one of my friends biked everywhere. He biked to basketball practice, to class, to nights out, and to his part-time job.
He even rode the 15 miles to the nearest decent mountain bike trail so he could spend the day going up and down the side of the hill trails all day long (Admittedly he would often call for Dad to come and pick him up at the end of the day).
And when he got home, his Mom would hose him down outside and make him strip before he was allowed even as far as the porch. It wasn’t until many years later, he realized his parents could have made him take his riding gear off first…Looking back he wonders if his parents actually even liked him…
But the point here is that he was fit. Super fit. The fact his bike cost less than $400, was made out of steel, and weighed more than some compact Korean made cars didn’t matter. He could power it up any slope going, and could keep up with buddies riding bikes that cost 3 times as much. (And by buddies, he means me!)
It was just his life. But one day between the age of 20 and 42, he went from having a 6 pack stomach, to just having 6-pack of beer in the fridge. His doc. told him was seriously overweight…so he started playing basketball again.
He strode onto the court like a pro, and collapsed in a blubbery mess of incompetence and heavy breathing on the side of the court. He consoled myself with the lie that he was just wasn’t young enough to play a sport like that.
So he tried something else. That something else was cycling.
It was sheer luck that one day about 2 months into his cycling resurgence, huffing and puffing, as he was, to try and maintain a steady 19/20 kph average that a man in his 70’s pulled up alongside him on a road bike old enough to still have the gear levers on the lower tube, and started up a conversation.
My friend said he spent most of the time wheezing the occasional affirmative answer as the older rider happily chatted away in a walking pace style.
For my friend this was the final straw. Not only did he feel old and fat, not only had he been humiliated by teenagers at basketball, teenagers that had he been 20 years younger he would have taken to the cleaners, but now here he was being shown up by someone twice his age, and twice as fast.
Maybe, he said he thought, it was time to admit defeat and quit. But good manners, forced him to continue on.
Presently they came to a long steep backroad climb: The kind of near vertical ascent that buses would have to shift into the lowest gear in order to get up. My friend said he almost groaned, and was about to just tell the old man to f*** off and leave him alone, when the old man wheeled his bike to a stop and began pushing his bike up the hill, whistling as he did so.
My friend dismounted and walked up the hill alongside him. As they talked, my friend discovered that actually the old man hadn’t spent his entire life in the saddle, but had only learned to ride in his 50’s, that aged 55 he had a 42inch waist.
My friend couldn’t believe it. So why was this uber-fit old man pushing his bike up the hill when he could have been riding up it?
Word for word, this is what my friend said he said: ‘I’ve yet to discover the hill you can’t quite happily walk up. Why kill yourself doing it? I like biking, but I’ve no intention dying from a heart attack dressed in Lycra.’
And that was the thing right there my friend said he had forgotten. That was why he used to get up on a Saturday morning, at 6am and cycle the 15 miles to the mountain bike trail so he could be the first one down it that day. That was why he used to play sport 7 days a week.
He did it because it was fun. Because he enjoyed it.
At the top of the hill, the old man bid his farewell and rode off, literally into the mist.
To this day he wonders whether the old rider was real or whether he was a dream…But what did change, was my friend changed his outlook on cycling, and instead of constantly pushing, and huffing and puffing his way along the road trying to keep his average speed up, he began to just enjoy the ride.
He turned off the GPS, and just went out there and began to enjoy himself. He said he realized, the point of cycling wasn’t to lose weight that would happen if he just went out there, the point was to enjoy himself.
And just for the record, the old man was real. I know he is, because he lives 4 doors down from me. His name is Tom, and he’s originally from N.Y. State, and moved down this way about 40 years ago.
I sometimes wonder if I should tell my friend, but Tom thinks it’s hilarious that someone thinks he’s a ‘Ghost Rider.’ He says he doubles up in stitches every time he hears the story.
So, here’s the point though: You’re never too old to learn to ride, and you’re never too old to stop.
Tom won’t let me write an article about him, so here’s ten other people from the world, to inspire you to get out there and ride, and why you should never quit…
Trust the French.
At an age where most people are either long dead or dying, 103 year old Robert Marchand is beating records. In January 2014, he beat the world record for distance travelled in one hour on an indoor track by cyclists aged over 100. He managed to travel 26.9km in the time, beating the previous record by 2 km. That record was held by…oh…him, as well. He shows no sign of stopping either.
For his 103rd birthday, in November 2014 he celebrated his big day by climbing a mountain, named appropriately, the Col Robert Marchand…Yes, that’s right, he had a hill named after him. He claims his aim is to keep riding until his 105th Birthday, after which he will begin to slow down.
But Robert Marchand was no pro cyclist. Before he retired some 40 years ago, or so, he was a logger and firefighter. If that doesn’t give you a reason to get out there in the saddle, then perhaps this next one will.
If this 80 year old cyclist defines anything, it’s passion. But passion is nothing if you don’t enjoy what you do.
“I’ll keep cycling. Because I really enjoy it. It brings me joy. So for the moment I don’t consider stopping. Even, even if…” – and isn’t that the thing. Benjamin came to cycling later than most did in life, only getting a road bike after his son began racing at an almost professional level.
He rides an average 8-9000 km a year, although he prefers to do it in good conditions. For Benjamin, it’s about having fun, not competing. It is as much about mental focus as it is about physical conditioning.
A 74 year old woman from the UK is stopped by police…
Of course no matter how young you feel, or how fit you are, or even how many people stop and applaud you ‘keeping on riding as you advance through the years, if you do crazy things. In the UK, in August 2014, this 74 year old woman was stopped for driving down the ‘hard shoulder’ of a UK Freeway.
This is illegal in England, and rightly so because it’s seriously f***** dangerous. There are 3 lanes of traffic flying along at 70 mph. It is no place for a cyclist, of any age. However if you look at the video, she really seems to be going along at a fair rate of knots, and seems steady on her bike.
My heart was in my mouth watching her cross all those lanes…
Tony Stramipz from Vancouver cycles every day around his local Stanley Park. He cycles around the park 6-7 times a day.
That doesn’t sound all that big a deal when you first hear it. But then you realize that that’s somewhere between 60-70km a day.
He’s also been doing it for the last 10 years. Last year alone, he clocked up around 14,000 kilometers riding round Stanley. To put that in perspective, he drove his car a mere 2000km. Even then you might think that that’s not all that impressive.
It’s also like he says in this video, that what else has he got to do with his time. He has to keep himself occupied.
But here’s the thing; Tony is 90 years old. That’s impressive. For me though, the most impressive thing is the bike he does it all on. It’s not even a fully-fledged road bike, but just look at him go.
Bicycles, and the art of Zen
According to the comments section on YouTube, this man is apparently 76 years old. Another commenter also notes quite succinctly that this guy has the body of a 16 year old. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue with the fact that for an elderly looking gentleman the man has an extremely well-honed sense of balance.
But what is he at? Is he meditating or practicing a martial art? I can’t tell exactly where this video was taken, but that’s obviously somewhere in Seattle. Just kidding, it’s obviously San Francisco.
Well, wherever it is, no matter how Zen or New Age you may happen to me, can I recommend you don’t try this at home….
Carl Georg Rasmussen
Here’s a guy who proves that you don’t have to keep on riding like everyone else.
76 year old Danish cycling pioneer Carl Georg Rasmussen shows that age is just a number, and he shows no sign of slowing down. He decided he wanted to build a bike with a cabin on it like an airplane…and so he did.
Carl Georg Rasmussen is the man who gave Europe, and the world the first modern velomobile. That in itself is a fairly major achievement. With his experience building and designing gliders and planes, he came up with the idea of building the first modern, lightweight, and fast velomobile.
Carl built his Leitra as a compromise between form and practicality, and the result was something truly eye catching and exceptional.
Perhaps the most exceptional thing about this exceptional man isn’t the distance he still manages to ride; a mere 10-12000km a year at the age of 76 but the way he talks.
He says that riding his Leitras it what keeps him going, and it makes him feel good. It’s the fact he truly believed in his dream. He freely admits that he keeps making his Leitras because he loves to do it.
Just listen to him talking about ‘Peak oil’, and the future of mankind. It makes perfect sense. If I could meet for coffee with anyone on this list, it would probably be this guy…
New York. I don’t know what to say here.
This video is about a guy named Bill. He’s a 50 year old pizza delivery guy on a bike. Is he living the dream? Just watch it and see what you think.
I guess the upshot here is that he spends life on a bike, day in, day out. But he’s also homeless. Admittedly he’s quite a character, the kind of character shaped by the harsh reality of life and his environment. He says he enjoys it, but really I don’t think he does.
But would it kill either Bill or the guy who runs the Pizzeria to buy him a shelf on the back of his bike so he doesn’t have to carry the pizza with one hand…I mean, come on! Seriously….
Octavio Orduño is unfortunately no longer with us. He passed, in January (2015) this year at the age 106.
Fortunately there is this, now, rather poignant video of Octavio from 2011. Octavio was known as the oldest cyclist on Long Beach.
The story goes that he took up golf in his 60’s, and only took up cycling when the State took away his driving license at the tender age of 100.
He started cycling on 2 wheels, but quickly found the 3 wheel variety was best for him. He preferred 2 wheels though, but his much younger wife, Alicia, (81) insisted he get a trike after a few falls.
I include Octavio’s story in this list not because he was setting records or doing 14000 km a year round a park, but because he was active.
Cycling helped keep him independent. It helped keep him fit, but he also ascribes his long life to not eating processed foods and being vegetarian. “Processed foods make you fat,” he said. “They poison you.”
Octavio didn’t travel far when he rode. He rode to the grocery store and farmers markets. He would also ride to the local Bixby Park where he would sit and watch the BMXers and skateboarders do their thing.
He only stopped riding his trusty red Torker trike, when one day some utter, b****** stole his front wheel. Perhaps time had caught him up with by then anyway, but what we should remember is instead a man who was always determined, disciplines, and more than anything had a lust and a determination to keep on going.
His secret to a long life? “Keep moving and eat healthy.”
Well, I should say I’m surprised that George Christensen is still going. Of course, I’m not. All you have to do is look at the others in this list to see that a man I first read about in 2006 is still out there touring the world.
Back then he was a 55 year old bike messenger who only worked the winters because there were less pedestrians, and the money was better because there were fewer messengers.
George has literally biked the world, including the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia, done Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile. He’s also travelled extensively across his own United State of America.
So when I was doing the research for this article, I remembered reading about George all the way back when I was honeymooning in Fiji, and set out to track him down.
It took a while because I couldn’t remember his name, but after about 10 minutes of Googling or so, I found him. At the time of writing, his daily/weekly blog has him on his way to Belgium in Europe reliving the 1947 Tour de France.
He’s seen and done things most people who ride will never see. His seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of previous Tour de France winners is fascinating, especially his hunt to find the memorials and shrines to its previous winners. He writes in a previous post: “The bicycle has the unique capacity for making one feel good, whether by riding it or looking at it.” I can’t help but agree.
A quick calculation on my part sees that if he was 55 in 2006 that would make him 64 now. This is also why I didn’t become an accountant. I actually had to work out that…
And straight away here we are at another world tourer. You know I’m not an inactive person myself, and I feel I’ve done quite a lot with my life, but the like of George above, and now Darby Roach, is beginning to make me feel like I should buy some paniers and set off today.
Darby has had quite the life, having setup his own ad agency and raised 3 daughters. So at the age of 62 when most people would be considering slowing down, Darby instead decided to set off and bike his way around the world. But why?
Because he could. He said he realized that for the 1st time in 61 years that the only responsibilities he had left were to recurring bills.
So he sold his car, house, and almost all his worldly possessions and set off without a concrete plan in mind, and began to tour the world…How incredible is that. Now, I imagine the guys probably has some money saved away in a bank somewhere, but still, it’s a fairly radical step. His aim was simply to live simply and learn as he travelled.
He’s also written several books, 2 of which chart the life of a perennially consistent tourer. So yeah maybe you don’t want to tour the world, like Darby, or George Christensen, but you might find their words encourage to go out there on your bike a little bit more often.
Having read his blog, I’m not too sure if he’s actually finished riding round the world or not completely, but at the time of writing, he currently seems to be in British Columbia, and still having the time of his life.
One thing I noticed about all these riders is the fact that while all have much more experience than I do in general terms, you can’t help but notice how youthful most of them look. Yes, you can’t help????????
The reason and the science
Here’s a fact. Cycling 4 miles a day decreases your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
Here’s another one. One of the major issues with modern society is that as a species, we are becoming less active.
Sedentary lifestyles cause physical and mental damage. People are designed to be active. Sitting for long, extended periods of time, is just as bad for us as smoking.
It also helps you lose weight, and helps keep all those brain cells firing for longer than they might otherwise.
And that’s not just in people over a certain age. That applies to everyone. It’s also been proven that cyclists in their 70’s are physically much younger than most people their same age.
I have a motto I try to live by: It is my intention to die young at a very young age. So far I think I’m doing ok. But there’s more to all of this than the inspirations above. The lesson here if there is one, is that it is that you should never stop riding until you can’t ride any more.
Cycling is a particularly low impact form of exercise. It uses smooth regular movement, and doesn’t put a huge amount of strain on your body.
It’s never too late to learn to ride
There are classes, and bike clubs out there, instructors and family members who will be more than happy to help you learn how to ride.
Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you’re not a dog…and that’s not even true. You can always learn something new. No one is saying you have to enter the Tour de France or climb a mountain. Maybe all you want to do is ride to the beach, or the grocery store.
Fun and enjoyment
With the exception perhaps, of Bill, the pizza guy, the one defining characteristic of all the people mentioned above, is that they all enjoy cycling. And in the end, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 85. Get out there, and never quit.