Fitness HEALTH & WELLNESS  >  Back in the Saddle: Beginning Cycling

Back in the Saddle: Beginning Cycling

Back in the Saddle: Beginning Cycling
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By Kitt Walsh

There are a couple of truisms that aren’t quite true. One of them is, “It’s like riding a bike. You never forget how.”

While we may remember the mechanics of pushing a pedal forward shortly after getting back on a bike, our recollection of flying effortlessly down the street, wind in our hair and the open road before us may be one of those misty colored memories.

When it comes to biking, things are a bit different after age 50, but if you are willing to pay attention to some changes, you can keep cycling well into your 80’s or even 90’s.

Get your doctor’s permission: First things first. Don’t jump off that couch (where you have been a happy potato for months or even years) and into the saddle. Cycling is great exercise, but it is exercise and you need to know your heart, lungs, knees and all the rest of your body parts can take it. Tell your medical practitioner what you’ve got in mind (leisurely rides around the neighborhood with your silver haired sweetie or hitting the trail with some wild-eyed mountain bike enthusiasts.) Get an okay to ride and off you go.

Find your bike: Bite the bullet, get ready to spend a few hundred bucks on a good bike and go find a bike shop in your area. Tell the knowledgeable folks your plans, listen to their advice on everything from seats to helmets and buy good gear (never forgetting, the right bike is also one you will enjoy riding.) If you want a basket, a bell and even handlebar streamers, go for it. Consider one of the tall flags that stick up high above your back to alert cars to your presence and remember property placed mirrors so you can see behind you. Don’t forget good reflective gear and lights if you ever plan to ride at night or even dusk. You will fall off your bike on occasion, so ask about knee and elbow pads, too, and make sure the experts fit your helmet for you.

Protect the parts where the sun don’t shine: Some of us get extra padding when we get older and some of us just get bonier asses. Make sure the bike seat has extra padding and consider getting Lycra bike shorts. Sure, you may look a little like a sausage for a while, but the shorts protect your thighs from chafing, cut down on sweat to reduce rashes, act as genital support like a jock strap, compress your legs (which will help your muscles get less fatigued) and at some cushioning in the seat.

Do some stretching: Warm up stretching is more important than ever at our age, where a muscle or tendon injury can sideline us for months. Jamie Logan on the LiveStrong blog details a whole series of stretches you can use pre-biking:

Watch your form: Your knees should be in line between your hip and ankle (not pointing out like you are climbing a pole) and your motion should be smooth and fluid.

Be careful of the brakes: Use your back pedal breaks to slow down and your front handle brakes only if you need to stop in a big hurry. If you jerk them tight, you may fly right over the handlebars.

Slow down: You are not going to keep up with somebody 20 years old, nor should you try. You’ll get plenty of exercise riding consistently, even slowly, and you’ve hit an age where you know to slow down enough to smell the roses, haven’t you?

Do strength training: A couple of days a week, do strength training at the gym. You will increase your endurance, the blood pumping to your heart and the amount of oxygen your lungs are getting. Your heart (one big muscle) will get stronger, making your riding more effortless and enjoyable.

Join a group: Ask your bike shop about beginner’s biking groups (there might even be one for folks our age). Riding with others will help you stick to it and socializing makes getting fit fun.

Don’t kill yourself: Don’t start out the first week deciding you are going to ride the 10 miles to your office and back. Build up in increments (and when you do eventually ride to work, take a good lock, weather gear, cab fare home in case of mechanical or bodily breakdowns, a charged cell phone and give yourself about twice as much time as you think you need.)

Stay hydrated and keep eating: Carry a water bottle with you and use it. Always drink a bottle of water when you get off the bike and experts say you should eat 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1/3 gram of protein per kilogram of your weight within a half an hour of finishing moderate or high intensity workouts like a bike ride.

Learn the rules of the road: Know not only where the bike lanes are, but be prepared for drivers to ignore them. Google the laws for bikers for your state and learn the uniform hand signals you need to know here:

Give your body time to recover: Biking is tough exercise if you are unused to it and we don’t bounce back as when we were kids. You’ll feel your bike rides in muscles you never even knew you had, so give yourself plenty of time to recover. Take a day off biking and soak in a hot tub. Invest in some Ben Gay or Icy Hot and some anti-inflammatories (don’t take these if you are taking aspirin too or else you’ll give yourself liver trouble!) and rest up. You can hit the road again tomorrow.

Have fun: Do take time to notice neighborhood gardens, watch the seasons change, take great gulps of fresh air, wave to your neighbors, practice a little moving meditation or say a few prayers. Enjoy your time whizzing through space under your own power. Appreciate the complex and perfect machine that is you.

Happy Trails.

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