Perspective: Cycling after 50

There are a lot of articles (and probably books) about exercise and fitness and cycling after the age of 50. Many of them are written by exceptional people who have devoted a huge amount of time to staying fit and active.

If you believe what you read on the internet, it was Bill Clinton who said “Turning 50 gives me more yesterdays than tomorrows”.  It’s a sobering thought, but there are no guarantees in life at any age.  Now in my 53rd year, I’m gaining my own perspective about cycling through the middle ages.  I know more than a handful of extremely fit 50+ people through the cycling club I’m in.  They ride with people 20 and 30 years younger and age doesn’t seem to have limited their ability to keep up.  My experience of cycling after 50 is probably different than them, but I want to provide my observations and experiences of cycling after 50:

  • The competitive instinct fades with age.  This probably has something to do with diminishing testosterone.  I was never an ultra-competitive cyclist but I liked entering races and occasionally getting on the podium.
A fast cyclist (my younger bro, in the middle) once said: “The older I get, the faster I used to be”.
  • My focus and interested has shifted from speed to endurance.  I use the term “speed” loosely.  I’d never consider myself to be a fast cyclist, but I was certainly faster in my 30s than I am today.
Albion Hills, 2004. I wasn’t very fast, but I looked and felt fast!
  • Motivation:  I was never a highly motivated athlete, but in my 50s, it’s a lot easier to come up with easier things to do… Netflix, Spotify, sit on the couch and eat potato chips, sleep.
  • Aches and Pains: I remember my 30s like they were… 10 years ago.  I remember the aches and pains of a long, hard ride, but I’d be able to sleep them off and be fine the next day.  Now, I’m starting to accept that some of these aches and pains are a way of life.
  • Goal setting.  Last year, 2018, I cycled more distance outside than I’ve every cycled.  I started keeping a log of all my rides in 2002 (long before the days of Strava and GPS bike computers), when I was in my mid-30s.  Clearly, turning 50 hasn’t prevented my from cycling, it has  just slowed me down (from slow to slower!)
Before Strava, I kept a log of my bicycle rides in a spreadsheet!
  • Taking risks: When I started “serious” cycling in 2002, I began as a mountain biker.  I developed skills to ride down steep, rough slopes and I certainly had my share of crashes (Headline: Bicycle crashes into tree).  Last year, 2018, I did most of my cycling on my road and gravel bikes.  I think I had my mountain bike out twice.  I still love mountain biking, but I no longer have the desire or need to ride so fast that there’s a heightened risk falling into the trees.
    Riding a big rock. It’s bigger than it looks! (Note the arm bandage from a previous fall!)
  • Cycling for different reasons:  People cycle for different reasons: training, racing, fitness.  I’ve cycled for all of those reasons and those are the main reasons I started cycling.  But more recently, I’ve added to this list with: bike commuting, destination cycling (to a coffee or lunch spot, or bikepacking), bicycalligraphy, meditation.  When I say “meditation”, I don’t mean reaching a Zen-like state on the bike – that would be dangerous!  What I mean is: I ride to clear my head.  The physical fitness benefits of cycling are evident, but I didn’t realize the mental health benefits until recently.

4 thoughts on “Perspective: Cycling after 50

  1. Good post Steve.

    I share a lot of the same perspectives and experience. I still have a bit of the competitive instinct but at 52 that’s mostly denial (ha ha).

    I’ve definitely dialed back my risk taking as well; I won’t ride crits and in CX I often avoid the risky lines needed to overtake. Gravel and CX riding have replaced a lot but of my mountain bike time. XC skiing has replaced a lot of my downhill and backcountry skiing.

    I think it is important to just keep doing and enjoying it at whatever level works for you. No bad days on the bike!


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post Steve. 50 is definitely a shift for me as well. It’s much more about time on the bike and exploring. The best thing for me is to just keep moving.


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