Getting older and cycling, still

Age creeps up on us, say some. Not the cyclist. For every day we’re fighting it, raging against the dying light. Life passes quickly. Like a mountain descent, we cling on, releasing the brakes for as long we dare, bracing ourselves for the next bend, for the end.

Fashion and music remain true arbiters of age. I still consider threadbare clothes new simply because I’ve not replaced them. They’re not new, just my latest. And latest is far from new. Many years and fashions have passed. The only time I’m fashionable is when the old clothes I’m wearing are recycled into retro. Still got it, thinks nobody.

Music follows a similar pattern. My ‘new albums’ are seven years old. I once counted down the days to a favourite band’s new release, now I discover they have a back catalogue bigger than my music collection.

Youth is a feeling not a moment in time. I’m 39 years young, I tell myself. Physically this isn’t so. My body tells a different story.

Cycling veteran

This year I turn 40. Yes, I know, young. Ish. Almost halfway towards the average male UK life expectancy of 81.6. The big 4-0 is a milestone number in the non-cycling world. Even bigger in cycling. I’ll be classified as a veteran in the world of racing. I laugh when I think of myself as a veteran. Me, a man still so full of vitality and vigour, a veteran? Ha.

Everything is relative. Whilst I’m probably fitter now than any version of my youth I conveniently forget how much easier speed was in my previous life. Sure I’m quicker but boy do I have to work for it. After each hard ride I make the kind of noises my granddad used to make whenever he moved and need twice as much sleep. Ugh.

What once simply required me to roll off the couch and out the door now requires three months of intervals. And let’s not even talk about recovery. Two hard rides in quick succession and I’m lost to the world. Training is a constant battle with fatigue.

Looking from the outside in, I must be quite the spectacle. By most people’s accounts we shouldn’t be riding bikes beyond the age of 16. Grow up, they don’t tell us but sometimes think. Right back at you my friend.

I remember my dad turning 28. He was ancient then. As a boy I’d never have imagined my 40-year-old father dressing in Lycra and disappearing into little known country lanes for the day. This is not what adults did back then.

Midlife crisis

A midlife crisis? Probably. Yet newer models have no appeal, not women, not cars, not even shinier bikes. Yes you can label me a MAMIL (Meaningful Artist Male Illustrating Life). I’ve ridden all my life but never so seriously. Am I trying to prove something to myself? Once perhaps, but no more.

Cycling is about many things to me, one of which is quenching my continual thirst for progress. Or at least my perception of progress. Two seconds quicker up my local hill climb? Progress. But mostly cycling is my meditation, it brings me peace.

I’m yet to encounter my peak, the moment when everything becomes slower. That moment isn’t too far away, perhaps not physically, but mentally. Legs far from lifeless, I can feel my head beginning to question my youthful vigour, amongst other things.

Am I mentally strong enough, disciplined enough to fight inevitability and even if I am, is it worth it? I have no contract to fulfil, no sponsors to please. I’m just riding a bike. For fun, allegedly.

Getting older, slower

Bill Murray Coffee

There’s dozens of studies showing how cyclists get slower as they get older. We lose VO2 Max, we lose muscle strength, we lose the ability to recover quickly. Bones begin to crumble. Lung power retreats.

Each decade it’s estimated we lose 7 percent of our max and mean output, our max heart rate decreases by 4 percent and our cadence slows by 3 percent. Hardly catastrophic but damning all the same.

Sure you can adjust your training and fight against the dying light. But why? Be healthy sure, but must we flog ourselves to death in the name of fitness? No.

It’s apparent that more than anything I’m losing motivation more than I am physical prowess. My inner chimp quivers at the thought of an eyeballs out interval. Getting home from work I want to relax not flog myself and turn into a quivering wreck for the rest of the night.

This is not just a cycling frame of mind. It is my life frame of mind. Slogging away at work, putting more hours in than anyone as life passes me by? There must be more to life. So yes, consider this my midlife crisis, or as I’d prefer to think of it, my midlife enlightenment. I’m conscious life is short but not overwhelmed nor fearful of it. I simply want to enjoy life a little more than I have been.

To quote a wiser man than I, I’m getting too old for this shit.

Cycling handicap

The Veteran label pleases me. A handicap badge I will happily wear and point to in the inevitable event of decline, or use to gloat in those rare moments when the young whippersnappers are overcome by wiser legs.

Grey hairs have for a while freckled my stubble but now make themselves known atop my head. Time to begin looking after myself. I’m beginning to creak. My immune system is weakening. Sickness free since childhood, in 2017 I spent five weeks with an illness of one form or another. I long ago took to avoiding babies and other people. Must wash my hands more, eat more oranges, pray more.

My diet is protein and carbohydrates. As balanced as a Donald Trump tweet. I lack fruit. My plates do not recognise vegetables. I do not stretch. I have the core strength of cooked spaghetti and the flexibility of an iron rod. My idea of taking care of myself is getting a long overdue haircut.

Not that old


Yet I’m still one of the younger riders on my club rides, just. There’s examples of older cyclists achieving amazing feats. All those old school, die-hard riders still leading out the club ride and crushing folk on the hills.

Plenty of life left in me yet, right? Life yes, speed no. I’m coming to terms with the cyclist I am rather than who I could be. The fight now is less about becoming quicker and more about not getting slower.

On the bright side, I’ve been looking forward to an alternate cycling world where I cycle for even more pleasure. The world of long distance riding appeals, could this be the start of an Audax adventure?

Or perhaps more touring. Touring has always been by far the most enjoyable of endeavours. Cycling around the world? Now there’s a midlife crisis enlightenment.

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38 thoughts on “Getting older and cycling, still

  1. Really enjoyed reading that. I am 44 next birthday and I do find most of the stuff out there is aimed at 20 somethings interval training, V02 max and the scourge that is Strava and improving times at all cost. Quicker no, just not slower and absolute mid-life enlightenment not a crisis, wonderful sentiments which I will be quoting at family and colleagues over the coming weeks.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nicely written but this made me a bit sad. I didn’t start riding until in my 50s. At 60 I did the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux and last summer, at 62, I ‘everested’.
    Cycle in the way that makes you happiest but don’t give in to getting older for many years yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Omil, don’t feel sad! I’m certainly not. In fact I feel rejuvenated to have backed off the turbo hamster wheel a little! There’s much ahead, as you yourself have proven (I’m very impressed by the way, especially the Everesting). I still have many an ambition, only they’re less likely to be about speed and more about adventure. The famous climbs of Spain await later this year. My cycling bucket list is as full as ever, brimming with amazing places to discover. Iceland, Slovakia, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Corsica, Switzerland, the list goes on!


    2. I feel better already!
      Love the sound of the bucket list – enjoy it all.
      My challenge this year is riding out to the alps for my usual week’s climbing – the aim is 800km in three days.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Firstly congratulations on passing the big Four o . Whilst you may be slowing, your mind isn’t, Audax isn’t just for the ageing, it’s a world full of new experiences. A world which is welcoming to all. However be very aware it’s a very slippy slope. From 100’s to 200’s then LEL or PBP, the challenge of audax awaits. Then of course you could do it on Fixed Wheel another challenge!
    As you age indeed you slow, but Life is full of living and challenges enjoy.
    When you get to Seventy then maybe you can say your aged.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha, I’ve heard and seen many a tale of the obsessive Audax badge collector. You know you’re in trouble when 200km is a warm up for next week’s ride! Kudos to anyone who rides fixed, that’s some serious muscle. At 70 I hope I’m still riding. The technology advances for e-bikes should ensure I’m still cruising up mountains, so maybe I don’t need to get slower after all!


  4. As usual your thoughtful observations provoke. I’m 61 and like you no longer seek approval from my peers as to speed or endurance. I feel regularity works best for me. Slowing down is fine as long as it is observed gradually. Strava once again becomes useful and not to be feared as an awful spur. Cycle touring for the mountains AND the art, culture, history ,food, is so much more meaningful. Especially if one learns a new language to truly appreciate. And I agree with Mike Greer, a single gear bike is so much cheaper to maintain it enables more regular cycling holidays (with gears). There is a great deal of joy in learning one’s limitations and cycling (and yoga) make the perfect arena for such meditations.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Regularity. I like that way of thinking. I’ve far from stopped cycling, just easing back in favour of a more balanced life. Also like your thoughts on learning your limitations as meditation. Always a good reason to challenge ourselves, be it physically or mentally.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. My Trek 520 now nearly 20 years old is specifically designed for touring. With its 3 chain rings, load bearing geometry and lugs for bidon and racks. I would not have been physically able to ascend Stelvio or Tourmalet or Galibier on a single gear bike. The worst pain I inflict on my knees is a local 4% hill called Stromlo. Knees are remarkable tech and deserve care.


  5. Good read, thank you. I’m facing similar thoughts albeit approaching the big 50. I only took back up cycling in my 40s and it’s nice to know that I will definitely be fitter at this next age related milestone than the last one. I hate getting old – I’m not dealing with the concept of mortality well but if cycling and wearing Lycra is my crisis I’ll take that. I’m heading to the Alps with the bike this year for the first time and fully intend to do Ventoux, l’Etape du Tour and other challenges in future years.

    Some days I still want to go out and beat my PBs on Strava but I find I enjoy a socialable, slower paced ride with friends just as much, possibly more. It’s rare I don’t come back with some scenery photos after a ride and I’ve even given up on a promising segment attempt to check out a view I caught out of the corner of my eye. Over the past few years I’ve learnt that I really enjoy cycling and photography. With practice I’ve discovered that I’m pretty poor at both but I can live with that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m just about to turn 50 and have similar thoughts bouncing around in my head too! I do love beating young fellas though! It is good for the ego. I just read Joe Friels book “Fast After 50”. It’s well worth a read. Take home message for me was get more sleep and that intervals have benefits far beyond just cycling fitness – they keep your body young and healthy…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That old timer doing a footjam tailwhip in the first photo is a cracker! Brakeless too, what a champ! I hope I’m still kicking it like that when I’m his age. Really makes me want to get a BMX again and revisit my skinny jeans street and flatland BMX days.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Way beyond the MAMIL stage, have been a FOSSIL now for a while (Fine Old Senior Soul In Lycra). One of my delights is cycling my birthday miles as soon after my birthday as possible, usually dragging a pal or two along with me. One of the supposed disadvantages of this plan is it gets longer every year. It also falls in March so can be a bit tough weatherwise. This year I’ve planned my 70 mile route, train out and back with the prevailing winds,hopefully plus a friend or two. Last year I did my first overnight ride of 120 miles too, so there’s loads of challenges available. I’m lucky, I like climbing & descending hills so that keeps me fit, along with club rides etc. In other words, plenty of challenges – if I had a hero it would be Robert Marchand, who has retired from trying to break world records at 106! Seems it’s mostly about the mindset?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Definitely all in the mind FC, mine’s just taking a step back from the intervals at the moment and enjoying the riding. Love your birthday celebrations, although glad my birthday is in August and not March for such rides! I’ve ridden overnight a couple of times, loved it, that feeling of the invisible road rising and falling beneath you, your beam of light your world. Proper adventure!


  9. Love your post. Yes we are all aging, however, it is our spirit and mind that keep us young. I have ridden with people younger with much less fitness than some older
    cyclists. I think that if you love cycling, it doesn’t matter what your goal is speed,
    distance or altitude climbing as long as you ride and enjoy what you do. Be grateful that your body allows you this privilege. Yes we might mellow or feel stiffer or sore but the will to live the dream usually wins. I hope that I will always be fit enough and
    healthy enough to ride alone and with my cycling people.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Really enjoyed this post. I’m turning 50 later this year, and I am ridind and training more than ever. I only started riding a few years ago, but I am hooked. It is my therapy time that helps me maintain a sense of sanity. Maybe its the wind in the face, or maybe its the time spent with my tribe. Whatever it is, I’m not stopping. Planning to conquer Ventoux this summer, and so much more on my bucket list. I’m going to enjoy this riding thing for a long long time. Even now at this “old” age of mine, I have a training plan and a coach. Living each day to the fullest. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to do and enjoy the things that I truly love.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Deborah – great to hear you’ve discovered riding and really enjoy it. Sounds like you’ve got the bug! Enjoy Ventoux – the views of Mont Blanc from the summit are incredible on a clear day.


  11. Dear Human Cyclist, You should not worry; there is a good chance you will have 30 or 40 more years of cycling to look forward to. As long as you can walk you can ride a bike. I’m in my early 70s and I have cycling friends of all ages but the ones I go out with most are in their 60s and 70s. One of my cycling friends is in his 80s. I love cycling with them; there seems to be nothing they don’t know about cycling and bicycles.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Great stories and good to see how cycling brings so much to all ages. I am 61 and have suffered from chronic farigue episodes all my life. I have however not let it dominate my life and have enjoyed the great outdoors immensely. Last year I cycled from the Kyle of Lochalsh up the west coast to Durness. Part way across the north coast and back down through the central highlands in a large circle of some 420 miles. I also camped each night which meant a fully loade bike, I loved every minute of the gut wrenching heart pounding climbs and the incredible scenery. I guess we all must be gluttons for punishment!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Re-read this again, now at 70 and 2 days, and still laughing and giggling on the bike (and no I don’t think I’m demented yet). Saw a programme on the BBC of a report about cycling and age. They had looked at older cyclists, a 69 year old was one of the younger ones, and saw their leg muscle mass was better than the average 40 year old, plus better immune systems etc –

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fantastic read! Now I’m a newbie here and at 48, we’ll very soon to be 49 I have discovered cycling rather late. But oh how enlightening … I feel as though I have just opened a door to a different side of life. I am doing the Atlantic Cycle Route next month to join my family for our annual camping trip, but this is a 50km a day for 3 weeks on the scenic route of tracks and cycle paths, nothing like you proper cyclists I fear!! Any advice more than welcomed and by the way, what is Audax?? Many thanks, Katie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Katie, welcome to the different side of life! The Atlantic cycle route looks really good, might have to try that myself!70% traffic free, very relaxing. Advice: take it easy, sleep lots, eat and drink well and make sure you’re comfortable (don’t try new clothes, equipment etc on this ride!). Don’t overpack, but take enough layers for different weather (tricky to achieve!). Oh, and enjoy, take in the scenery, the amazing food and people on the way. Very envious.

      Audax: it’s an old school version of a Sportive. Much more informal. Smaller groups, rides of anything from 50k to 600k (yikes!), lots of tea and cakes, no medal (you get a card on which stamps are collected at control points to prove the ride has been completed, or you use receipts from purchases!), cheaper than a sportive and much more of a community feel. More info here along with lots of rides to sign up for!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh thank you so much! My world has just opened up a little more. Very good advice and thanks for the Audax … I’m liking the sound of this, plus the cakes! Will have a look at the website – that’s very kind of you.. thank you! Katie

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Crikey … this sounds good! I hadn’t heard of it before … thank you for the link.
      Since writing, I have cycled from the north to the south of France in the summer. This was, without any doubt the absolute highlight of my decade. I went alone and camped throughout taking a very longwinded but less traffic (most of the time) route of la velodysee. Roughly 1150kms and allowed about three and a half weeks. Absolutely extraordinary for someone like me. So many adventures, with highs, lows, challenges and moments of utter and complete delight. I’d do it again every day of the week. Katie

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Another fine post in a lovely blog. Motivation as you get older I a funny thing; I took up racing at the age of 50 and made it a 5-year project just to see what was possible, and had a great time. Sure it was (late) midlife crisis stuff, but I think we unnecessarily diminish what we are doing by writing it off to that particular cliché. Goals are fun; goals are healthy; achieving them is gratifying, but really, that’s just a nice bonus. I had one goal – to get good enough to earn an upgrade point in the local race series. (Hey, I’m 55 in the Masters 3 group in Ontario – which is the equivalent of roughly Cat 4-5 – and was racing against guys almost 20 years younger than I am, so one adjusts the goals accordingly.) And everything I did to try to improve (from fitness to race tactics to equipment) got focused by that particular goal. Which is no different from than training for a sportif or a cycling holiday in the mountains. And the collateral benefits, as we all know, are fantastic. Meanwhile, racing was a total blast. I retired last year (I got my point*); I think the goal this coming season is just to do more club rides, enjoy the Zen… and just to keep myself honest, maybe think about the Dolomites…


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Richard. Enjoyed that video, very nice cheeky overlays! Must admit the race did look fun and congrats on the achievement, always gratifying. Dolomites are amazing if you can make it. I’ve a few goals this year, some time trials, the national hill climb championship and a trip to Switzerland. Plenty of life in this old dog too!


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