Maybe I’m glamorising – and why can’t I? – but I feel 50 is the gateway to the prime years, the golden age, it’s a landmark true, in common with all the other multiples of 10. But why am I asking now, specifically at 50 years old, ‘Can I start cycling?’ Well, reasoning this, I believe 50 is a time when we take stock of how we’ve performed so far in our lives and do so more actively than at previous multiples of 10 anniversaries, sometimes positively, sometimes harshly, often scrutinising our successes through comparative microscopes. Hello to you, Dear Reader! I’m glad to have you along!
I think this self-assessment, added to the chance of having possibly trodden the same life paths, the same ways for a substantial duration, combined with leaping across the halfway-to-one-hundred mark, all can leave us at 50 being world-wise, learned and expert in our field of endeavour, but yet sometimes, understandably lacking the confidence in our ability to apply our real-world experience and erudition to a task like cycling – a task apparently so simple that even a four year old can manage it! That right there could be the kind of thing that can lead us to feel almost embarrassed to begin cycling (or begin again) or even to ask for help on how to. I get you, I really do. And I get you because that’s a depiction of me in there!
However, neither you nor I have time for rumination, let alone more twaddle. What we want to know is, can I start cycling at 50+? Absolutely! Here’s a guide in three parts.
Part 1 – Find Your Cycling Mojo and Convince Yourself to Actually Start Riding a Bicycle
First Step, Acknowledge your Concerns and Address them
Far from starting at the wrong end of the stick, I think it’s best to lay all our concerns out on the metaphorical table so we can eliminate, de-fang, or mitigate against their effects as completely as possible. Doing so will allow us to ride our bicycle freely, enjoyably having tackled the fears, worries and concerns that limit our ability to just get on and ride.
I’ve outlined some of those concerns, particularly concerning how you feel you could be perceived negatively by others if you start cycling at 50+ in my article “Can I Start Cycling if I’m Older? Try Some Fresh Thinking”. But to uncover which of your concerns are yours alone and which are caused by your perception of how others might negatively appraise you when you are out cycling (not fast enough, looks fat, can’t ride properly and many others) just think what would be different if you were riding happily on your desert island? Which, if any, concerns does the desert island eliminate? The article above may shed a little insight into dealing with those. But that leaves plenty of potential others. What are some of those?
- Specific health concerns – since we’re all individuals with unique bodies in unique circumstances, you don’t need me to advise you to clear any serious concerns with your doc before starting cycling. If that’s you, don’t leave the doc without the Dos and Don’ts of engaging in physical activity such as cycling, because you can leverage that information along with this four-step plan. Good, so IF you have an all-clear what else might be a concern?
- Concerns over a weak body or lacking fitness, well, yes. I could ask how long has it been since you have exercised to the extent you would do on a bicycle? But I won’t. Because even if like most of my 50-something pals, you’re cardio-fit, and you’re flexible, you may still find fatigue, or muscle or joint aches or niggles when you start cycling – perfectly normal when taking up any activity to which you’re unaccustomed. I’m assuming you have covered part a. above, so if the muscle, joint aches or niggles aren’t exacerbating an underlying condition – see Practice Mindful Cycling in Part 2 below – and you’re taking it steadily, as we’l also discuss in Part 2, then have no concerns about a weak body or lacking fitness. Strength will gain itself, fitness improves in small, but often surprising steps, and flexibility and mobility can too if you follow the steps here.
- Concerns about possibly feeling shaky on the bicycle. This is an understandable concern for anyone unused to handling a bicycle and even when you’re on the bicycle, feeling shaky if you haven’t ridden in a while sounds normal to me. Don’t be harsh with yourself if you think you’ll feel shaky beforehand or actually do when you try, as confidence comes, assuredly with a little practice. Take the view that it’s so simple a four year old can do it, and so plainly you’ll be able to gain confidence too so long as you stick to the plan. Read on to Part 2 before you allow it to be a deterrent!
- Concerns about physically protecting yourself and safety while cycling. Anyone used to the aggression arising out of the perceived competition for space on, and the excessively hurried nature of paved roads and highways can grasp this. Again, it’s a question of risk management rather than elimination. Since we’re all different, some of these will be personal to the individual’s risk tolerance or aversion level. Others, such as wearing a cycle helmet, are applicable to anyone on a bicycle, young, not so young, inexperienced or seasoned. Wear a helmet – there’s no reason not to!
Where you do your riding may be a question of choice if you’re riding for your own enjoyment or a question of it’s your route to work if you’re planning to commute. If you’re starting off either way and you’re feeling as if physical safety is a concern, I’d suggest riding on the bikeway / cyclepaths / quieter, less fast-moving or less congested roads or places to start cycling, at least until your bicycle handling confidence builds, maybe for your first ten rides or however long it takes for you to feel more capable while cycling. If crowded public roads are unavoidable, mitigate risk by shopping for cycling clothing that is high visibility or also has as part of its makeup, high-visibility components (many have subtle but decent reflective detailing). Again, these don’t eliminate the risk, but they can help reduce it and I think importantly when you start, can give you at least a greater feeling of safety.
Second Step, Determine What Outcomes You Desire from Cycling and pin those on the noticeboard of your mind!
Think of your desired outcome as your vision of how you’ll be at the achievement of your cycling goals – at least the first ones. It’s important to do this. That vision can act as a beacon for times – and there will be times – when your motivation is lacking. That beacon can guide you through times when a ride feels tough because the weather’s inclement or progress is causing pain or niggles, seems slow, non-existent, or even retrograde! It happens. It’s normal. And having that beacon, that desired outcome, the vision of a you that’s encouraged you to start cycling at 50+, well it can be a simple way to pull yourself away from catastrophizing a situation and back to rational thinking.
I urge you to think seriously about why you’re taking on this challenge
It is a challenge, there’s no doubt. So, why do you want to start cycling at 50? Ask yourself, “What is it about riding a bicycle that make me think, I’d like to try that again for myself?” What outcomes do you desire from cycling?
There may be several reasons. Those may be practical reasons such as cardiovascular health, muscle toning or strengthening, fat loss or alleviating pain. Cycling is wonderful for reducing depression – see my article “Road Cycling: Don’t Fight Depression, Ride To The Cure!” for more. Or you may be cycling for utility, maybe to work or maybe cycling as an ethical transport. Alternatively you may be thinking of the social aspect of cycling with a friend or joining a club, or maybe you’re thinking competitively, racing categories usually span all interested age groups.
Then again, maybe you just want to ride a bike, something for a simple hobby, for recaptured the freedom and enjoyment you might have had when you rode a bicycle before, for fresh air, for a thrill, a little speed or for adventure or to travel by. Whatever it is for you, I urge you to think seriously about why you’re taking on this challenge. It may challenge you if you’re just starting, or starting back to think about the whys, but list them out and pin them on the noticeboard, literally or metaphorically because we’ll be revisiting later!
Third Step, Pre-Flight Reality Checks
“A Man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life,” ~ Muhammad Ali
I love that quotation, but the flipside of that might be that a man or woman who feels they can ride at bicycle at 50 the way they rode a bicycle at 20 may be inviting injury or the kind of disappointment that brings out our critical inner voice: “See? I told you 50 was too old to start cycling! Who do you think you are imagining you can ride a bicycle at your age!” and well, that foster de-motivation! Okay so my quotation isn’t nearly as pithy as the great Ali’s. You’ll forgive me that I hope!
What I mean here is capture your enthusiasm for riding a bicycle. I have that enthusiasm and I love that you do too! But utilise it as your engine, rather than your steering. In other words, never seek to temper your enthusiasm for cycling at 50, but use your natural discretion when it comes to how you deploy that enthusiasm. Too fast, too hard, too much, too soon, is the burden of enthusiasm, but you and I as 50-somethings can leverage that in tandem with our prudence. Slow and steady so we can cycle so far then take time to inventory how the excursion went, then we use what we learned of ourselves so we can push it out further next time. Makes sense, yes?
Check 1, How is Your Fundamental Cycling Ability?
I want to know only are you capable of getting on a bicycle, balancing enough to pedal it 50 feet from here to there and then stopping. Health-wise, I’m assuming you’ve done a. from the first step above, I won’t reiterate. So, specific ailments, conditions and injuries aside, before you begin, I’d urge you to assess yourself with an eye to your own physiological condition and flexibility. Feel free to ignore this if you’re physically feeling 100% or near enough, or if this sounds condescending. I can see why it would, but I promise it’s simple safety. Again, it may be the acme of the obvious, but sometimes we can forget the obvious, so this is a kind of pre-flight check.
I expect nothing of anyone’s fitness, strength, confidence, balance or bicycle handling at the beginning. Those things come with practice. This is more basic. What I’m hoping to encourage in you is a simple balanced, but realistic assessment, that way we can better meet our goals in Part 2 below, and minimise both disappointment and potential injury, fair enough? So you’re reasonably certain (or if you haven’t started cycling at all yet, as certain as you can be without trying), that you’ll be able to do the following:
- Bear your weight through the contact points of the bicycle (the saddle – your pelvic sitbones/ischial tuberosities, pedals – your feet, ankles & shins, and handlebar grips – your wrists, elbows & shoulders)?
- Support most of your weight (usually 60%) through your hips and back?
- Use your hips, legs and knees to turn the pedals? (If you can raise yourself out of a chair that’s good enough, this is more about satisfying yourself of your mobility)
- Use your shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands to steer the handlebars? (Again, with reference to flexibility and mobility)
- Grab the brake levers with sufficient power in your hands/forearms to stop safely? (Properly set up brakes take no more effort than squeezing a sponge ball)
- Maintain your own balance steadily enough to pedal the 50 feet from here to there?
- Rotate your head sufficiently on both sides to maintain situational awareness when cycling?
- Focus your vision in the near distance and far well enough to see potential hazards? (I’d be thinking of cracks in the pavement, road or cycleway, glass, debris or litter, or oncoming vehicles, cyclists or other road and path users)
- Perceive the speed of yourself and others, as well as depth/distance reasonably well?
Remember, in order to check these off, I never expect perfection or anything close and I’d hope you wouldn’t either J In all of these, let’s just say good enough is good enough.
Check 2, Your Balanced Cycling Mindset
As alluded to above, I’m essentially appealing here to your rational mind to bring about a balanced cycling mindset. In order to check this off, are you satisfied you have:
- Come to a reasonable balance between Enthusiasm, and the prudence of wisdom?
This balance can tip both directions. In one direction, high enthusiasm for cycling versus low prudence of wisdom can result in an over eager ride or imprudent attempt to not just push on out a little further or faster than last time, but to suddenly climb a hill twice the steepness. In the other direction, overthinking everything, maybe feeling you have to be in top condition or looking highly professional or fancy, being so cautious with the body as to never gain any greater enjoyment in riding or progress towards your goals, or being so averse to risk as to never seek to improve, versus – and can probably be responsible for – a lacking enthusiasm. A lack of enthusiasm of course can be caused from feeling down or feeling unwell or fatigued, or the weather or season, the perception of inadequate progress, or any number of other factors.
Check 3, Your Equipment
How is your cycling equipment set up? Oh, we haven’t mentioned that at all yet have we? That’s not remiss. We haven’t mentioned because despite what I’ve read recently regarding starting cycling, the equipment isn’t the most important thing to consider. You are. What’s more important than equipment is you yourself, your motivations to cycle and your level of enthusiasm, your health and your basic physical ability. All of which we’ve mentioned. Equipment goes here. And at that, there’s a caveat. Or maybe it’s just an exhortation to you…
Get Only the Minimum Necessary Equipment!
Yes, I want you to consider that despite what the retailers naturally want us all to think, cycling is not all about the bikes, it’s not all about the gear, and I can promise that while a heavy, clunky bicycle might well on occasion slow you down and temper your enthusiasm, a fancy lightweight superduper bicycle will NOT ABSOLUTELY guarantee to make your cycling the most fun you’ve ever had. What will make cycling the most fun you’ve ever had is capitalizing on that enthusiasm. Equipment can help, better equipment can help more. But if your enthusiasm is lacking, it’s a falsehood thinking equipment will remedy that in anything other than the short term. I know whether we’re male or female we all like our new spangly things, whatever they may be, and if that’s your thing, it’s all good.
All I want to do here is itemize the minimum needed to start cycling at 50+ since I’ve been down those roads and I’d like to save you the time, the effort, the expenditure. At least at the starting cycling stage. If the cycling bug bites – and it frequently does so once you experience the freedom – well at that stage, bikes and equipment can remain between you and your bank account!
- A bicycle. Yes, of course. I’m assuming you’ve decided on a road bicycle as opposed to a hybrid bike, mountain bike, cyclocross, BMX, recumbent, E-bike, gravel-adventure bike, or whatever the current trends are for. If not, each type of bike will have varying advantages and disadvantages for the style of riding you might like to try and for the type of goals you have and for how you are physically. For example, recumbent bicycles are often recommended for cycling with lower back issues and an e-bike is great if you essentially want to ride an electric motorcycle at 60mph on cycleways, pffft. But I’m assuming road bike here.
It can be like a new skill. I mean moreso than throwing your leg over a nice upright position mountain bike. Taming your road bicycle needs a degree of core strength to begin with. Do you have that? Situps, planks, superman exercises etc. You can do those? How about hamstring flexibility? Toe touches? The reason I’m asking is because poor core strength or flexibility in the glutes, hamstrings and calves can be probably the major cause of back problems in a road cyclist. This is a greater risk than a poorly fitted bike, which is often cited as the biggest problem. All I’m saying is that before you start riding the road bike, to shape up your core strength and glute/leg flexibility. I promise it’ll pay dividends!
But I think road cycling in particular requires you to be conscious of your position for this reason from the beginning. On a hybrid or city bike, a cruiser or MTB, you kind of just hop on and go. Road bikes are likewise, but the different position over the saddle and bars need a little acclimitization if we’re to keep ourselves right and get the best out of it in coming years and decades I hope! But once you’re used to it, like anything, it becomes second nature.
Beginner road bicycles, which brands are best?
There are plenty of salesy articles out there for your information, but what I would say is that often because manufacturers create bicycles to a price point, the differences at your preferred price point could be largely cosmetic. Often bigger manufacturers will source their frames from the Far East and specify similar parts. So the differences are often simply in the branding. But I think easier than going through a long list of recommended bicycle brands, would be to suggest to you that you avoid brands for which you can’t find much information for yourself outside of the retailer.
While you may find genuinely well-constructed, well assembled and well quality controlled bicycles, the fact is, that without branded websites and information, if you’re just starting cycling, it can be a little bit of a minefield to negotiate. I’m happy to answer any comments on decent bike brands though. Meantime, I’ve added my thoughts on best road bike brands for beginners in a recent article.
What size bicycle do I need for my height?
Again, this is one of the reasons for making the above suggestion. To determine the most appropriately sized frame for your height, just go to the manufacturer’s website, look at the bicycle you’re thinking of, and check their size guide.
And what about buying a bicycle used or secondhand?
I would advise against. Stick to new. There’s nothing inherently bad about buying secondhand bicycles. I have bought and sold many bicycles in my time. I’d caution you simply for your convenience. There are many variables and many pitfalls with a used bicycle some of which may not be in your thoughts at the time of purchase from the seller. An apparently good condition bicycle can have hidden damage, or may have excessive wear on important bearings that might not be obvious for anyone just starting cycling. Nor can you gain peace of mind from returns should anything fail.
If however, you’ve had bicycles recently and are starting back, and know your size and fit, and are prepared to wait around until the right bicycle in the right size, one of your preferred brands in the right condition and at the right price comes along, well, why not, you’ll be saving money or getting a better bicycle for the money you were going to spend new.
How much should I spend?
Everyone’s budget is completely different. I understand that. If your budget won’t stretch to what I’m going to suggest, then it’s no big deal. Don’t sweat it. Any new bike is going to work for your first few months. However, at time of writing, I wouldn’t suggest going less than GBP350-400, USD450-550, AUD600-700. What’s my reasoning? Well, there are plenty of bicycles costing significantly less than this. However, I can guarantee that below this price point, the bicycle companies struggle to find parts to cost that actually work for more than 6-12 months. These bicycles will also weigh significantly more. My concern from this would be that these bargain bicycles don’t always foster, and can sometimes detract from enjoyment of cycling, specially at the beginning when we’re just learning how to actually DO cycling and get to grips with riding, last thing we want is the headache of looking for better brake pads or new gear cables.
At the suggested price point – and of course it’s not written in stone! – but a bicycle at this price point will be of a decent quality, reasonably well specified in terms of the bits on it, and should last you well beyond any starting cycling ‘probationary period’. Plus, should the worst happen and you decide somehow cycling just isn’t for you, well it will be significantly easier to sell a decent bicycle and recoup a higher percentage of its cost price than would be the case for one much cheaper.
- Clothing – What’s the minimum needed?
I want to say that in all of the below list of clothing, none of these absolutely have to be cycling specific kit. I mean the plain white t-shirt you have in your drawer will work in place of a short sleeved base layer. Substitute what you’ve got for what I’ve listed. Specially in the beginning. Again, I would hate to think anyone would get hung up on having some notion of the ‘right’ kit. Having said that of course, gear that’s specifically designed for a certain task is often preferable. It just makes things nicer. And that’s true here. Cycling shorts in particular (whether they be lycra or the looser more casual cycling shorts) are designed to protect your sitbones and have no seams where you’re ass meets the saddle. But that being said, let’s start from the top down.
Helmet. This is a no-brainer. Reputable branded helmet manufacturers will adhere to strict safety standards ensuring the helmet functions as intended. How do you recognize a reputable brand helmet manufacturer? They’ll be stocked in major cycling stores, bricks-and-mortar, or online, and they’ll have a website. Find sizes on that manufacturer’s websites after measuring your head circumference. Beyond that, for a beginner, choose one that’s in your budget and that you’re happy with the look.
If you’re interested in spending more on your safety (and why wouldn’t you?) consider a helmet with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) which is a tech within the helmet that minimises head and neck movement in the event of an impact.
Looks-wise, some helmets do tend to look bigger for the same size. Also, in my experience, they don’t always fit my personal head shape, goodness knows what shape that is! If buying from a bike store, you’ll get a chance to feel the fit. If buying online, check they have a returns. For me, I’m in between sizes so I usually size up provided it won’t look as if I’m wearing a mushroom, lol.
Skullcap. If it’s cold, wearing a thin under-helmet hat/skullcap can cover the ears and keep the chill out. My favorites are made from merino. Nice to have, but optional.
Buff or neck tube. I often wear one of these when the temperatures dip in winter. They just make it easier to breathe in the very cold air, but then I’m an ex-asthmatic so that may be an issue peculiar to just me . Nice to have, but optional
I like to have in my closet, base layer, mid layer and top layer depending on the weather outside.
Base layers come as tank/vest tops, short sleeved and long sleeved. These wick sweat away from your skin and keep your body temperature stable. I wear short sleeved base layer under a jersey probably below 15C, go long sleeved under a jersey probably below 13C.
Mid layer is usually your cycling jersey. This can be worn over a base layer, and/or under a top layer. Cycling jerseys can again be short or long sleeved depending on the weather. Look for a few pockets in the back, especially a zipped pocket for anything valuable.
Top layer can be a heavier jersey or a jacket. Again, this can be worn over a base layer and/or a mid layer depending on the weather. In a jacket for the rain, I look for a nice dropped tail to protect the old ass from road water from the back wheel.
For protection from both numbness in the fingers and from cold. Fingerless are fine for the summer. Look for decent padding in the palm and possibly a sweat wipe on the thumb. Same too for long fingered gloves, to which I’d also look for some grip in the fingers to assist braking and gearchange. Most decent gloves now are touchscreen compatible too.
Shorts, tights or trousers/pants. There are many kinds of cycling bottoms. They can be tight fitting lycra or more casually styled sorts and longer pants. These again can be layered like the top half depending on the weather (and your level of propriety perhaps!). Always look for a pad in your bottom half garment. If your cycling trousers/pants are unpadded, wear cycling-specific shorts or underwear underneath.
Note, cycling jerseys have pockets on the rear, one often being zipped. Looser-styled but still cycling-specific shorts generally have zip of popper pocket somewhere on the leg too. So, if you’re wearing both non-cycling casual shorts AND a non-cycling shirt I’d suggest wearing something that has a zip pocket for storing, key, cash/card or phone etc.
Socks, shoes, overshoes. Socks shouldn’t be too thick. Thick enough to provide warmth but not just fill with sweat and allow no airflow. Shoes are a matter of preference. Cycling shoes with clips can be difficult for beginning. Flat pedals and shoes are perfectly fine on a road bike. I’ve written another article, “Cycling in Regular Shoes and Sneakers” that might be useful here too. Overshoes optional but can help keep feet warm and dry if your’e riding in colder or wetter conditions.
- Cycling necessities and accessories?
I wouldn’t overemphasize what’s necessary to carry. I created my own pocket pouch for essentials, you might be interested in. But I’d suggest these things in order of importance when beginning road cycling.
I always suggest the most important thing nowadays is your phone. It’s just a reassurance you can get hold of whomever you need to whenever you need to. But more than that, there are some decent apps ranging from trackers that use GPS to allow your closest to know where you are, to fitness apps such as Strava that map your routes, give you your statistics and can use your phone in conjunction with heartrate chest straps for whenever you might have an interest.
Folding cash is probably the easiest to carry. Again, just for emergency.
When you start out with your goals, I’d hope you’d consider following my suggestions and taking things at a level that’s an achievable challenge for you. Nothing that’s going to wipe you out before you’ve found your cycling feet. To that end, I’d imagine rides are possibly going to be less than an hour in duration. For anything up to one hour, water isn’t strictly necessary as you can re-hydrate once home. For rides of an hour or more, I’d consider taking some water. This usually involves a simple frame-mounted bottle cage and a bottle / bidon which holds about 550-600ml (20floz).
Only if you’re able to repair a puncture at the roadside is it wise to bring a spare inner tube, two bicycle tire levers and a pump. Otherwise, phone whomever you agreed to phone to assist with a ride home or roadside repair.
If you’re riding on public highways in dark or twilight conditions use LED lights front and rear. If you plan to ride on public roads in daylight, a rear LED light on its own can be valuable to increase your visibility. Same thing for hi-viz clothing. If you’re riding on cycleways or cycle paths, use your own discretion. But these are safety options depending on your own feelings. For me personally, I ride a rear LED light at all times and front when it’s dark. I like to wear at least something bright or something reflective on me when I can, but always if I’m out in the early mornings or when it’s dark.
If you’re confident to do your own maintenance, bring a bicycle tool, or at the very least hex keys that suit the most common bolts you might have cause to loosen or tighten (usually 4mm, 5mm and 6mm). There are some nice mini cycle tools that fit in a pocket very easily. I’m currently using a Fabric Mini Tool which is totally flat, tiny size, totally functional and snazzy silver too.
But there’s plenty of choice. Again, I doubt realistically it would ever be something you’d find necessary to complete your first few cycling goals after starting out. Any bike adjustments you might need to make can be done at home before you set out, or if you find your saddle is too low or too high for example, that can be fixed whenever you return home from a ride. The tool is an option therefore.
Last Step, Make a Pact with Yourself
This is the most important step in this section, because without it, it’s all just talk and thoughts. Taking action is what counts. And in order to curb any tendencies you might have to procrastinate (who doesn’t!), make a pact with yourself to simply start cycling on a date not too far from right now! I can’t think why, from right now, it should take any longer than 4 to 6 weeks to be on your first cycle ride. And that’s starting from nothing. If you’re just thinking about it, how about setting a first bike ride as a target for yourself? While you’re waiting, you can get on a programme of core strengthening and leg/glute flexibility.
On the other hand, if you have decided it’s something you’d like to start now you’re in the 50+ group, and you feel some resistance to this idea of setting a firm date to start, what are your lingering doubts or excuses? Check with yourself and rationalize those. They may not have a basis in any fact. Feel free to comment. I’ll always do my best to reply.
Part 2 – Select Modest Incremental Cycling Goals For You as a Unique Individual
First Step, Use your Desired Outcomes from Part 1 to provide structure for your Initial Goal
So why is a goal even important at all? Why not just get on the bike and ride? I know, I ask a lot of why questions! But, well, without a goal you can’t have any agreement WITH YOURSELF about what to do. Sure, you can just hop on the saddle and push off. But how far to go? Or how fast? Or where? Do you go up that incline? Or stay on the flat? Should you ride on the road with traffic? Is it best you just stick on the cycleways or paths? See? Plus what would happen if you got lost in your cycling endeavour. I don’t mean literally. I mean you ended up thinking, man that was tiring, or I think my calves shouldn’t hurt this much, why am I putting myself through this again? With goals that come from desired outcomes, that won’t happen (the ‘why am I doing this?’ not the calves hurting! lol)I’d suggest starting with one single goal. And achieving it, rewarding yourself, and selecting another modest incremental goal that follows. I think that way we’re building gradually on our successes.
How to set that initial goal?
Your initial goal will naturally very much depend on which of the many desired outcomes you made note of in Part 1. Wait… You did do that didn’t you? The reason it’s important to know your reasons why, is that in the face of any difficulty, you have those reasons as your foundation to fall back on.
So we’ve all been doing SMART goals forever (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and timed). If you can think of a better goal technique, please let me know in the comments! Otherwise, I don’t know why we’d change that for the sake of it, right?
So S for Specific. If your goal is, for example, to get fitter, what do you specifically mean by that? What does ‘get fitter’ mean? How can we make the goal specific especially in a way that we’ll be able to measure it? It might be that you subjectively want to feel fitter. And that’s perfectly fine. The question is, how will you know if you’ve reached that goal of feeling fitter? Is there something your current level of fitness prohibits you from doing that you’ll be able to do when ‘fitter’? If the goal is to have less back pain, then maybe specifically we mean, I can sit for thirty minutes and get up without pain. That might be one example of specific in that instance.
Many physical measurements can be taken, cholesterol, resting heart rate, blood sugar, weight, waist measurement etc. while others like fitness might be measured by how long it takes to ride a certain distance or up a certain hill, or how far you go in a certain amount of time etc.
An ambitious goal is the kind we want here. But it isn’t always easy finding one that’s both the A for ambitious and the R for realistic. Sometimes for the ambitious I’d suggest achievable. But if it doesn’t push you, it’s not a goal, it’s more like something you currently do, which might seem like cheating, right? At the same time, we want one as the section title suggests, that’s modest. It isn’t outrageous. Why not just go full tilt? Because that only sets us up for failure, doesn’t it? There’s a balance between so easy it’s cheating and so hard it’s impossible. You’ll know what that goal is for you.
A timed goal gives us a targeted timescale. Again, I can only defer to you to know what’s balanced between a realistic time to achieve your initial goal, and an unreasonable time.
Second Step, Remember! Little and Often
Little and often – baby steps, that’s what we mean here. And naturally only you know what constitutes baby steps for you as an individual as it all depends on how you’re placed. I think the baby steps analogy goes further insofar as the steps might be small, but the baby does try continuously to get up and walk. A toddler won’t think to themselves, ah, I’ll get up and take a few steps during the weekend and that’ll do me until next week. The toddler is up and about taking those baby steps to explore with every opportunity for the reason they are following their own desired outcomes, true?
So I think if we’ve followed the SMART goal steps above, modest, realistic, balanced goals, I’d go so far as to suggest doing it this way means you can even ride every other day if you’re able and have the time around other commitments. But if not, just do what you feel you need to in order to achieve your goal.
Speaking of making time. Don’t worry about how you’ll find hours to set aside from your day. I’m sure you can find 10 or 20 minutes to begin with. And that’s plenty! Especially if you’re doing this every other day, you’ll be on your way in no time. Regularity is the key. Ask yourself when during your day can you ride for those 10-15 minutes? Overdoing it, too far, too fast, too much, is surely not the key. That being said, try as far as possible to not be excessively hard on yourself if you miss a day when you’d planned to go riding. Sometimes you’re heart isn’t in it, some days it’s frozen over outside, or too hot, other times, life dictates our plans. So accept these with the grace you have and look to the next planned day.
How little is too little? Ie. How far should I cycle? As far as you’re comfortable cycling. That may be a mile/kilometre or maybe a few miles. Stop before you feel sore, particularly if you haven’t in a while. At the very least if you’re a reasonably fit 50+, muscle soreness can be an issue afterwards if you overdo it. Start REALLY small and if that goes ok, congratulate yourself for achieving that modest goal. THEN try doing what you did only add a little more to it. Mind you, bear in mind other factors, for example, if it’s calm the first day you cycle and windy the second, the same distance against the wind will feel like the extra so don’t just count distance, listen to your body and don’t push it too hard initially!
Incremental is the key here. We can’t increment if we’ve gone MAX at the beginning, true? 🙂
Third Step, Don’t force your body to get strong. ALLOW it to gain strength
Allow your body to GAIN strength rather than forcing it to get strong. Strength and flexibility will come with the functional movements of cycling, provided you allow your body to adapt at its own natural rate at the time. To that end, to prevent overstressing the tendons and muscles, ride your bicycle by pedalling fast (high cadence) in an easy to push (lower) gear. Do this as opposed to turning the pedals more slowly in a harder to push (higher) gear.
I’d be aiming initially for 80-85 revolutions per minute where a revolution is as it suggests the time it takes for one foot to complete a full 360 degree turn. It’s best for your joints and muscles to try eventually for a cadence of 90-95 which is a pretty fast spin. If you’ve no bicycle computer for determining what exactly your pedaling rate or cadence is, those of you that are music listeners can avail of the joys of music to keep tempo. You can keep a tune with a suitable tempo in your head while you’re out to pedal in time to. Check this list of songs for 80bpm or beats per minute. BPM and RPM are the same thing for our purposes https://www.cs.ubc.ca/~Davet/music/bpm/85.html
In any case, pedalling should feel easy subjectively speaking, since everyone’s “easy” is different. But don’t feel you have to then pedal like you’re on a child’s bike trying to escape a herd of fast moving zombies! But better that than having to stomp hard on your pedals in order to turn them in too high a gear. You’ll know you’re doing that if you’re swaying from side to side or pulling up on the handlebars to gain even enough leverage to push the gear. A gear like that could be unnecessarily difficult, and harsh on the joints too!
Longer, further, faster don’t always equate to “better”
… What they do is help make incremental gains. But the way you ride your bike carries more weight. For example, I might ride twice as far on one ride than the last. But I might be pedalling much slower or pushing a much higher (harder-to-push) gear. This will have a different effect on my energy expenditure and muscle usage
Too fast, too much, too soon, is to invite injury, regardless of age. But as a beginner with age vs a beginner without age, so too the statistical likelihood of injury. So as I’ve said, go easy on yourself and allow your body to recuperate afterwards. Failing to do so is to invite limit your enjoyment by causing you to feel tired or worse, by being the cause of injury. Just listen to your body. And that brings me to the last step…
Last Step, Practice Mindful cycling
I don’t mean in an entranced meditative state, no I mean the Practical Mindfulness of listening to your body. I mean REALLY listening. Essentially, we’re talking about checking with yourself… Are my legs telling me they need rest? Am I tired but able to pedal on or too tired to continue? Is that back discomfort because I’m unaccustomed to the bike position, or could it be the spectre of an old injury resurfacing? You see what I mean? Often we’ll carry muscle tension in the shoulders or back that can be to the detriment of our position on the back and can cause further pain in other areas as the body naturally adapts to the task it’s been given on the road bike.
And if you are interested in that entranced meditative state, see my article, “Meditation while Road Cycling: Are You a Guru, Unawares?”
Part 3 – Sustain Your Motivation to Achieve all of Those Goals
First Step, Understand Your Personal Motivation
What motivates you? I mean, what motivated you to choose the desired outcomes of your road cycling in Part 1 above? Why do I think it’s important to be aware of your personal motivations? Because those motivations are the impetus for change. And change, specially at our age in the 50+ bracket, can be challenging too. Many of us have done the same things in the same ways for a sufficient length of time that any alteration in that status quo or orthodoxy can firstly meet resistance from within ourselves, and secondly be difficult to overcome or answer back to.
So what’s it about for you? Do you want to challenge yourself? Take up something new? Do you believe the world hasn’t seen the best of you yet? Do you imagine you can live a healthier or less stressful life? Something’s making you even read this article – and well done too, I appreciate you doing this for yourself! But why on earth are you about to push the button on road cycling? In essence I’m asking, what’s wrong with your status quo? What’s wrong with things exactly as they are? Why can’t you just sit in your chair? Only you can answer. I hope you do though. I think it’s useful as a metric, something that can be revisited, something to show you how things are better for your having taken that decision 🙂
I’m always interested to know what motivates people. Feel free to share in the comments section if you’re minded to.
Second Step, Tap into Continuing Support Mechanisms
It’s not for everybody, but if it suits you, consider starting a cycling plan. This idea might sound like we’re enroling on some kind of School for Cycling deal. I guess in some ways that’s true. But if you want to push for a specific reward-worthy goal, plans such as this are verifiably useful. There are many well-organized plans online. I’d recommend the plans on the British Cycling website.
Again, while some people prefer to cycle just for themselves (I know I can be like that at times!) maybe you might appreciate finding like minds, whether by cycling with a friend for company, or stepping up to joining the cruisers group in a cycling club, or perhaps by trying for a local charity ride, or by sourcing cycling sites and forums online. All of these can be useful in giving us the encouragement we need to keep moving towards our first, or first few, goals.
Third Step, Be Honest With Yourself
This isn’t any kind of attempt to temper your enthusiasm, far from it. Rather I’d want you to just be realistic with facing any particular challenges that might come your way. For each of us that’s different. Anything from finding time, to coping with low confidence, not making the progress you wanted (again always remember Remember, failing isn’t failure!) to dealing with back pain or handling poor initial fitness and myriad other.
The question I want you to ask of yourself is, how will I overcome any potential challenge to achieving my initial road cycling goals? That’s not to invite those unforeseen, and possibly unlikely problems. That isn’t part of our successful, goal-oriented mindset. It’s simply asking, if those happen, what will I actually do, what are my coping strategies. It’s just a matter of acknowledging that you have strategies in place. Then they can be forgotten about. We don’t need to focus on this beyond that.
Fourth Step, Quit the Comparing!
And speaking of focus, we now have our desired outcomes translated into a SMART goal or two. That’s where our focus can lie. And in amongst that we can find enjoyment in the thought and knowledge of succeeding in those goals and giving ourselves a deserved sense of achievement. You’re gonna have fun cycling right?
I’d like you to focus less on comparing yourself to others. Wait a minute… I don’t do that, do I? Don’t you? Well, I think it’s natural that we do that to varying degrees. But the comparisons are often unfairly weighted against us, right? Can you even be sure, objectively, that you’re comparing like with like? All I’m suggesting is that while comparing is forgivable, that we stop focusing on it. You have your own goal to strive for at your own pace that’s set appropriately for you and nobody else. You’re not on anyone else’s timetable but your very own, right?
And while I’m on the subject, can we focus less on “training” too?
… I mean like, less on making gains or challenging your body (working your body yes, pushing it hard, maybe not just yet!). Can we ignore the numbers: the heart rates, speed data or statistics? Can we at least do that initially until the cycling bug has bitten? I mean, after that, and you’re feeling comfortable while you’re having fun, then you can introduce whatever challenges allow you to ride in that sweet spot where you’re challenging your body gently and allowing adaptations and recovery to happen at their own pace, and not pedalling yourself into the ground chasing poorly-thought-out goals in the process. Sound sensible?
Last Step – Acknowledge And Reward Your Success!
This is important. And by that I mean crucial. Why’s this important? Besides the fact that we’re biologically hardwired to respond to reward, when you acknowledge your success it can spur you to continue in your cycling endeavours. I also imagine that you didn’t achieve your first road cycling goal without overcoming at least some difficulty. So objectively speaking there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t acknowledge your success.
I understand (from personal experience and professional experience as a psychotherapist) there may be a nasty little part of your ego that would seek to persuade you that you didn’t really achieve anything, particularly in comparison with the significant achievements of named or unnamed others. But wish that part of your ego well for its input and set it aside. Like how can you possibly, by any objective standards NOT deserve acknowledgement of your successful completion of your first goal AND a reward?
I don’t know what that reward will be for you. I just know that if you’ve got to here in this little guide and followed the steps, you surely merit it. And if you got the time, I’d love to hear about it too.
So Can I start cycling at 50+? Well, I hope you agree: Absolutely! And when you do, you may even end up wishing you’d started sooner! You might find when you get going, the cycling bug bites hard! (and has the tenacity to hang on! Wait, that’s a horrible analogy lol). Meantime, thank you so much for taking the time to read.
I’d appreciate your comments. What I’d really like is to continue to add useful real-world experiences from others in here too, or maybe make a separate article.
And otherwise, ride safe, all my wishes for your goal-chasing and continued road cycling successes, David.