By Ken Stringer
for the Sequim Gazette
I’ve had a lot of conversations recently that went like this:
“So, you’re a bike rider.” [The first clue was probably my outfit—the helmet, the fingerless gloves, the shoes, the bright colors of my jersey. But it could also have been the expression on my face since (more often than not at the time) I’d just finished a ride and was sporting what likely seemed an inexplicable, incongruous look that combined adult exhaustion and child-like glee.]
“Yep! How about you? do you ride?”
“Me? No. I haven’t been on a bike since I was a kid!”
“You should try it again. “
“Nah. It’s been way too long, and I’m way too [here you can fill in the blank with “old,” or “out of shape,” or “uncoordinated,” etc.] for that! Besides, I wouldn’t know where to start.”
That, of course, gets me to preaching about all the benefits of cycling. Sometimes the person will listen for a bit while slowly backing up and looking for the nearest escape route.
But most of the time they listen, then start asking questions, then start talking about their bike that’s been “collecting dust for years in the garage,” and you can see the old memories of what it was like to ride a bike start to kick in. Sure enough, the next time you see them they’ll say, “Guess what? I started riding again!” I love it every time I hear that! At the same time, I know the decision isn’t always an easy one to make — or to stick with.
Let’s start with a key point about bicycling: if you’ve ever ridden a bike, you know how to ride a bike — it’s a skill that you never lose! You may be a bit rusty at first if you haven’t ridden in years (or decades), but you’ll find it comes back quick and easy. I can’t cite all the scientific studies out there, but I’m pretty sure they’ve proved what we all know intuitively: You never forget how to ride a bike because the unparalleled sense of joy and freedom you first experience when your ability to propel yourself down the road exponentially expanded your world and opened a whole new realm of adventure and exploration leaves a unique imprint on your brain cells. Just Google it.
So “it’s been way too long” is not a legitimate reason or excuse for not getting back on a bike. In fact, it’s probably the best reason to actually get back on your bike!
Second, there’s no such thing as being “too old” to ride a bike. The infirmities of age may be an obstacle, but citing age itself? Wrong! Just take a look around Sequim (ideally by riding your bike!). Yes, there are a lot of young kids tooling around on their BMX bikes — the low-riding single-speeds they do all kinds of wild stunts on, and you’ll see a bunch of families out riding in the evenings or on weekends. But, as you’d expect given our demographics, the vast majority of cyclists you’ll see on the roads and trails in our area are 60 or older.
Being “out of shape” is actually one of the best reasons to get back on your bike. Cycling is a great form of exercise because it causes less strain and injury, is a time-efficient way to get a good workout that uses all the major muscle groups, it’s good for strength, stamina, and aerobic fitness, and it’s fun!
Lack of coordination is also no good reason for not getting on a bike. Indeed, unlike many sports, cycling doesn’t require a high level of physical skill. And remember that like gravity and the speed of light, it’s a law of the universe that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.
That brings us to the question of “Where to begin?”
Start with a good bike. It doesn’t have to be brand new or terribly expensive.
But do make sure it’s in good operating condition. If you’ve finally pulled your old bike out of storage, take it to a local bike shop to have them look it over. They may just replace some tubes, tires, and cables, lube your chain and other key parts, and do a general “tune up.” Or they may look at you and give you the bad news that, despite all their best efforts, there was nothing they could do. The good news is that if you end up buying a new bike, you’ll be amazed at the improvements in the equipment and, oddly enough, at how much better a cyclist you are now than you ever were before! Strange, but true.
Next, make sure you have the right gear. Wearing a properly fitting helmet is a must. Front and rear lights and a rear-view mirror are also essential safety equipment. Comfortable clothing makes for a more enjoyable time on the road or trail and you’ll find bike shorts — extra padding in the seat — are a necessity once you start ridingregularly or for longer distances.
Finally, find a good group to ride with. There are lots to choose from in our area, with multiple options for riding dates and times, pace and distance, and so on.
And each group consists of friendly, knowledgeable people, many starting out again just like you and many others who are happy to guide you through the process of becoming a “cyclist”—you know, one of those colorfully-clad folks who take to the roads and trails any time they can?
Ken Stringer is President of the Olympic Peninsula Bicycle Alliance. For more information on cycling in the area, go to www.olympicpeninsulacycling.com, or contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org