Cycling is not just for the young and, to be fair, it hasn’t been for some time. The growing drive towards health & fitness among all age groups and a burgeoning health & fitness industry across all sectors, means that an upswing in the number of cyclists hitting the roads, tracks and velodromes has been occuring over the last decade.
Even the ‘Wiggins Effect’ has been recently hailed as being partly responsible for causing a surge in interest in the cycling sector (cyclist, Sir Bradley Wiggins, is Britain’s most decorated Olympian with five gold medals among his total of eight, and numerous other world titles and speed records).
However, despite the numbers, ‘Wiggo’ announced his retirement from cycling at the young age of 36, which is a far cry from the UK’s 50+ men and women who, on average, are putting in 130 miles cycling per year, with cycle use currently increasing year-on-year.
Cycle traffic in general has risen every year since 2008, with well over 3.2 billion vehicle miles having been cycled in 2019, which was around 10% higher than previous yearly averages. The recent pandemic and national lockdowns have seen online bike sales boom, which is both more good news for this industry sector and the health & fitness of the public as a whole.
So, this is all positive news, but there is a very long way to go until cycling reaches the levels last seen in 1949 – of 14.7 billion vehicle miles!
Whether for health reasons or for fun, or for savings of time and money, if you are feeling inspired to take up cycling, here are some things to consider.
CHRIS COLE IS a physiotherapist, at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, and a keen amateur cyclist who regularly competes in cycling events.
What are the benefits for older riders in taking up cycling?
“Cycling is a low-impact, partial weight- bearing sport with most of your body weight actually going through the saddle. This means the lower joints will not be taking the battering they would receive from road- running or even squash.”
Why is low-impact exercise important?
“As we age our joints become more prone to injury so the low impact aspect of cycling really is a benefit into later life. It is also a good sport for protecting soft tissue in the lower joints, which is also important for long-term good health.”
Are there any warning signs in the joints or body older riders should be aware of?
“Common warning signs include pain in the lower back pain, the neck or at the front of the knee. If you are suffering from any of these conditions it would be a good idea to seek advice from a physiotherapist or medical professional.”
What’s the best physio advice you could give older riders?
“Get a bike that ‘fits’ your body. If you aren’t comfortable on your cycle then you will be put off using it! And always go for a test ride so that you will be able to tell if it is the one for you.”
The posture specialist
As with golf, cricket or any other sporty endeavor, it is important you have the right equipment and your form and posture are correct. Andy Sexton of Bike Science Ltd has been a professional bike fitter for the past eleven years.
His area of expertise is ensuring that riders have the correct bike set-up, cycling posture and know the correct stretches and exercises to help prevent, or recover from, injury.
“All cyclists need a bike that fits; a bike fitting can help cycling become easier and more efficient and you will be more comfortable and reduce the risk of injury,” says Andy.
“For cyclists over 40 the aim of any bike fitting is to make sure the rider has good posture on the bike, has safe joint movement and good joint stability.
“This process involves a combination of simple questioning, observation and also a 3D motion capture sensor system to help us make fine-tuned adjustments to the riders.”
The cross-discipline professional
Peter Dumbreck is one of the UK’s most successful professional racing drivers, racing for Team Falken and competing in the Nürburgring 24-hour race.
His career has seen him win championships and races for Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, GM and Spyker. Off the track he is a Category Three British Cycling race licence holder.
“Road biking is the ideal hobby and fitness training for me, particularly as I live in the countryside,” says Peter. “I’m now fitter than ever and, depending on what races I enter, I can get the chance to ride against higher category cyclists.
“I think my competitiveness helps draw out similarities between motorsport and cycling so I tend to choose races where I know that I will have tough competition. My attitude towards the two sports are very similar – I always want to go out and do my best!”
The burgeoning business
It is not just the individuals who are seeing success, but the cycling industry as a whole. Stephen Loftus is chief marketing officer of British brand, Brompton Cycles, and has seen a positive increase across the cycle industry over the last few years, which he believes can be attributed to a couple of factors.
“London has seen an upswing in cycling, in that firstly the city’s cycle highways are now up and active, and secondly because of the transport infrastructure, namely the state of the train networks! All this has served to push people towards cycling.
“However, we wouldn’t necessarily want a train network that doesn’t work – because Bromptons are designed to work with this form of travel. They allow commuters to go from car, to train, to road very easily and effectively. With cycling you can cut your commute times and improve your fitness level, all in one go.”
This article appeared in BIKE Magazine February 2021.