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Another bike topic [Jul. 12th, 2014|11:48 pm]
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After I'd bought the new bike, in September 2012, I started looking online for advice on using a bicycle to increase fitness.  I had the basic idea, but was hoping to find useful information for people over 65 who were just starting to get back in better shape.

It soon became clear that while multiple sites extolled bike riding as a route to fitness, all the practical advice was aimed at very fit much younger people.   The only thing they said to people my age was "Always consult with a doctor before starting an exercise program."   The advice for younger people was also aimed at non-beginning riders.   (There was, for instance, nothing about the bike skills you should have before venturing out in traffic, unless you worked your way down to teaching children to ride.  Adults...should know already.)  
So I read site after site, and they didn't, of course, all agree.  But one that stuck in my mind talked about the three kinds of rides you should do to improve fitness.  Oh good, I thought, this will be handy.  One of the rides was something called the "long ride."  Should be at only moderate effort, building up rhythm, muscle mass, cardiac fifness, etc.  Sounded a lot like conditioning you do for performance horses if you want to keep them sound...in addition to "high impact" rides, and interval training, and gymnastics for flexibility and core strength (sounds familiar, right?)  they need long, relatively slow, steady work, and they need it before you add on the other things, as well as on "light" days.  So I read the rest of the article eagerly.

Then came the specifics: "Start with 25-30 miles..."   WHAT?   Someone's starting to ride for fitness and you think they can start with 25-30 miles?  Right off the bat?   At the time, I was finding one mile difficult.   When I actually started, 30 yards was difficult (of course that was on a bike that did not fit me, and was of a type I had never ridden before...and on a dirt horse lot...but still.)    You don't start an overweight unfit horse at 25-30 miles/day, let along a human in that state who is also over 65.  However, I kept riding and riding, creeping up on 2 miles, and then 3, and so on.   Someday I will reach 25-30 miles, maybe even more.

During this search I also ran across the statement that any bike riding under 10 mph was "just recreational" and hardly exercise at all...which my heart monitor proved was a false statement.

So what am I getting at here?  That if you're an older adult who hasn't ridden a bike in years and decides to start again, most of the biking sites online won't give you the information you need.   There may be one that will, but I haven't found it yet.  Likewise, your doctor, if not a sports med doctor who has older patients, is not likely to be able to advise you on bike-specifics, and neither is a gym trainer who lacks expertise with older clients and riding outdoors for fitness.  There are too many glib generalities and too little specific advice on, for instance, learning to ride a geared bike with hand brakes when the last bike you were on (the only kind you were ever on) was a balloon-tired, steel-framed bike with coaster brakes, or how to design your rides to avoid problems with aging limbs and joints.  A lot of what I've done that's been successful for me is based on training horses, including dressage exercises (for instance, learning to ride a circle in both directions without wobbling...doing everything "on both reins" as riders would say, because--as with horses--just because you can ride a semi-circle with radius X to the left does not mean you can immediately ride a semi-circle with radius X to the right.

My sports medicine doc has been immense help, both in defining where a problem was, and in advising me what to do to correct it and prevent others.  Almost two years of riding has improved my condition--lowered blood pressure, dropped resting heart rate, improved recovery from exercise, given me more stamina in daily life, improved my balance, etc.  But it was harder to start than I'd expected (having believed too much in the "You never forget how to ride a bike" ) and it's taken longer than I hoped to get where I am now.  Injuries, illness, travel, and deadlines got in the way...and should be expected.  My determination to ride outdoors, part of it on natural land and part of it on...um...substandard streets...means weather is also a factor and has stopped me on days when it feels unsafe to ride. 

So for people over 65 who want to ride...go for it.  Just go for it with some caution, especially if your last bike was like my previous bike 45+ years ago.    I wouldn't change back for anything now, but boy those first weeks were a struggle, until suddenly the coordination of gear shifting and pedaling and braking all came together.  Now it's easy.   Easier, anyway.


[User Picture]From: anysia
2014-07-13 06:02 am (UTC)
I've also noticed that sites/information abut the health benefits of bike riding, and how to go about it, read more like "Oh, so you're at least a bronze medal Olympian" work out, rather than a start small.

Yes, 10mph is a workout. And again, yes, Even though I know how to ride a bike, and the one I have fits me fine, at 55, it's still a bit scary out there.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-13 12:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. Sites are aimed at younger, fitter riders and assume that the older and less fit just aren't interested. And of course young lean people look better in pictures on those sites.

At least you have a 12 year head start on me...I should've started back on a bike earlier but I kept thinking "You never forget..." instead of "I haven't seen a bike like my old long-vanished one in years, maybe I need to start learning now." The local roads were not nearly as busy, or infested with loose dogs, 20-30 years ago and I could probably have ridden safely several miles out of town and back.

Still scary at times. Few people ride bikes here; the streets are narrow and people park on both sides; the formerly almost-empty county roads now have traffic and city people moving out routinely let their dogs loose to roam and chase bikes. But it's more fun than anything else I can do.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2014-07-13 06:42 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. Me, I'm only 55, and only 40 years from my last bike - but yes, I was startled how hard it was to pick it up the first time round the block. And I've had the bike for a year or more, and I still haven't been further than the two miles to the library and back. Mountain View's only five miles down the road, I just need to lift my eyes and do it.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-13 12:40 pm (UTC)
Confidence comes with more trips, but the thing about being middle-aged and up is that we KNOW danger's always there, and most of us have, or have had, responsibilities that meant others would suffer if we got badly hurt. There were horses I wanted, and didn't buy, when our son was little, because though I had ridden rank horses before, now I had a kid depending on me, hour to hour. Though there had been a time when ending up with a broken bone or a concussion and being much less able for a time didn't matter except to me...that was not the case anymore. (Admittedly, it took coming off one in front of small kid when no one else was home to pound that into my thick skull.)

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From: paulliver
2014-07-13 12:19 pm (UTC)
I often have the same problem with weight lifting articles. They start off with a good sounding idea, but then I read the specifics and think, nah, I'm too old for that.

So I take the basic idea and tone it down to a level that is useful for me.
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[User Picture]From: birdhousefrog
2014-07-13 02:03 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear! I have been told over many years (and I'm younger than you are) that I can do this and this and that. And the reality for me is, no, I can't. It is unbelievably hard to find information on how to start in almost anything when you're not an athletic type and your condition is much less than some 'norm' of people who work out. And I don't necessarily mean weight. I totally agree that once you're over 40, you really need to be aware that you can do serious damage to your body by throwing yourself into pastimes that one can throw oneself into when one is 20 something.

This post validates how I now do things. I promptly ignore people's advice and try to figure out what works for me. I wish I could take advice, but now I hear certain phrases and realize that what they're suggesting isn't going to work for me.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-14 05:15 am (UTC)
I start new physical things very slowly, and work up very slowly. I've reconditioned before (and yes, always swear I'll never let myself slide back as far again...usually hold it for several years and then something happens to break the routine...) so I'm aware of how *this* body responds to a new load. No two bodies are exactly the same, IMO. Nor the minds that inhabit them, and that's again a factor that each person has to deal with on their own. Some people, for instance, do well with a devices that track progress, and some don't. Some do well if nagged at and some don't. I was saying to another friend that I have become so negatively sensitized to weight & diet stuff in the media that I dare not listen to even a sentence, or I'll immediately go eat something out of defiance. Left on my own, I don't. But I know people who will follow all of someone's dietary recommendations without batting an eye.

I was really pleased with how well I did this evening--it was 97F when I started, and I was a little concerned, but by reminding myself to slow down, just move along smoothly...I got in over 8 miles without any sign of heat injury before the sun went down. Sweated, of course, but you want to when it's hot. Had my water along, took three swallows at every stop (and always stopped in shade, etc.) Minimal stiffness after coming in, too.
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[User Picture]From: green_knight
2014-07-13 05:20 pm (UTC)
For me, after a pause of about a decade and a half, when I started out three miles was plenty of workout and 2x4 miles was a lot of work. (Short round the block -> shopping trip).

Currently, with a new bike, five miles feels easy, 2x4 miles (shopping trip, different place) is comfy, and 8 miles in one go is a workout.

Haven't done any longer rides (living in the middle of a bike-unfriendly city is not conductive to long rides).

I have a friend who does 200 mile rides on weekends for fun; to her, her commute (8 miles one way) is an easy, low-stress, comfortable workout. Puts the 'start with an easy 20mile ride' into perspective. I mean... WTF?

Like equine workouts, humans should do something that's fun so they're able to go out and exercise again the next day. Not put themselves at risk of injury, or feel so sore that they need several days off. You can do that occasionally for competitions, but not all of the time.

I *love* my current bike, which fits me like a glove and which eats hills (who knew that a light bike with good gears would make *such* a difference?, I keep coming up against inclines thinking 'I'll never get up- oh, done'). But yeah. An 'easy 25 miles'? Maybe one day...
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[User Picture]From: jhetley
2014-07-13 05:50 pm (UTC)
I hope most sincerely that the 10mph thing is an average. Parts of my morning ride I dropped down to 5 mph in the lowest low gear on a 24-speed, and those sections were anything but recreational . . .

Or maybe they ride in lands that lack hills.
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[User Picture]From: finnyb
2014-07-13 09:39 pm (UTC)
I am much younger than you (born in June of '81; don't ask me the number, as I can never remember it and haven't the mental math ability to figure it out, given that numbers keep skipping around on me--math dyslexia, kinda). I used to be able to ride a bike, and loved doing so, when I was a teenager.

However, at this point in my life I am legally blind, have horrible balance even while walking, and there are way too many off-leash dogs and people around who actually actively harass those on bikes. So I do not see bike riding happening in the future, as I do not feel it would be safe. Sadly.

Still, I walk everywhere, when I'm not using public transit (as the husband is also legally blind, neither of us can drive--though it is very funny when people ask me if I can drive when they see me using my white cane!), and my job involves lots of walking and lifting (shelving books for a book wholesaler), so that's something, at least.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-14 05:01 am (UTC)
No, clearly a bike would not be safe with both visual and balance problems. But walking is exercise and shelving books is too.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-14 04:59 am (UTC)
I was sure I would hate hand brakes, and I wish I had them and a coaster brake too...but I've come to like them in spite of myself. However, if you've had bad experiences with them, I can understand not wanting them. I do wish they didn't insist on painting these bikes in such...I dunno, ice-cream and tropical colors. I don't like pink or lavender or lemon or lime etc. I'm reconciled to turquoise, but would rather have had candy-apple red or royal blue. My first bike was blue and white. But this model came only in turquoise or lavender (and turquoise is MUCH better than lavender, for me.)

Mine is on the list in the article, the Giant DW, only mine is a DXW--has mountain-bike tires and can handle grass and gravel and dirt.

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[User Picture]From: kengr
2014-07-14 01:49 am (UTC)
I'm just glad that I never *entirely* gave up riding, though there were long stretches when I didn't do it much.

I'm also glad that back when I had money to spare, I took interest in the Electra bikes a friend was raving about. My Townie doesn't have the huge tires the old battlewagon of a Schwinn I rode as a kid did, but they aren't those horrible racing tires either.

And the aluminum frame makes hauling it upstairs a lot simpler.

But yeah, even when I've gotten back into shape (I tend to not ride during the worst of the rainy season) A 20 mile ride needs to get worked up to. Especially if hills are involved.

Three miles on the mostly flat streets in the neighborhood seem to work out well at the start of the season. With 7-8 miles becoming a typical light ride.

Not riding right now because I don't wanna do it in the heat wave. I have a tendency to over heat even if I do have enough water and gatorade.

I'm only 59 though... :-)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-14 05:03 am (UTC)
I can now do 11-12 in one ride if it's not too hot, but it makes my backside sore (taking a break in the middle helps...just walking half a block.) My bike has mountain-bike tires so I can ride in the horse lot and out on the land. Mostly I ride on the street, though, to build up mileage.
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From: baobrien
2014-07-14 03:44 am (UTC)
I recently bought a "comfort bike" at age 58, and I'm finding it easier to ride more often. The conventional 10 speed I had before left my hands numb at the end of a moderate ride. I'm still trying to figure out if I need to replace the seat. But I'm very lucky, live near Chicago where there are paved bike paths through the nearby forest preserves - bicycling is fun.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-14 05:00 am (UTC)
I use padded fingerless gloves--have about worn out my pair--and that really helps with the hands.
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[User Picture]From: Ellen McLean
2014-07-14 06:40 pm (UTC)
My mom, who rode her bike to HEB well into her seventies, always carried a water pistol full of soapy water to fend off dogs.

I do not have her balance and so I have a stationary bike that is set up to watch TV. No excuses for weather, the news comes on every day and the bike is sitting there waiting for me.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-15 12:34 am (UTC)
Hmmm...perhaps I should try that...in town, on the lesser dogs (the people who move out to the country tend to want big, aggressive, dogs.) Though the difficulty of shooting multiple dogs while staying on the road...might be tricky. My friend Mary C., out riding with a friend, was once attacked by two big dogs of that type, and managed to pedal fast enough to get away. She's younger than I am and fitter.
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[User Picture]From: themis1
2014-07-18 04:14 pm (UTC)
Exactly the same in the UK - I bought a bike several years ago, am completely bewildered by the brakes, and have been unable to find anywhere that teaches adults how to ride safely when their last experience was a on a child's bicycle riding on the pavement (now illegal in the UK)!

I may get the hang of it one day ...!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-07-18 04:33 pm (UTC)
I actually have a suggestion for that, something learned from our autistic kid when he taught himself to ride a bike...we had been unable to teach him using conventional parent-teaches-bike-riding methods. Straddle your bike and walk it forward. Apple one brake at a time. You will notice whether it noses down (that's the front brake) or drags tail (that's the back one.) Once you know, say "Front" and apply the front, then release, walk on, and say "Back" and apply the back. You're safe--you're walking the bike, but you're in close to the riding position. Practice turning and stopping a specific wheel. It should not be a "grab hard" procedure, but a steadily applied pressure from light to whatever it takes to stop that wheel. Very shortly you'll be able to stop either wheel when simply thinking of the one you want. Now begin using the two brake levers together, lightly. What you want is balanced drag, or more on the rear wheel, so it doesn't pop up off the ground and throw you on your nose. You'll find that (just like an automobile, which dips its front when stopping) the back of the bike tends to rise if the front wheel stops even a tiny bit faster than the back wheel.

Then: for the first time you ride, DO NOT use the front brake, and go slowly enough that you can slow and stop with the rear brake only. When that works, begin adding the front brake, always keeping it lighter than the back. Sit back (putting more of your weight to the rear) when you brake (I know, it's hard.)

The key is first learning the hand motions while you're not also trying to balance on the seat, and pedal, and turn, but making these changes incremental. Our son learned to steer the bike by walking it, and even (I could not believe this, but I was there watching), carefully and slowly made turns that made the bike fall over slowly. Then he used our rough but gently sloping drive to learn to balance with his legs down, not pedaling, so he could go from "walking" the bike to riding it. Then he combined the balance with pedaling, and finally added steering. And never fell down again, even when riding around the house on the grass, on and off a 3=inch high concrete section of driveway.

I couldn't do the same thing with the first "modern" bike I rode on because it didn't fit me--it was a large man's frame and I could not put my feet on the ground without being hit by it.
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[User Picture]From: litch
2014-08-17 07:39 pm (UTC)

Noseless saddles

Everytime someone talks about bikes I am compelled to stick in my bit about how people should use noseless saddles.

If you haven't seen one, a noseless saddle is a bike seat without (or with a severely foreshortened) the 'nose' that goes between your thighs.

The CDC has lots of papers and articles about the benefitsand while the benefits are probably most acute for older men they apply to everybody who is going to spend time on a bike.

I've ridden on one for years and the difference in comfort is just stunning. I went from walking funny and not being able to ride more than a mile or two because of crotch pain to being able to ride until my legs got tired. You have as good control as with a traditional saddle (read the paper about the Seattle bike police).

(sigh, I had to delete all the links I added or LJ marks it as spam)

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-17 11:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Noseless saddles

The one you tried with the links in it got to me by email (as you probably know, LJ sends an email of every comment to the account owner.) So no need to sigh.

At this point I can ride 14+ miles, with brief pauses for water, traffic, and saltine crackers (if it's that hot, which it has been lately.)
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