GET ON YOUR BIKE… HEYDAY’S GUIDE TO CYCLING FOR THE OVER 60s
By Sheila Frampton
Sheila is a professional fitness instructor, trainer and assessor and runs classes and courses in this country and abroad and she is also a qualified massage therapist. Now in her 60s, she continues to work full-time, writing mainly for the retirement sector, and she enjoys winters skiing in the Italian Dolomites.
Cycling is growing in popularity for people aged between 60 and 79 – which isn’t surprising given that today’s ‘Baby Boomers’ are more active than previous generations of ‘older people.’ It’s a healthy and affordable way to get around, it’s better for the environment and it’s a great way to get around the countryside.
What health benefits do we derive from cycling?
Cycling is one of the best exercises as it raises the heart rate, gets the blood pumping around the body, and burns calories – in fact, it is one of the exercises recommended by the NHS as a healthy way to reduce the risk of developing major illnesses.
- Stimulates the release of adrenalin and endorphins which boost your mood
- Burns 400-600 calories per hour and helps you maintain or lose weight
- Helps build muscle particularly around the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes
- Helps improve sleep patterns – combining exercise and fresh air
Cycling is an excellent low impact exercise but if you take up cycling make sure you add some weight-bearing exercise into your weekly regime.
Cycling at home
If you don’t want to brave the roads or you want to continue cycling in winter and don’t want to go out in the cold, then think about buying an exercise bike. You’ll have the same good, low-impact workout but in the comfort of your own home. The things you’ll need to think before you buy an exercise bike include:
- The amount of space in your home
- Whether you need a portable bike – these tend to be lighter so are not so stable if you are heavy. Heavier and larger people will need a heavier and more solid bike.
- Resistance levels – if you have multiple resistance levels with a smooth transition between them you will be able to build up your training. If you choose a more basic bike, check the lowest and highest resistance levels to check there is a level suitable for you.
- Display – if you are older you may want this to be easy to read so you can check how much exercise you’ve done – the calories you’ve burned, your speed, distance and time.
- Programmes: Exercise bikes have several programmes – and you’ll need to choose one that best suits your needs.
- Comfort: You would be wise to choose a bike with a well-padded seat, particularly if you have lower back problems. You’ll also need non-slip pedals and handlebars.
- Upright bike: the best exercise bikes for more mature adults are upright bikes which prevent you from hunching over and tend to have a large comfortable seat and higher handlebars.
What type of road cycles are best for the over 60s?
Unless you’ve been a keen cyclist or a racer for most of your life, the best type of bike if you’re over the age of 60 should be one that’s comfortable. Many of us have a few physical issues so a bike that minimises the stress on your body is best. It’s advisable to look for:
- A bike that enables you to sit up rather than hunching over
- A low step-through frame
- A lightweight bike that is less effort to ride
- A good range of gears
- A comfortable saddle – preferably with a seat between 8 and 12 inches wide with gel padding to ease pressure on the ‘sitting bones’ and one with a cover made of leather or high-tech fabric to reduce moisture and prevent chafing.
- High rise handlebars so you can sit up and lean back rather than hunching over
- Wide tyres and good shock absorbers for a smooth ride.
Before buying your bike, see if you can try it out. Set your saddle to a height that allows you to have a little bend in your knee during a full pedal extension.
If you’re concerned about stability and just want a bike to go down to the shops or to enjoy the open-air locally, why not consider an adult tricycle? These are perfect for cruising at a slower pace and offer a sense of stability. You’ll need to look for a tricycle that allows you to sit in an upright position and is:
- Lightweight and comfortable to rise
- Spring-loaded cushioned saddle
- Step-through frame
If you want to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy cycling but want to have ‘a helping hand’ think about an electric bike which will give you a power boost. You can turn the motor up to full boost when you need it or run it on low power to get more miles. With more than 200 types to choose from, it’s a little confusing – look for:
- A comfortable, low. step-through frame
- Reliable disc brakes (hydraulic)
- Comfortable saddle
- Integrated wheels sensor for tracking speed and distance
- A good range of gears
- Excellent battery and overall electric equipment
- Good in hilly areas and for urban cycling
Choosing a helmet
Gone are the days when we would whizz about on our bikes with the wind blowing through our hair. Today we need to take a more sensible approach and wear a cycle helmet when we go out on the road. Cycle helmets are proven to protect you from head injuries but there is a confusing range on the market. As a rule, the more you spend, the lighter and more breathable the helmet. You’ll need to check the following:
- The helmet has a European CE EN 178 standard sticker confirming it has passed tests focusing on construction, visibility, shock-absorbing properties, chin strap, fastening devices and more
- The helmet has a Multi-directional Impact Protection System which is a liner designed to reduce the rotational forces on the brain that may occur in the event of a crash
- Comfort & Fit – it is important that the helmet fits properly and is comfortable to wear for long periods
- Venting – which will be useful in the warmer summer months
What else should I buy if I am taking up cycling?
- Comfortable clothing – and gloves in winter
- Bicycle lock
- Bicycle lights
- A water bottle
- Pump and a puncture repair kit
Joining a cycling group
There are cycling clubs all over the country and once we are out of lockdown, a good cycling club is a good way to meet other people and to enhance your social life. You’ll be able to explore new routes and stop for refreshments with your fellow cyclists. The best places to look for local clubs is online at Britishcycling.org.uk/clubs and cyclinguk.org/local-groups.
Cycling holidays are an excellent way of exploring the English countryside at your leisure. The English climate can be perfect for a cycling holiday -but there are also wonderful opportunities to cycle in other countries.
Ciclismo Classico is an American company that organises luxury cycle tours that include accommodation and bike hire in Italy. They describe the tours as ‘authentic, delicious and inspirational bicycle tours for the culturally curious.’
Macs Adventure provides a whole range of cycling holidays in this country and abroad – the Cotswolds is a particularly popular destination.
The Andalucian Cycling Experience offers Silver Cycling Holidays for the over 60s in Andalucía, Spain and the tours pass through some of the most beautiful villages in the Grazalema Natural Park.