I meet them all of the time, active bicyclists in their late fifties and sixties who are wondering if they can continue vigorous cycling as they grow older. Often they tell me (especially the men): “I hope that when I’m as old as you are I’ll still be able to ride as well as you do.” They then disappear on down the road, leaving me, the 79-year-old guy with a white beard, to meander along at my own pace.
I receive their comments as they are intended, as genuine expressions of encouragement to me and, even more, hope for themselves. My usual response is to assure them that if they keep riding, and if “nothing breaks,” they should be able to bicycle into old age—slower, yes, climbing with ever greater difficulty, yes, but still on two wheels with an open road ahead.
The response that Dave Moulton has received to a recent post on this same subject confirms my experience. A lot of people who took up cycling years ago want to believe that they will still be able to do it in years to come.
A few days ago I talked with the acquisitions editor of a university-based publisher about doing a book on this topic. She responded with an encouraging show of interest and suggested that my first step would be to write an email query letter. What I sent her is just below. Tell me what you think.
A rapidly growing category of active bicyclists consists of people in their late fifties and sixties who are wondering if they can continue vigorous cycling as they grow older. My purpose for writing this book is to encourage and offer experience-based recommendations to mature adult cyclists as they bicycle into old age.
The body of the book will be a group of interpretive essays that are based on bicycle tours I have done since I turned 70 a decade ago. Among them are chapters on bicycling the Columbia River Gorge, the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau, the Cumberland Gap and Wilderness Road, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath Trail, and the Sky Islands region of southern Arizona.
My plan includes a chapter on practical matters such as choosing the right kind of bicycle and equipment and issues related to health, safety, diet, and conditioning. Another chapter will distill attitudes and practices that I have developed during these tours and which I believe would be useful to mature cyclists.
I have been an aggressive adult bicyclist for forty years. For many of those years I commuted to the campus where I taught in the field of religion, and I continue to bicycle on a regular basis in downtown Portland, the west hills, and Vancouver. I have done five bicycle trips of 1,000 miles or more, both as a self-contained camper and as a person staying at motels.
I have ridden several of the premier cycling events in the United States, including STP, TOSRV, RAGBRAI, Cycle Oregon, El Tour de Tucson, and Indiana’s Hilly Hundred. Much of my cycling has been as a solo rider, but in recent years I have included several trips with PAC Tour, a company owned by Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo, two record-holding ultra marathon cyclists.
Most of my publishing has been in the theology, history, and practice of Christian liturgy, which was my academic speciality. My most recent book was a monograph on the history of the Yakama Christian Mission, published by my church’s historical society. For a year I have published a blog as keithwatkinshistorian, posting columns on religion and cycling.
The primary audience for this book would be cyclists who hope to continue this sport into their later decades. I believe that their families would also be interested in this volume as would people in bike shops and biking clubs who work with mature cyclists.
Because the travel essays deal broadly with issues of history, culture, and the environment, they would be interesting in their own right even to people who are not bicyclists. The travel essays were written near the time that the trips were taken, and my plan is to revise them so that they would be consistent with the plan of this proposed book.
Photo at top, courtesy of Scott Lachniet. Frieze of cyclists is at the Major Taylor Velodrome, Indianapolis.