Cycling Past Seventy

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.

12 Responses to Cycling Past Seventy

  1. Scott Lachniet says:

    I distinctly remember taking the picture that graces this page and have fond memories of the trip.I’ve become a regular reader and have been encouraging others to do so as well. The book sounds like a great idea and you certainly have the experience to offer sound advice. Best wishes.

    • Scott, we rode together a good many miles that day, and I enjoyed the companionship very much. I too remember that we stopped at the sign and you took this photo. Thanks for the encouraging word about the proposed book.

  2. […] Cycling Past Seventy « Keith Watkins Historian […]

  3. srcycler says:

    I have a post coming out in a few weeks on my Blog,on “Cycling Past 60”

    You may enjoy reading it.


    • Yes, I am looking forward to seeing your post. Those of us getting old in the saddle need to encourage one another to keep going. I have done a little cycling in California and will begin reading your blog. Keith

  4. […] here: Cycling Past Seventy « Keith Watkins Historian Posted in General Tags: active-bicyclists, continue-vigorous, especially-the-men, the-time, […]

  5. malcolm barnes says:

    re cyling past 70 article, my dad has been cycling since 16 now 71. Has been told by gp has mild emphysema now, which means he easily gets breathless, but, he is persevering and i wish him many more years on the saddle!

    • Thank you for your note. Perseverance is one of the keys to staying in the saddle. Making reasonable adjustments is another. Specific problems like your father’s make the transition more difficult, but even when all systems are still working well, aging inevitably affects us. That’s how my physician explained it to me. He also made a couple of practical suggestions about how to adjust my cycling practices in order to cope in a reasonable and effective way. Best wishes to your dad–and to you.

  6. Klaus Schreiber says:

    this book would be very much appreciated by riders like me who just turned into the 70ies and are looking for guidance. That would be in addtion to the impressive example you provided me with during PAC Desert Camp.
    I hope your proposal finds an interested and willing publisher.

    • Klaus, your positive word is further encouragement. Since posting my idea a few days ago, I have received a response from the publisher indicating an interest in the book. The next step is to prepare a more extended proposal, which requires (among other items) three or four consecutive chapters. It will take some time to get that work done. On a ride today, I talked with the staff at a small bookstore in a Portland suburb where I stop now and then. The three people with whom I talked like the idea. One of them (born in 1945) is a strong cyclist herself and believes there would be a good audience. As I see it now, the book would provide encouragement, especially for cyclists who are anxious about their waning powers, insight into the process of aging gracefully, and reflections upon the environmental crisis of our time, especially as its affects rivers.

  7. David T. Irvine says:

    Hello Keith, your column was sent to me just a few minutes ago; have you written that book yet? At age 78 1/2, I’ve felt for some time Joe Friel’s “Cycling Past Fifty” needs an Appendix for us ole geezers! You might include a comment about which bikes have drive trains relatively simple and easy to modify to suit old legs in hilly country, esp the chainwheel rings; I have come to really detest 34-50T compact chainwheels mated to a non-standard BB90 bottom bracket, making conversion to 30-46T impossible. Guess I’m getting crabbier in my old age! Cheers!

    • David, thank you for your note and your positive word about a book for people our age. Although I had hoped to be far into the project now, I have concluded that it is necessary to rethink the project. The book needs to be written and I think I can write it, but my first projection is probably not the right way to go. My primary bike has a 44-28 crankset by Sugino, but I don’t remember the brand for the BB and I’m away from home for a couple of weeks and do not have that bike with me. I agree that 34-50 is not low enough. Keith

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