Biking 100 miles on the day you turn 100

“Wouldn’t you like to ride a century when you turn a century?” Bike for Life offers a “blueprint for longevity, fitness, health, and well-being” so that people can plan to bicycle one hundred statute miles on the day they turn 100.

Genetics, the authors tell us, account for only 20 to 30% of a person’s life span. The other factors that determine how long we will live are related to life style, over which we have a lot of control. These are the factors that Bike for Life discusses. The book gives a comprehensive review of the expected topics like training, nutrition, and equipment. To this the authors add topics that are not often treated in cycling literature: osteoporosis, depression, impotence, and what to do when attached by cougars and grizzlies.

The writers are experienced journalists who have done their research in technical books, medical reports, travel literature, and cycling manuals. They handle this material deftly, giving enough detail to explain and persuade, but not so much that they bore readers and make them skip through the book. They largely ignore topics that quickly grow obsolete or seem beneath the interest of the readers they have in mind, topics like what kind of bike to buy and instructions on bike repair.

Two hard-core cyclists have collaborated in writing this book: Roy M. Wallack who has published extensively in the cycling field and is now “a fitness-gear columnist for the Los Angeles Times,” and Bill Katovsky who has written extensively about triathlons and more recently coauthored Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, An Oral History.

Both men are serious cyclists and the book tells just enough about their exploits on two wheels to demonstrate their competence to write on this subject. The most harrowing of their travels described in the book is La Ruta, a three-day mountain bike event in Costa Rica, which (judging by the experience they report) must be one of hardest events on bicycles any place in the world. Since Bike for Life is not an exercise in self-promotion for the authors, most of the illustrative material describes the serious cycling of other people.

One of the most interesting features of the book is a series of 12 interviews with people who have become legends in the world of cycling. Among them are Gary Fisher, who was one of the developers of the mountain bike; Eddie B, the coach who “changed American cycling,” and Maria Streb, whose exploits on a bicycle leave me gaping in consternation. Perhaps most important, given the focus of this book, is the interview with John Sinibaldi, a 90-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, who continues to bicycle 7,000 to 8,000 miles per year.

Sinibaldi has his own prescription for cycling in old age, and it differs significantly from the advice given in the book. Here it is:

Ride your bike like crazy. Hope for good genes…Grow and eat your own vegetables. Eat red meat only when it’s on sale. Listen to classical music. Avoid television. Read the newspaper every day and do the crossword puzzle. Go barefoot most of the time. When you find a gear you like, stick with it. And get your rest on the bike while you climb hills.

The book has lots of sidebars (which seem to be required in bike books these days) on all kinds of topics. The authors, who know how to write as well as how to ride, have given readers a comprehensive book. A word of warning: This is a persuasive piece of journalism, capable of making a true believer out of casual and sometimes skeptical cyclists.

You should get the book and do what it says. 100 comes sooner than you think and you need to get started in your training if you expect to do a century ride on the day you reach a century.

I’m glad that all I have to do this year is 80.

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