Tips for taking up cycling for older adults

Ian is a super keen cyclist in his sixties who knows everything and anything about cycling. He gives us his top tips for taking up cycling as an older adult!

I am in my sixties and have been cycling regularly for the past 20 years, mainly to keep fit but more recently also as my principal form of transport around Sheffield. A year ago I bought a used Pashley Mailstar (as previously supplied to the Royal Mail) which has been great for the supermarket shop and other load lugging, fitted with surplus Royal Mail panniers. I now have seven bikes, to meet different needs and types of riding, but one bike can be all you need to get you around the city, to carry a reasonable amount of shopping or just to keep fit!. I hope the following information will be helpful, based on my own experience and information gleaned from various reliable sources.

Why take up cycling?

Cycling is great for keeping fit, it’s cheap, environmentally friendly and often faster than other forms of transport at busy times. Parking is free and available right outside your destination. If no bike specific racks are available, there’s always a suitable signpost or railing for locking up your bike. Travelling at a more sedate speed, you notice so much more around you and
feel at one with the local environment.

How does it work for older people?

Cycling is an ageless activity, enjoyed by people of all ages. More importantly, this form of physical activity is non-weight bearing, with less impact on your joints, a consideration for older people. Cycling is a great way of keeping your cardio-vascular system in good health without any of the potentially damaging effects of weight bearing exercise, such as jogging.

Isn’t cycling a dangerous thing to do on busy roads?

It’s true that cyclists, like pedestrians, are vulnerable to injury from vehicular traffic, but this risk can be substantially minimised by following a number of simple guidelines. The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risk of accidents:

  • Learn to ride on quiet or traffic free routes, to build up your confidence and bike handling skills
  • Use one of the local bike riding courses available if you feel this will help (see the list of helpful resources below)
  • Ride with a friend until you feel confident to ride on your own
  • Wear bright clothing to make yourself more visible and wear a helmet
  • Use lights at night or in poor visibility, flashing lights are particularly visible
  • Never assume that a driver has seen you, try to catch their eye and be ready to stop
  • Don’t ride in the gutter, ride around one metre from the kerb – this gives you room for manoeuvre and avoids grids and debris that can be found in the gutter. Similarly, keep a good distance when passing parked vehicles, to avoid any door that might be opened in your path
  • Ride at a pace that you are comfortable with, enabling you to stop quickly if needed
  • Make sure your bike is well maintained, notably check that the brakes work well!
  • Make clear signals and give plenty of warning to traffic around you.
  • When turning right, check behind you before signalling and move towards the centre of the road before turning. If unsure, pull up at the side of the road and wait for a gap in the traffic before making the turn
  • Use bus lanes, and cycle paths if provided (using the latter isn’t mandatory in the UK)
  • Take care if passing stationary or slow moving traffic on the left, avoid passing lorries or buses on the left
  • Avoid routes with tramlines, if crossing tramlines keep your wheels at right angles to the tram track, to avoid any risk of the wheel dropping into the track
  • Overall, do not take any unnecessary risks and check the Highway Code if in doubt about your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist
    Most of the above applies to pedestrians and drivers in slightly different ways, so should be
    familiar and should make sense.

How much will it cost to take up cycling?

Cycling requires very little specialist equipment, the bare minimum requirement is obviously a serviceable bike but you may want to consider a few other basics:

  • Bike – a decent bike can be purchased new for about £200, or second-hand from around £30. Avoid ‘supermarket specials’ with unbranded components, a branded but used bike would be a better option. If this is your first bike, a hybrid or commuter bike with straight handlebars would be the best bet. As you know, Sheffield is a hilly place, so a good range of gears will be helpful.
  • Helmet – good helmets are available from around £15
  • Lights – sets of lights are available from as little as £3
  • Lock – if you plan on leaving your bike in a public place, a lock is essential. Cable locks are fine for short stops but a D lock (made from a solid bar in a D shape) is recommended if leaving your bike for any time. A D lock can be purchased from around £10
  • Clothing – cycle specific clothing is not essential but a bright, reflective cycle jacket is a good purchase, at prices from around £15
  • Basic tools – consider a puncture repair kit and a multi-function tool (allen keys and a screwdriver) and a pump, all for around £15

What about e-bikes, are they very expensive?

An e-bike, essentially a bike with an electric motor which provides assistance when you
pedal (at speeds up to 15mph), is a great option for the hills of Sheffield, particularly if you struggle with gradients. When first introduced they were indeed quite expensive, but prices are starting to tumble. Full sized e-bikes can now be purchased new from around £650.

I’m confused by all the different types of bikes available

There are many variants on the basic design of a bike so some of the main groupings are explained here:

  • Hybrid (or commuter) – probably the most popular and best suited to getting around the city: straight handlebars, a good range of gears
  • Mountain bike – principally for riding off-road but can be used on the road too: straight handlebars, wide range of gears and fatter tyres with knobbly treads, may have front or even back suspension
  • Road bike – also known as a racing bike: racing handlebars, good gear range, skinny wheels and tyres, lightweight frame
  • Folding bike – great for combining your cycling with public transport and for ease of storage: smaller wheels, folding handlebars and frame, retractable seat, provided
    either with or without gears
  • E-bike – assisted by a battery driven motor: assistance up to 15mph, heavier than any other bike (only an issue if the battery runs out or if you need to get it up or down stairs for storage)

Useful resources for cyclists in Sheffield

This is not an exhaustive list and does not include retailers. There are a number of specialist bike manufacturers, retailers, a recycled bike supplier and sports superstores in Sheffield selling excellent bikes and accessories. Equally, there are many online retailers providing great deals on bikes and accessories. Online sites selling used items can be a good place to
find a bike, but remember that you’ll need to collect it from the seller, so local sales will be the best option. A used bike bought privately may require a little work to make it roadworthy but can be a very cost effective way of buying a good bike.

Cycle Sheffield – Campaign for a cycle friendly Sheffield:
Sheffield Cycle Routes and Resources:
British Cycling Let’s Ride – Sheffield Area Social Cycling Group:
Pedal Ready – cycling courses:

And finally, to inspire you to get on a bike…some facts about cycling for older adults and health benefits:

  • Northumberland’s Ron Longstaff won the Veterans’ Road World Championship at the age of 80 and still rides at the age of 93
  • Frenchman Robert Marchand, 108 years old, beat his own cycling hour record (maximum distance cycled in one hour) at the age of 105
  • A 2015 study at Kings College, London, found that a group of seasoned cyclists aged between 55 and 79 displayed significantly fewer signs of ageing compared to non-cyclists
  • Studies have found that:
    ○ Cycling 4 miles a day decreases your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%, and
    ○ In a study of 260,000 adults, those that cycled cut their risk of death from all causes by 40%, and cut their risk of cancer and heart disease by 45
  • Cycling can boost your mental health, through exercise, exposure to vitamin D and to fresh air
  • A study of 125 long distance cyclists in their 80s found that their immune systems were as robust as the immune systems of people in their 20s