Cycling is one of those sports that transcends age. It is almost never too late to learn to ride and the accompanying health benefits it provides serves as an attractive incentive. Riding a bicycle is great way to keep fit and healthy. And if you’ve spent much time cycling, you may have noticed that a significant part of the road cycling community is over the age of 40.
There are a few reasons for this: firstly, it’s a great sport. But it’s not a sport taught in many schools, so it takes people time to (re)discover it.
Secondly, cycling is not cheap. Sure, you can cycle with very little money…but to really get the most out of cycling (as a sport), some investment is required. And, let’s face it, the over 40 age group is typically more financially solvent than their younger counterparts.
Lastly, it’s healthy. Over 40's who don't exercise regularly, are often at risk of adding more weight due to the reduced metabolism that occurs at this stage of life. And cycling provides one solution to this issue. Cycling also helps to reduce the likelihood of certain chronic diseases that become more prevalent as we age. It helps to keep your heart in good shape and build up strength without hurting your knees too much.
Oh. Also, it’s an incredibly good time.
These benefits make cycling one of the most ideal ways to stay active as an over 40. Here are a few tips for over 40 cycling beginners.
Get a comfortable bike and kit
A useful piece of advice for most cycling beginners is to get a professional bike fit. As a beginner, your bike must be as comfortable as it can be. As someone who has already experienced 40+ years of life, your body has already accumulated wear and tear. If you have a very stationary desk job, your flexibility may not be what it once was, and as such a bike fit is crucial.
Most biking injuries occur as a result of riding a poor fitting bike. Choosing a comfortable bike also ensures that you get the best biking experience. Shopping for “the fastest” bike or one that has a cool and professional look should not be your focus. Instead, you want something that fits your body geometry as much as possible. (And ideally also looks great. And yes, I know…cycling manufacturers don’t always make that easy with their colour schemes.)
Asides from choosing a bike that is just right for you, it also possible to tweak your bike for a proper fit. This will enhance the performance of your bike, and lessen the impact of riding for long stretches on your body. At the very least, you want to ensure that the bike seat is set to the right height.
As a beginner, you should also invest in a comfortable cycling kit. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a professional kit but be sure to get all the basic gear that you need to ride safely and comfortably.
Learn the basics
Although you’ll need continuous practice for several months or even years to become completely proficient, you have to master the basic skills and riding techniques first for your safety and comfort.
Assuming you’re able to balance, pedal, and steer, I’d suggest you start by learning to feather your brakes lightly (as opposed to just yanking the levers!) as a way to moderate your speed.
Other basic skills could be things like how to round a corner safely, how to maintain momentum when peddling uphill and how to stand up while riding. These should be mastered before you take on more complex skills (such as riding in a pack) or attempt to take on more challenging rides.
That said, if you’re aiming to compete at any level of cycling competition, it is highly recommended that you find yourself a qualified cycling coach.
Okay Speed Racer, it can be tempting to want to increase your speed and go for that century ride (a 100-mile ride) all at once, but don't fall for it. It could lead to an injury because your body is yet to fully adapt to the more intense efforts or the longer durations required.
It’s also important to take breaks in between rides. You don't need to ride every day, instead try alternating the days. A simple way to do this is by cycling three times a week. You could do long rides with moderate/comfortable speed; this is essentially training your base. The break in-between allows for your body time to heal, so you can continue cycling safely.
Make sure to pay attention to your body while cycling. Your body cannot power through strains as it would have when you were in your 20s. Don’t ignore pains and aches as these are vital warning signs.
(Also, don’t try to power through strains or injuries. Even if you’re in your 20s.)
Be Committed to your Routine
Cycling, like many other exercises, requires that you follow a routine with discipline in order to gain the maximum benefits. Considering that you are over 40, your body isn't as strong as it once was, so to stay physically fit and healthy, you need to strictly stick to your routine. Follow the proper dietary requirements, cross-train your body, and don't skip your stretches before or after cycling. This will ensure you build up your muscles, reduce soreness, and give you the stamina and strength to succeed.
Engage in Cross-training
Cross-training is the term used to describe a combination of weightbearing and non-weightbearing exercises. Cycling is a non-weightbearing exercise because it doesn't support your weight and bone mass in the same way that running, or weightlifting would.
Weightbearing exercises help to strengthen the bone mass, musculature, and core strength. Pairing strength training or other strengthening exercises with cycling is an example of cross-training.
A well-rounded physical fitness program is especially important as you get older because, at over 40, bone and muscle mass start to decline. Weightbearing exercises help to strengthen your bone mass, muscle core, and reduce the occurrence of cycling injuries.
Form and Posture
Cycling requires a bent back posture to ride and so it is important to create a strong and flexible body. This is achieved by stretching before and after cycling, while also focusing on your cross-training plan.
Having good form, technique, and posture helps to reduce your chances of getting injured while cycling. Be wary of aches or pain in any part of your body and get it checked out as early as possible. If you experience prolonged or recurring discomfort, a physical therapist visit could be a good idea! (Also, a professional bike fit. It is amazing what an adjustment of a few millimeters here and there can make.)
Easy with the showmanship
While we’d all love to ride as fast as Peter Sagan and do wheelies, if you are just learning to ride in your 40s or above, cycling for you should be primarily about fitness and less about risk. Although, you can learn a lot about cycling from the pros, trying to mimic some of the things they do is not recommended. Avoid taking unnecessary risks when you ride, trying difficult tricks, or even riding in difficult weather. Just have fun with your riding and focus less on the fancy tricks.
Whether you want to lose some weight, or are looking for a new hobby, or an exercise to help you stay healthy, cycling is a great low-impact activity that you can try out even after you turn 40. Of course, beginning any sport at such an age will require a slightly different approach and present some new challenges. But they are certainly not insurmountable. With the right knowledge, discipline, and a little help, you can master the basics and get the most of riding a bike to stay fit and healthy.