The Prime of Life

Pete Tiley considers time, not in a trialing way

The F word; Forties, fit and fun.

The Southville wrecking crew that would turn up on the corner at 7.00am on a Saturday morning and ride full gas were on the whole mid thirties somethings. A few had young children and would peel off after 2 hours to meet family commitments. Now we are mid forties, the children are themselves riding road bikes. But, something interesting has happened in that time, and, despite the ageing, getting older, fighting father time, injury and accidents, we are perhaps fitter, stronger and better bike riders than 8, 9, or 10 years ago. I have said it before, but with age comes wisdom. Wisdom in cycling is a better understanding of the sport and what your body requires on and off the bike.

I happen-stanced into Smiths to buy Cycling Weekly. The edition bought ran a great retrospective interview with Jens Voigt in which he concluded that to the age of 36, cycling at his level was easy. 36-40 saw a yearly decline in his ability to muster the legs in pre-season and by his own admission, turning 40 was a huge barometer for change, and post 40 years old he realised that the game was up, his body ravaged by 20 years as a pro. The man was superhuman to us recreational riders and we all age differently, but to my mind, it does seem that the catalyst for change as a cyclist is indeed the veteran benchmark of 40. Heck, Cycling Active ran a cover piece on this month’s edition citing ways to train to stay strong in your 40’s. Reckless or truthful?

It got me thinking. Maybe this is aimed at a different target market? The recent global upsurge in all forms of riding a bike has been fantastic, given many many people a new lease of life and taught even the most ardent of golfers that cycling is twice as much fun as a set of dusty golf clubs.

The aforementioned Southville crew were riding in our 30’s, 20’s and teens before that, so, in many ways, we are seasoned cyclists too, only confined and defined by our ability, or lack of it. The beauty of a good bike ride and meeting point, akin to Le Sportif, and bike clubs all over the land, is that all are welcome. It is not about the size of your driver or your age. You can start riding a bike at 40 and make headway.

As a younger rider, I recall my first voyage with Severn Road Club many years ago when old fellas dressed as hornets in the yellow and black club kit rode steel bikes to destroy the young upstarts, dropping everyone on the hateful Frocester Hill. Poker on a bike.

The beauty for the modern rider is, of course, the modern frame and modern bike components. Looking back on the bikes that came before the ubiquitous compact geometry, frames were European; massive chainsets and 5 speed cassettes, heavy wheels, bikes to shake off your toenails & rattle your fillings out. You had to really work hard. I expect many a person attempted to buy and ride a bike before the current zheitgeist but did not enjoy it. Frankly, bikes were, for most, just dangerous and unfortunate, with female riders fortunate to find anything to fit.

The sea-change and rise of the MAMIL, an unpleasant and misplaced acronym/word, is something Wiggins recently commented on. Some now take it too seriously, but put a clock on a bike and it can become a race. But, overall, the rise of the modern bike rider has allowed many more of us to have fun on the two wheels, thus forging great friendships and memories - it is not an exclusive club.

Now, for me, ebbing ever closer to 45, and a fully paid up member of the club, the mind is willing, and on the whole the legs are too.

Cycling is a physically demanding and time demanding sport - never lose sight of that. There is nothing wrong with chasing rainbows, go for gold and enjoy. Just remember that the silent assassin quietly sat on your wheel in his or her forties, maybe older, is superbly time served fit, perhaps recovering from an accident or an injury, perhaps just having fun waiting to fly past you if required - though more than likely content, with nothing to prove.

I rode 37 miles with a guy in his 70’s last week. Both ears clad with hearing aids and awaiting a heart bypass, but he was out there, dancing up the steep coastal climbs near Sidmouth. I have spoken to many many recent new cyclists and all say the same thing, “I wish I had started riding 20 years ago.” I reply, “Well to be honest, cycling was not ready, the tech was not in place. However, you are out there now, enjoy it.” “Should I buy some deep section wheels?” “Of course” I reply.

Keep fit, keep it real, enjoy your forties and your fifties and more and most of all, have fun. See you at the top of the hill.