You might remember the excitement, but scary anticipation, of the first time you attempted to master a bicycle. It's one of the things we learn as a child and we never seem to forget as an adult. As it turns out, more adults are now riding bicycles than ever before, enjoying physical activity much later in their life than previous generations.
Cycling is recognized as an excellent means for keeping fit and meets many needs at once. Besides being a way for seniors to get a great low-impact cardio workout, helping their heart to stay fit, it uses the major muscle groups, keeps the body's range of motion functioning, ensures their brain stays sharp and maintains enthusiasm for living a healthy life.
The Traverse City Senior Center is in the first stage of organizing a cycling group that will ride through the fall. The group got its beginning at the end of August, but will be more active in the coming spring. Facilitated by Pat Joseph, she saw a need for a group comprising slower riders who wanted to ride longer distances.
The cycling group at the Senor Center does not do the more organized rides you would get from a cycling club. Those rides are thoroughly organized and dates are set way ahead of time.
"I use to belong to a cycling club," said Joseph. "If you want something more organized, that is the way to go. They travel, generally speaking, faster than I do, but I like the companionship. So, this is just a social ride, it's not meant to leave anyone behind — it's basically meant for enjoyment."
"I have a list of seniors who have indicated an interest in riding. I call them and let them know what ride I'm doing and ask if they want to join me," Joseph said.
Joseph gives them the distance and route she will be riding on a specific day. At this time, they only have a longer distance group going, but they have an interest shown in shorter distances. Joseph defines short rides as any where from two to 10 miles. Anything from 10 up to 60 or 70 miles, she considers a long ride.
In August, Joseph was preparing for a big ride from Lansing to Sault Ste. Marie called the DALMAC Tour, averaging 70 to 80 miles per day for five days. Former State Rep. Dick Allen of Ithaca originated the DALMAC, the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw Bicycle Tour, in 1971. The objectives of the DALMAC are to develop an awareness of bicyclists and their needs among the citizens of Michigan, to promote bicycling as a healthy means of transportation and recreation and to encourage wider use of bicycles.
"The cycling group at the Traverse City Senior Center is so fresh or new, that the riders interested in the short rides are waiting for someone to step up to the plate," Joseph said. "I'm willing to do that in the spring, switch on and off between the long and the short rides."
"If anyone wants to learn how to do longer rides next year, I can work with them then," Joseph said. "I work with a group of women now who wanted to learn how to do hill climbs."
According to Joseph, if a senior is considering cycling, it's surprising how far they will be able to go when they have companions to ride with. Another belief she holds is that in a car you see the scenery, but on a bicycle you experience it.
As for Joseph's advice on equipment — besides the type of bike — new riders need to know how to wear a helmet correctly to avoid head injury. Joseph cautions against wearing dark colors and instead recommends wearing something bright. For long distances, clip-in shoes have an advantage, but for short rides, athletic shoes, with tucked in laces, will do.
It's best if a beginner first finds out how far, how much and how fast they want to bike, before they decide on the equipment needed, Joseph said.
Because of the pressure you are putting on your feet on long rides, a biking shoe will protect your feet better than an athletic shoe and will give you what you need for pedaling, just like a running shoe will give you what you need for running.
As a reminder, cyclists have the same legal rights on the road as a car does, but they also have the same responsibilities as a car.
For seniors in particular, it is recommended that they take their time, practice and ride to the level of their ability, fitness and comfort. If they do not feel comfortable riding in traffic, stay on the side streets and roads with low traffic or on the trails made for recreation.
For more information and to put your name on an "interested in cycling" list, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.