Cycling the MS Bike Tour at Age 80

It’s the bike stupid!
Sounds trite but I really mean it. A road bike is the way to go for cross-country cycling. Years ago I wondered how folks could pedal mile after mile. I wanted to join group rides but I wasn’t sure I could keep up. It wasn’t until I entered the Senior Games cycling events in ‘96 at age 67 that I learned about road bikes. Until then I thought I was fast on my old French touring bike. I was riding about 100 miles per month and decided to give racing a try. But in the first race something went wrong. Everybody went flying past me. My neighbor, an ardent cyclist, said I needed a road bike and let me borrow his to see the difference. Voila, suddenly I was cycling faster and easier. I went all out and purchased a lightweight aluminum Cannondale R900 road bike. The rest is history: I competed in 46 races at local, state and national level and won 15 gold, 12 silver and 5 bronze medals. I also cycled 56 Century (100-mi) trips. The bike made the difference.

Why a road bike?
Why does a road bike make a difference? Because everything about the design is intended to make it easier and faster to pedal. It’s not a comfort bike. If one wants comfort they must settle for slower speed and harder pedaling. The big difference is that a road bike has less wind resistance by one bending over to reach the handlebar versus sitting upright on a mountain bike facing the wind. Wind accounts for 70-90% of the resistance cycling. Road bikes also weigh only about 19 pounds and are usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Tires are skinny with a width of less than an inch which reduce rolling resistance and one’s shoes click into pedals to improve pedaling efficiency. Some even have flat spokes and aerodynamic tubing. You see nothing but road bikes in the Tour De France.

Ride, ride, ride and the pain disappears.
Once you have the right bike all that’s left to do is ride, ride, ride. I began cycling when I retired at age 55. My objective was to stay alive since dad died of a heart attack at age 53. I also quit smoking. Since buying a road bike in ‘96, my average is 334 miles per month and I feel better on the bike than off. Persistent back pain disappears which the doc says is because of endorphins, whatever they are. I’ve reached the point where my legs spin on the pedals but there’s no discomfort unless I go uphill or accelerate. I’ve learned to breathe and take in lots of air so I’m rarely out of breath. I cruise along comfortably at 16 mph in no wind and 18 mph in a paceline.

Ready for the MS Bike Tour.
I’m now ready to cycle the 9th Multiple Sclerosis bike tour in New Bern at age 80. In the past I went 100 miles on the first day and 75 or 100 the second day but this year I’m going only 75 miles each day, hoping to avoid leg cramps that I’ve started having on 100 mile trips. I’ll start in the front as usual and try keeping up with the fast guys as long as I can which is usually to the first rest stop. I’ll ride upwind in groups I’m comfortable with and downwind alone. I get a headache staring at a wheel inches ahead of me for long periods of time so it feels good to quit drafting occasionally and enjoy the scenery.

Guest Blogger: Mr. Dave Wallace