Silver haired speed: Bicycles, racing, and age

Veteran Cyclists in Training

A friend’s father is just about to turn eighty and he’s complaining that his bike club had been taken over by “young guys.” And by “young guys” he means men in their fifties.

He races twice a week, and rides daily with his club.

I’d love love love it if that were me at eighty but it seems unlikely given that I’m having a hard time finding people to race with here, now, at almost fifty.

I know that not everyone wants to race but I think recreational, club level racing is a blast and that it’s fun and adds a lot of depth to one’s cycling life.

What’s so great about racing? Certainly it keeps you in better shape. People who race also train…and it’s terrific for developing and keeping your bike skills up.

I’m not sure why we don’t have a a more open, participatory racing culture here in the cycling world. Not all of us plan to age gracefully.

How about it? Are you too old to race? Really?

In an earlier post on reasons not to race I wrote, “These friends admit they might have enjoyed racing in their youth but now they are too old, they think. They’ve grown up and put all the fun away. To which I say, don’t be ridiculous. It’s like saying that sex is for the young.  We’ve only got one kick at the can, one try at this life, and if something would have been fun when you were young, it’s probably still fun now. (Like sex.) The Vets Racing Club in Canberra requires a doctor’s notes in order to keep racing after age 75 and there are people in that category.”

Read here for the rest of the reasons and my responses.

Also, read Age is Just a Number: Julie Lockhart, 70, shares her tips for riding and racing strong at any age.

Here’s her answer to the Bicycling Magazine’s first interview question, when did you start riding?

“Like everybody, I started cycling as a child. As I grew older, I had various road bikes, commuted to work. I commuted with roadies in the ’80s at lunchtime; we’d go out for an hour, hour and a half lunch break and just ride. I did that for a while, up until the late ’90s and even beyond, just commuting to work, because it was fun. I wasn’t really serious though. Then in 2004, I got an email from a friend asking if I’d like to be the bicyclist in a team triathlon. My first reaction was panic! But I got my bike out, dusted it off, and practiced their course. I won their category. Afterward, I thought to myself how I could probably do all three categories – run, swim, and bike. About two months later, I signed up for 2 triathlons in the same weekend. In 2005, though, I realized that bicycling was my strongest suit. I practically drowned during the swimming section – there’s a big difference between swimming amongst 500 other people and practicing by yourself! Then, I decided that I would go to a local time trial near my house. And in 2006 I decided to join their bicycle club. My first race was a criterium—it was a hoot, very silly and fun. From there I went on to several other criteriums and road races.”

And then there’s Robert Marchand, Marchand to make new hour record attempt at 102 years of age.

“After previously setting marks for the hour record and 100 kilometres at over 100 years of age, French inspiration Robert Marchand is at it again; now almost 102 years old, he is planning to once again extend his hour record mark.

Now he wants to try the hour record once more, with INSERM [Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, or National Institute of Health and Medical Research – ed.] professor Véronique Billat announcing the bid today.

“We prepare Robert Marchand for the world record of an hour above 25 km/h in January he will be 102 yrs old,” she wrote on Twitter. “He improved his VO2max (35) and his maximal power by 10% by the strength component, especially 2.65 w/kg of full body mass with 13% fat mass.”

Marchand’s birthday takes place this month and he’s continuing to push the limits for his age.

He trains regularly, lives alone, is self-sufficient and continues to drive. He is just five feet tall (1m52), but is in superb health.

Born in 1911, Marchand started cycling at 14 years of age, then later left France and lived in Canada and Venezuela. He worked as a fireman, market gardener, show salesman and wine dealer, and competed as an amateur boxer. He returned to cycling in 1978 at 67 years of age, building up the distances and training with riders who were far younger than he was.”



3 thoughts on “Silver haired speed: Bicycles, racing, and age

  1. Hi– Julie Lockhart is in my bike club (NEBC– Northeast Bike Club), and I have ridden and raced with her many times. Two weekends ago she did a cyclocross race at Northampton, MA in the women’s 3/4 field. She tends to come in last these days, but it doesn’t matter, as she is out there, enjoying it and inspiring lots of folks to get back to the start line. While warming up, she shouted to me, “hey, do you miss it– racing?” My answer is “I don’t know”. I miss the camaraderie and the post-race endorphins. I miss the memories of going as hard as I can. I miss the training (seems odd, but there it is). I don’t miss the anxieties that accompany worries about being last, being too slow, getting injured, etc. Your post is good food for thought.

  2. While I greatly respect these much older cyclists (I didn’t call them athletes, ok? ), not convinced a lot of people want to use them as their aged benchmark.

    I’m not advocating lowering one’s own personal goals by the time one is 70, 80, 90 etc. I’m advocating embracing a sport/exercise that you love to practice…DAILY. This is the approach to aim for majority of aging people so that they don’t view their choice, daily exercise as a chore. Hence, you end up becoming/remaining more fit because you don’t notice your own physical effort as much since you are enjoying the activity.

  3. By the way, there is already someone in my life who is not quite like these amazing older athletes…it’s my partner. He goes on multi-week solo touring bike trips on his own. He’s 70, a very active, long time cycling advocate also..

    When you are someone like that for life, it’s a joy of discovery together. He tracks his mileage. So I joke he’s a used car….has racked up over 201,000 kms. over past 22 yrs. since I’ve known him. Yea, it’s all on his Excel spreadsheets.

    But he has other interests outside of cycling. Thankfully..we’re not immortal athletes.

    I cannot even begin to emphasize how important it is to have a partner who at least cares about their health and does something (anything) constructive about it. It affects quality of life …together.

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