aging · cycling

Want the health of a 20 year old at the age of 80? Ride a bike!

The big health and fitness headline this past week concerned the release of results of two studies of senior citizen cyclists. For those of us preaching the health benefits of exercise, it was amazing news.

There’s a New York Times article on the study that covers the main points: Exercise Can Keep Aging Muscles and Immune Systems ‘Young’.

The NYT piece begins by noting that our understanding of aging might be radically mistaken because so few older adults get any exercise at all.

“Exercise among middle-aged and older adults in the Western world is rare. By most estimates, only about 10 percent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly. So, our expectations about what is normal during aging are based on how growing older affects sedentary people.”

We’ve written about that before on our blog. One of our earliest posts was on aging as a lifestyle choice.

Again from the NYT story: “The two sets of scientists then dove into their data and both concluded that older cyclists are not like most of the rest of us. They are healthier. They are, biologically, younger. Their muscles generally retained their size, fiber composition and other markers of good health across the decades, with those riders who covered the most mileage each month displaying the healthiest muscles, whatever their age.”


I’ve had lots of thoughts about these studies and about the good health of these elderly riders.

My first thought was that I’m really happy that I love to ride my bike.

Second thought, should people who don’t like cycling take it up? Should I be urging friends and family whose health I care about to get on their bikes? That’s not so clear. These aren’t studies that took people and assigned them to one of two groups, those who ride a lot and those who sit at home. Instead, it’s a study of those older adults who choose to ride. They’re a special group who chose not to stop riding big distances. Did their good health make their riding possible or did their riding cause their good health? We don’t know which direction the causation goes–maybe it’s a bit of both, a kind of virtuous circle, where one supports the other– but the results are pretty remarkable regardless.

Third thought, this is so not a moderate message. These cyclists were averaging 100 miles a week. That’s a lot of riding. At my best I aim for 5000 km a year. They’re averaging 5200 miles! Further, the benefits depended on dose. The riders who covered the most mileage each month displayed the healthiest muscles. You see them setting out for a 5 1/2 hour ride in the video above. This isn’t like the health messaging that says to go for a walk everyday. These guys are working super hard for hours at a time. They’re riding big distances year round.

They also love it.

From a BBC story on these cyclists:

Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer. He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”

Fourth thought, we don’t know if this holds true for other forms of exercise. Maybe it’s riding bikes that’s magic and nothing else matters? Seems unlikely. It’s true though that cycling is something you can keep doing as you get older. Lots of older adults move from running to cycling at a certain point.

So lots of questions, but still, remarkable good news. The Fit is a Feminist Issue cyclists–hi Susan, Catherine, Cate, Kim, Nat!–should start planning riding trips for the big birthdays, 60, 70, 80, 90 etc. And maybe we should move somewhere warm for the winters. A fit feminist roving commune with lots and lots of bike riding. I’m in!

Photo by David on Unsplash

See also Lessons on Aging Well from a 105 Year Old Cyclist.

cycling · sex

Cycling Doesn’t Harm Women’s Sexual Experiences But It Might Cause Self-Pleasuring in a Field of Flowers*

*Not to be coy but I am trying to stick with words that won’t get us thrown off Facebook.

I love Bicycling magazine’s gradual move to becoming a more inclusive place. I especially like the work of Selene Yeager. She’s the best thing about Bicycling magazine. (I’m a big fan)

And I was really happy to see this story,  Cycling Doesn’t Harm Women’s Sexual Health, Study Finds.

It settles a question that’s been around forever, like since back when doctors worried that cycling caused women to masturbate excessively and possibly caused our uteruses to collapse. See Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s. See also Vibrating bike seats and the female orgasm and Bike seats, speed, and sexual depravity.

Even in 2012, stories like this were making the news: Riding bikes harmful to female sexual health

But, yay! The new study looked at the experiences of more than three thousand women and found only good news. Here’s this snippet from the Bicycling magazine story.

Two months after the biggest study to date assured men that, contrary to decades of misinformation, cycling won’t kill their erections, women can welcome some good news of their own. The largest study of its kind just reported that cycling had no negative impact on the sexual and urinary function of even the most active women riders. What’s more, women who clocked the highest mileage showed better sexual function than their non-cycling peers.

“Turns out the women who biked more frequently tended to report better experiences in the bedroom. “We found that lifetime miles ridden was associated with better sexual function, as measured by a common, validated questionnaire,” researcher Thomas W. Gaither, a UCSF medical student, said in a press release.

Good news for women who ride.

One question for Bicycling magazine: Why this image? First, not exactly an image of woman who rides her bikes a lot. Second, it looks like she hopped off her bike to pleasure herself in the field. Am I the only person this thought occurred to? (I actually know that’s not true since a Guelph faculty member and friend came up to me in a meeting and said that she hasn’t stopped laughing since she saw the photo with the story. She says she’s going to look at women laying bedside their bikes differently from now on.)

Also, also, the caption: “Women who ride bikes tend to have better experiences riding, well, other things.”


cycling · fitness

Small pleasures in journey and destination

This week I was in Tucson, AZ on vacation with friends.  It was marvelous– we cycled, hiked/walked, took in urban and desert sights, and enjoyed as much delicious Mexican food as we had time and appetites for.

We saw marvelous things:  we did a mural ride through downtown Tucson, and saw 20+ depictions of community, fantasy, politics and the future.  Here are just a few of them:

Mural of a woman with white skin, black hair, and a red mask.
Mural of brightly colored images of indigenous people and nature symbols
Mural saying “Greetings from Tucson” with four bikes in front.
Mural of a woman with cactus hair and cacti around her

We went to the desert museum and Catalina State Park, and saw stunning nature.  I posted about it here.

But one of the things I like best about cycling in a new place is the low-key and unexpected sights I encounter while just noodling around.  I went on a ride down the Loop (a 60+ mile system of bike paths) by myself one day, and I found this quirky little park called Pima Prickly Park.

A blue sign indicating Pima Prickly Park.
A blue sign indicating Pima Prickly Park.

What is this place?  Well, it’s kind of a home for misfit cacti.  The Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society arranges with commercial constructions projects around Tucson to go in before a site is bulldozed, and they try to save all the cactus and succulent plants they can.  Check out more details here.  Then they take them to this site for replanting.  They’ve created a public park, with gravel routes through the seven acre site.  Here are a few pictures of what the all-volunteer crew has done with this place, which used to be a landfill:

There was a volunteer doing some watering, and she told me all about the place.  Looking around, it’s clear that a lot of love and dedication went into making this little park.  Here’s a nice place to sit and contemplate:

An area of the park with a bench, a birdbath, and various cacti and bushes.

All of this was tucked away, just off the bike path I had been riding.  Had I not noticed a bunch of cacti that looked rather organized behind a fence, I wouldn’t have gone to investigate.  But I did, and got to enjoy the fruits of local environmentalists’ labor.

Have you gone on a walk, run, ride, paddle, etc. and run into an unexpected treasure of a place or sight?  I’d love to hear from you.

aging · athletes · cycling · injury

Bonus mini blog post: Sam sees some hope when it comes to her knee and riding a bike

I know many of you have been following the saga of my knee with interest and concern. I feel like I’ve got a whole community watching out for me and wishing me well and cheering me on.

Tonight something really good happened.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook.

Feeling hopeful. Really hopeful. First time on the spin bike without any pain when pedaling while standing. No pain while using big gears either. Phew. There’s hope.

The last time I went to a spin class I could spin in easy gears well enough but it hurt to put resistance on and it hurt to stand. So I didn’t do those things.

But today, nothing. It felt fine. I kept stopping, expecting it to hurt but nothing. I did sprints. I did hills. I did max wattage drills. All felt good. Well, except for the getting sweaty and out of breath part.

It was only a 45 minute class, not the 90 I’ve usually been doing over the winter but I walked home after feeling happy and strong.

And actually I felt so good I stuck around for the 30 minute core workout after.

Yay! There’s hope.

clothing · cycling · fitness · winter

Vintage Works for Winter (Guest Post)

Get out your old gear and get outside! The German winter brings cold, rain, fog, ice and occasional snow to Berlin. Relocating here from Tucson, Arizona, I don’t have all the latest greatest weatherproof cycling gear. But do I really need it?

In Berlin, the serious roadies and triathletes speed along in high-performance, black outerwear from the trendiest brands, and everyday transportation cyclists wear their regular clothes and coats. I fit somewhere in between, but my helmet generally gives me away as a roadie.

I have clothing from 15 to 20 years ago when I lived in Virginia and rode in the winter. (I hear the Canadians chortling at the thought of a Virginia “winter.”) I also own what is now considered a vintage or classic bike—my first racing road bike, a steel frame LeMond from 1994. This is the beater bike I ride in Berlin, rolling over cobblestones, pavement, and occasional dirt roads. Because the default condition of Berlin roads is wet, I added a small plastic fender that sticks out like a stiff tail from my saddle.

To stay warm, I choose a blend of natural and unnatural fibers from the olden days. Yes, polyester and neoprene are bad for the planet, but they last for years as you will see from my riding outfit described below. And it’s better to use old stuff than buy new stuff, right?

From toe to head, staying warm the vintage way:

  • Neoprene toe covers (relatively new, that is, from 2007)
  • Hand-me-down wool socks that reach to mid-calf, sometimes accompanied by silk sock liners from 2005
  • Bike shorts, covered by discount brand polyester wind/water proof warm-up pants from 2002
  • Discount brand long sleeve undershirt from 2005 that wicks, but also smells after a ride
  • Long sleeve polyester Virginia cycling team jersey from 2001
  • Insulated rowing vest, a gift from the early 2000s
  • Polyester Virginia team jacket from 2001
  • Neoprene headband, year unknown
  • Yellow lens sunglasses, circa 2007, for brightening dreary days

OK, I concede that I wear a few newer items:

  • High visibility yellow waterproof long sleeve windbreaker
  • Neck gaiter
  • Insulated gloves

I generally ride two to two and a half hours, with my air temperature limit of 0 degrees (32 F). I wait until mid day to ride when it’s generally warmer with occasional shafts of sunshine. I unzip and zip assorted layers as I climb or descend hills, or in response to the wind. I have good luck with timing, with only 2 partially rainy rides out of 28 this winter.

The old stuff works for me.

When donning vintage gear and riding a vintage bike, be prepared for comments from other cyclists. “You ride a steel bike,” said the roadie, after giving me and my bike the once-over. I had stopped and offered my bike pump for his flat tire. I responded, “Yes, it’s a classic!”

What vintage gear are you using this winter and early spring?

Mary Reynolds splits her time between Berlin and Tucson, and blogs with her partner at


We asked, they answered: Bye bye podium girls!

Almost five years ago I asked, Bike races and podium girls: Time to kiss goodbye?

Now finally, it’s happening. This just came across my newsfeed: No more podium girls at Tour de France. The Tour Down Under eliminated them in 2017. See here. The Spanish Tour didn’t get rid of them. They added elegantly dressed attractive men to the stage.

I prefer having neither but it’s all progress and it made me smile.

How about you?

It's a photo of a blue sky with white fluffy clouds and the sun peaking out from behind.
Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash. It’s a photo of a blue sky with white fluffy clouds and the sun peaking out from behind.
cycling · holiday fitness · holidays

Rediscovering the love of simple bikes: Sam and Susan go for a ride on Bora Bora

Susan and her cruiser!

Cycling, more than any physical activity, sends me back to my youth. Whee! Bikes give kids freedom to get places and to do things, away from the adult world. See here.

Susan and I got a taste of that feeling on this cruise. The ship anchors and we take the tender to shore. But when you get there you’ve got your choice of organized group activities (catamarans, picnics, snorkeling in the reef, visiting vanilla farms) or heading out on your own. We’ve done some of the group stuff but some of the time it feels good to get away from all the people and explore.

The difficulty with heading out on your own is that my legs only take us so far. See here for an update about my knee. And there’s only so much time The beach in Bora Bora, for example, was 7 km from the pier. It was definitely too hot to walk. We could rent a car, but really, no.

Instead twice now we’ve rented bikes. They’re island bikes, the most basic of bikes. They’re cruiser style bikes with back pedal brakes. There are no speeds and no fancy gears. You just pedal and go.

Also, no helmets! Some Americans from the ship scolded us for riding without helmets. We felt like bad kids.But really no one here is wearing a helmet.

At home I have specialized bikes, a bike for each thing. I have a track bike, a fat bike, an aero road bike, another road bike, an adventure road bike that I use for commuting. You get the idea. This is not that kind of biking.

So on Bora Bora we hopped on our bright green cruisers and wheeled away. Whee! I loved riding with the locals most of whom use bikes as transportation. There were bikes with multiple kids hanging onto parents riding into town. Lots of kids riding by themselves too, with no adult in sight.

With no fancy bike shoes we could hop on and hop off at ease. With kick stands we could just set the bike upright and stop to look at roadside stands and festivals.

Yes, there was a fair bit of car and truck and bus traffic on the same road but no one was going anywhere fast. People seemed used to bikes on the road. We felt pretty safe.

Of course we stopped at the beach to swim and to rest! And when we were ready, not when the group was ready or the clock said so, we biked back into town. Freedom. Whee!