Image: Alama Moller lining up for NZ Mountain Bike Champs, Tokoroa
Okay, your knees and hips are getting creaky, all your mates have given up walking and jogging and taken to riding bikes, so why not join them? After all, your doctor has told you that you need to exercise more to get rid of that increasing belly fat and skyrocketing cholesterol. And riding a bike is easy on the joints and reminds you of the good old days when everybody rode bikes just about everywhere.
How to put your health at risk - Get a road racing bike
Before you rush down to the local bike shop and fork out ten grand on a carbon fibre Merida racing machine, I urge you to stop and think carefully about what you are doing. Far from improving your health, you could be seriously risking it.
The boom in Baby-Boomers taking up cycling later in life is great for the medical rehabilitation business.
So, what's the annualised serious injury rate among cyclists: 1:20? 1:50? Who cares - whatever it is, it has to be bad. There are just way too many injuries nowadays. Older bodies do not heal quite like they did in the good old days. Cycling injuries are often appalling. What we are talking about are broken legs, smashed hips and collarbones, broken necks, paralysed bodies, mashed brains - and death - of course! Hardly the healthy outcomes intended by the well-intentioned, health conscious cyclist.
Don't get me wrong: I love cycling and think everyone should be out of their cars and riding bikes. I have never been off a bike since childhood; I continue to race furiously and have only just retired (temporarily - of course!) from B-grade track racing. Bike riding gets me into the outdoors most days while sparing my tired joints, saving them for long hikes such as the Heaphy Track last year.
Riding a twitchy high performance carbon fibre racing bike on a busy street or truck clogged highway is just asking for trouble. Especially if it is with a bunch of mates heading along Tamaki Drive!
Sunday morning bunch rides: Informal races?
What we see on 'Sunday mornings is large bunches of inexperienced cyclists, astride high performance machines, wheel-to-wheel and often several abreast, riding at speed on busy streets, all the while trying to carry on loud conversations. At times these are nothing less than informal bike races. I wonder how many of these high speed wannabe racers can do a slow, tight figure eight manoevre without losing balance, let alone avoid a high speed pile up? Terrifying if you ask me.
If a cyclist wants to play bike racing, my advice to them is it get off the streets and join a cycling club and enter road races that have strict safety procedures, including traffic control.
And, while I am at it: What happens when this bunch of greying cyclists enters the roundabout intersection at precisely the same time as the car with the idiot behind the wheel who is trying to put tomato sauce on his meat pie while answering his cell phone? Ouch! Even if you are in the right and he ends up in prison (Yeah - right!), this is hardly any consolation for you as you begin your new career as daisy fertiliser.
Image: Gary with Son, Alama, negotiating steep track below Pencarrow lighthouse.
Save your life: Get off the road!
I avoid the road these days. As much as 90% of my riding is off road. Sure, I have lots of spills with grazes and bruises; but I would much rather hug a gorse bush than smash a bus. Off road cycling is the way to go; but hang on! Don't rush into that either. all forms of cycling can be hazardous to your health - Very healthy so long as you don't fall off. Staying on is the challenge. Some forms of cycling are safer. Road cycling is definitely the more hazardous to your health.
Even if you are going to ride mostly on the road, don't buy a twitchy road racing bike; get a good quality mountain bike. A mountain bike is more stable to ride, it has lazy boy suspension and fat tyres that love pot holes and even fatter brakes that will stop you on a dime. You will keep your face: You are less likely to go over the handle bars in face plant style.
When you go out riding on the road on your flash new mountain bike, fitted out with road tyres, do not ride anything other than single file and save the chat for the cafe and latte later on. You are out for a ride and that is what you focus on. Gossip happens afterwards.
Sure, you won't go anywhere near as fast as the "roadies"; although the bunch of snobs will not wave as they glide effortlessly past you, wave to them anyway smug with the knowledge that you are still getting a damn good workout while being much less likely than "Speed Racer" to end up in the morgue. Be on the lookout for pothole gutter grates, opening car doors, left turning vehicles and pedestrians with head phones.
Walkers and Cyclist unite!
Regions like Wellington, Rotorua, Taupo and Central Otago, are mountain bike heaven. There is so much wild country within minutes ride of our home in central Wellington. Mountain bikers are proving to be effective lobbyists. There is an ever increasing network of trails all around the country that are dug and maintained by dedicated enthusiasts. The boom in mountain biking is seeing whole tracts of land being opened up for "non-motorised" users, including walkers.
Cyclists and walkers can generally coexist, although there are still a few growing pains being worked through. The onus is largely on the faster moving party to exercise due care and courtesy when navigating the trails with other users. This means the cyclist slowing right down when approaching walkers, calling out if coming from behind and even dismounting. The sudden appearance of of a mountainbiker hurtling straight for you at break neck speed can be frightening. It spoils the outdoors experience and should not happen.
Get some cycling lessons
If you are motivated to supplement your walking or running with some cycling of the mountain bike kind, I do have one last piece of advice: Get some lessons. When you purchase your shiny new mountain bike, arrange for some skills and safety lessons through the bike shop and even join a club. These lessons will add to the enjoyment of your riding experience, keep you from my rehab clinic door and maybe even save your life!
Do you have a question?
Email Gary: gary at myotec.co.nz (Replace the "at" with @ and remove spaces). Please include any relevant background information to your question.