A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Back on Your Bike in Your Golden Years

It’s just like riding a bike – even after all these years!

Written by:
Bicycling for Seniors

Karen Jenkins photographed in Randolph, NJ. Photo by Brian Branch Price.

Whatever your age, grab your bicycle and ride! If you are 60 or older, and do not ride a bicycle, let me convince you to ride.

Bicycle ridership among those 60 years and older is growing the fastest according to data collected by the US Department of Transportation. Between 1995 and 2009, the rise in cycling among people ages 60-79 accounted for 37 percent of the total net nationwide increase in bike trips. Canada, countries in Europe, Australia, and Japan report a similar trend.

Fifteen years ago, my brother surprised me with a heavy, three-speed, step-through bicycle. I was 45 and hadn’t ridden a bicycle since childhood. The gift sat unused for seven years until serendipity intervened and pushed me down an unfamiliar path. Now I ride my bicycle nearly every day and I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of the League of American Bicyclists, which at 135 years, is the oldest bicycle advocacy organization in the world. Every day, I smile broadly and laugh loudly as I ask myself, “How, at my age, did this happen?”

Getting Started – Find a Community of Bike Riders

First, don’t be afraid of riding a bike. Find a nearby program that teaches adults to ride and the skills to ride in traffic. In the US, a good source of information is the League’s website. Type your state and you will find a wealth of information about the Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program.

Listed will be bike shops, clubs, classes, events, and bike instructors in communities throughout your state. Don’t overlook your local and state advocacy organizations, which at the grass roots level are working to make their communities safer for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. I am confident you will meet knowledgeable and friendly people eager to see you riding a bicycle safely and with joy.

Get a Bicycle

Decide how much you can afford to spend and don’t forget to budget for accessories like a helmet, lights, and a lock. If you are fortunate to live in a city with a bike share program, rent one before deciding to buy. There may be a bicycle recycle program in your city where you can purchase a bike for very little money.

For a new bike, go to your local bike shop and have fun looking while asking lots of questions. Most important is to test ride all the bikes that interest you. A good bike shop will help you find an appropriate bike for your budget, the correct size and style for your needs, and make final adjustments for maximum comfort.

Carefully Consider Your Physical Needs

As we get older, our agility decreases, no matter how physically fit we are. Many manufacturers now offer bicycles that are specific for women, seniors, and those with physical limitations. If you are learning to ride or have not ridden in a while, a road (racing) bike may not be the best choice. City bikes are made for comfort and transportation, and with their upright positioning are very manageable to ride. Consider a tricycle if you find balancing on two wheels a challenge.

If lifting your leg over a bicycle frame proves to be challenging then look for a step-through bike which can be handy for all genders. I am now looking for a bicycle with wider tires and a deep step-through.

Biking as a senior

Karen demonstrates how to fix it yourself with her Trek step-through bike at Marty’s Reliable Bicycle in Randolph, NJ. Photo by Brian Branch Price.

Finding Easy and Accessible Places to Ride

Riding your bicycle should provide hours of healthy, stress-free, physical activity outdoors that will allow you to enjoy the scenery and the company of friends. Take time to find places to ride that are easy and where you feel safe from traffic. Look online for bike maps of your area and ask your local bike shop for suggestions. Organizations that offer bike education classes may offer easy group rides, usually free of charge. Be on the lookout for community bike rides, many of which close the roads to motorized traffic.

What to Wear

Wear whatever clothing you have that is comfortable when moving and feels good. There is no need to purchase special clothing. But you should be aware that wide leg pants can get caught in your bike chain, especially if there is no guard. Use reflective ankle straps to clinch around the bottom of your pant leg. Wear shoes that protect your feet and avoid flip-flops. Natural fibres like wool are excellent to moderate heat while “tech wick” shirts wash and dry quickly.

Learning to Maintain Your Bike

A bicycle is a sturdy vehicle with all the parts easily visible and fixable. At a minimum, I encourage you to learn to clean your bike and change a flat tire. Through bike shops, Park Tool offers a basic one-day bicycle repair course that is well worth your time and money. Ask your bike shop or lookup “Park Tool School” online to find classes near you. The course taught me the value of keeping a clean and well-maintained bicycle and to bring it to the shop for conditioning and repairs beyond my capability. Most importantly, the day-long course gave me confidence to get on my bike and not worry about being stranded. Adding a tire repair kit and a multi-tool to your bag will cover most road-side repairs.

Staying Physically Fit

At the time I started riding a bicycle, I did not know it would be the best investment I would make to maintain my health as I grow older. The benefits of regularly riding a bike include weight loss and preventing serious diseases such as stroke and heart attacks. Riding a bicycle is low impact, an important consideration for keeping active if you have arthritis in your lower joints.

I now take my bike almost every time I drive to visit a museum, go to a meeting, or visit friends. With my bike, I no longer worry how far I have to park from my destination. Often, I will park several miles away and ride my bike. Because I have arthritis in one knee, I am no longer able to walk as far as I would like, but I can ride my bike for miles.

I have looked at my community in ways I never noticed in a car. Most surprising was the physical strength and tenacity I discovered which I did not know I possessed.

Riding a bicycle is for everyone no matter their age!


Karen Jenkins is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the League of American Bicyclists and a League Cycling Instructor. She rides every day in her hometown of East Brunswick, NJ and loves to take the long way home under sunny skies.

7 Comments

  • This makes me so happy, thanks for sharing this article. I am encouraging my mom to go biking during Saturdays.

  • Debby

    I am 64 years old and just bought a Liberty Trike…Where in Branchburg, Nj can I ride?

  • The majority of our customers are over 50 and many have not ridden in decades. Most have some physical challenge (bad knees, back pain, asthma, etc). Most live in a hill-rich environment. Our electric bikes help them regain their ability to get out and ride without fear of pain. And they can keep up with their kids and grandkids!

  • As a senior who never stopped cycling and who is also a cycling instructor, I missed two topics Can-Bike II also neglects: carrying things on a bike and using MUPs (multi-user pathways), both which are very practical for seniors. Otherwise, a very complete article on a topic neglected by most cycling mags.

  • Chris S.

    I started riding again in 2012, one year shy of my 60th birthday. I have not had this much fun since I was a kid! I ride to work and back when the weather (finally) warms up enough to do so in the spring and into the autumn. I wish I could ride year ’round, but I’m skittish of riding when there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground. Thank you for this article, Karen! (BTW, I used to live in Denville, right down the road from you!)

  • Casey

    I worry that the barrier to many old women like me is knowing how to fix a bike and change a tire. I’ve taken two classes, and I still can’t change the back tire. What keeps me on my bicycle is knowing that it’s almost always less than a mile to a bus stop (or even a bicycle repair shop) and of course I always have my phone on me to call a child for help if I need it. If you live in a town with a bus system, you may feel ready to ride without being able to change a tire. I even got rid of my car.

    • Alice Strong

      That’s a great point, Casey! Also…making sure that you are riding good quality tires at proper inflation and riding away from road debris helps to avoid flats in the first place. Always making sure to bring extra tubes and a basic tool kit is important, too (even if you can’t fix your tire yourself a good samaritan might happen along). Congrats on dumping the car!

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