Ageing Gracefully: A Mountain Bike Story…
This year I turned 50. It always felt like it was going to be a big deal, both mentally and physically, so it was a bit of an anticlimax when 2020 came along and the day passed without much note. What was more surprising, however, is that it mattered both more and less that I thought it would.
Why getting older matters: No matter how hard you train, how well you look after yourself, and how much you practise, age catches up with all of us. As we age, energy is more difficult to come by, it’s genuinely harder to recover, and it takes longer to heal. There are also more demands on our time, and although ongoing physical maintenance becomes more important, it becomes frustratingly harder to find time for.
Put together, this means that mountain biking has to fit in alongside all of the other demands on our time and wellbeing. We have to be a lot more careful about planning out our time, and our recovery, in order to be able to sustain any decent level of riding.
Richie Schley in his 50’s and still looking mighty fine.
On the plus side, it’s a lot easier to care less. Peer pressure simply isn’t (or hopefully isn’t) a factor, and there’s a lot less to prove. This opens up the possibility of a whole new way of looking at the world: instead of doing things because we feel pressured to, we can do things because we genuinely want to (see below). All of a sudden, the need to send that large drop or gap is more likely to be based on whether or not it actually matters to us, and less likely to be because we feel pressured to keep up with, or impress, our friends.
Why getting older doesn’t matter:
A lot of physical and psychological aging is voluntary. What most people report in their 50s as feeling older, is actually the accumulation of less activity and challenge (both physical and mental). In other words, because more things get our attention, many people spend less and less time on physical and psychological maintenance, until this cumulative neglect catches up and makes it too late to do much about.
The good news is that, because (with some effort and attention) we can delay a lot of the usual issues of ageing, mountain biking can continue way beyond our imagined limits. There’s no reason to replace mountain biking for golf just because we’re getting older. Even better, the act of mountain biking is really good for our physical and psychological wellbeing: riding reminds us that our bodies can still function at a high level, takes us out of our busy lives, and shows us the joy of being genuinely present. Mountain biking really can help to keep us young!
Why riding mountain bikes is a reflection of how you live your life:
The beauty of mountain biking is that it can genuinely reflect the way we see and interact with the world. The trick is to make sure that mountain biking matches up with your capacity, without becoming complacent. In our 20s we can usually find the time to ride whenever we want, push ourselves hard and recover fast, heal relatively quickly when we break, and pretty much always have someone to ride with.
Allana Mackertich 57, Australia. Absolutely loving the mountain bike lifestyle, having taken up the sport in her late forties.
Graham Clark 67, Australia. Competing in the Otway Odyssey in 2020 XC race.
The downside is that money is harder to come by, and we often make do with a less than perfect bike. Our 30s get busier, time gets harder to come by, our friends also get busier, and training often takes a slide (but we’re able to afford that top-end bike). It’s here that most people give up on riding, but if you’re lucky enough to extend riding into your 40s and beyond, we tend to go one of two ways: we ride less and ride the same (trails, limits, and people), or we find ways to continue to grow into our riding (improving technique, diversifying where and how we ride, recognising and doing something about our limitations, and accepting real (rather than imagined) limits).
This is a pretty good metaphor for living life: either we can stay focused on and take the time for what matters, get better at what we do, and recognise (but not be defined by) our limitations; or we can settle for the status quo, give up on the things we used to love, and stop putting in the effort to sustain what matters.
Hans Rey 54, rolling on Vittoria’s Martello tires.
Photo: ©Bill Freeman / MTBR.com
The art of aging gracefully on a mountain bike:
With everything we’ve talked about in mind, here are some tips to meaningful, long-lasting, sustainable riding.
Make mountain biking about what matters, not what you think should matter:
If it’s about being fit, pushing limits, and progressing your riding – go for it. If it’s about spending time with friends and taking the time to go slower, enjoy it. If it’s about living up to the expectation of your inner 20-year-old, forget it!
Enjoy other’s accomplishments as much as your own:
One of the best things about having had the time to accomplish something is taking time to watch and enjoy others achieving their own goals. It can be genuinely as pleasurable watching a younger rider progress their skills as it is to develop your own.
Take joy from the moment – here and now:
Mountain biking is one of the best ways to be present – it pretty much forces us to pay attention, but it’s also really easy to get complacent, bored, or underwhelmed by our experiences, especially when we’ve ridden the same trail 200 times. Choosing to actually show up for your own rides makes a huge difference in the quality of the experience.
Appreciate quality over quantity:
Enjoy your own style and appreciate your limits (but it’s not always about the B lines):
This is about refining rather than building: it’s so easy to be dissatisfied with what we haven’t achieved, or envious of what others can do. Instead of continually trying to push beyond your limits, learning to be more comfortable with the rider you’ve become makes riding a lot more pleasurable. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to the green runs, but it does mean taking the time to refine your existing skills, and gently challenge yourself at a pace that works for you.
Recovery and sustainability:
Last, figure out what you’re capable of and the time you’re prepared to invest. If it takes a couple of days to recover from a longer ride, factor that in. Keep in mind attention to the basics that so many people struggle with as they get older: try to fit in the ongoing gym training to supplement your riding – this is going to be valuable in so many ways on and off the bike; make sure you’re eating well and have a healthy sleep pattern and routine, and look after yourself by managing stress and having fun. Mountain biking is seriously sustainable, as long as you’re sustaining your ability to mountain bike.
Above: Some of our readers who are in their 50’s and 60’s, still enjoying what mountain biking offers.