For the 50+ 'newbie' rider
Hi. If you are a 50+ candidate who is about to take up cycling for the first time, or for whom it’s been so long since you were on a bicycle that you might as well be a newbie to the activity, this thread is for you. Hopefully we can help you address some of the decisions and dilemmas which will probably confront you.
That description above is me, too, by the way. I’ve taken up cycling this year, at the age of 56, after not having really ridden much at all since I was a young teenager. Things have changed quite a bot in the interim, so I had a lot to learn. Now hopefully I can pass that on to you and, with the help of others here, address many of the concerns you’ll be confronting. The following is a rather lengthy read, and I hope you find it helpful. It’s the ‘collected wisdom’ the good folk here at 50+ have passed on to me, and which has been responsible for my journey from novice to confident cyclist.
Choosing a bike
The first issue you’ll be confronting is the choosing of a bike to ride, and before you start doing that you need to have a good think about what sort of riding you think you’re likely to be doing, and where you’re likely to be doing it.
Are you thinking about taking long rides through the countryside? Do you want to commute by bicycle, to work and back? Are you thinking about going off-road, along rail and other trails through rural and wilderness? Are you perhaps thinking about leisurely rides around town and surrounds with the grandchildren? Just down to the local shopping centre and back, to do the shopping? Different types of bikes suit different activities better, so sort out the stuff about what you want to do, and it’ll be a bit clearer what sort of bike you need to get.
For most people that’ll be either a Mountain Bike, a Hybrid Bike or a Road Bike.
Purposely designed for the riding which sees you off the formed roads and pathways, and lots of folk seem to choose them for commuting purposes because they’re generally more robust than the various types of ‘road’ bikes. Commuting and local on-road riding on a mountain bike isn’t a particularly good idea. On the sealed road they make for slower going and harder work, so if you do choose one for multi-purpose use be sure to swap out those chunky off-road tyres for tyres with a ‘road’ tread. (Or keep two sets of wheels handy – one for off-road and one for on-road.)
There’s one I have sitting amongst the family ‘stable’. Not all mountain bikes have that full suspension, front and back, but it’s the chunkiness and the suspension makes a lot of folk think that a mountain bike is what they need, even though they aren’t likely to be going off road. Think again. There are better ways to be comfortable, and that suspension absorbs a bit of your pedalling energy, so it comes at a bit of an energy-sapping cost.
Hybrid bikes are a ‘cross’ between a mountain bike and a dedicated ‘road’ bike. The frame will have a shape (or ‘geometry’) which is similar to that of a mountain bike, but in many other respects they are similar to a road bike. They are often a very good choice for commuters or as a first bike for newer riders, and bike shops probably sell more of them than any other sort of bike. (Here in Australia Hybrid sales considerably outnumber sales of other bike types.)
Be aware, though, that there are two broad categories of Hybrid bikes.
Within the broader spectrum of hybrid bikes the ‘comfort’ bikes sit a bit closer to mountain bike than to road bike. They come with front fork suspension, and almost certainly with seat post suspension as well, to give you a bit of ‘bounce’ under the bum! They come with what’s called ‘riser’ handlebars, to give you a bit more upright riding position. They’re a bit heavier than other types of road bike, but well suited to a range of riding conditions. Wheels are fitted with road tyres which are a wee bit wider than other.
The ‘slowest’ of the bikes designed for on-road use, for sure, but this’n is my own choice for general purpose riding, as my rides often see me travelling lengthy distances on roads with a variety of surfaces.
Don’t let that name put you off if you think it sounds too much like something designed for the gym nutter. A ‘Fitness Hybrid’ is merely a wee bit lighter and faster form of hybrid, without the front fork suspension.
Fitness hyrids are also sometimes called ‘flat bar road bikes’, and they’ll usually have a slightly lighter frame, a solid (no suspension) front fork, straight ‘flat bar’ handlebars, and a bit better quality and type of gearing, which is designed to help you get up to and maintain speed a bit better. The ‘entry level’ fitness bikes are generally a wee bit more expensive than the entry level comfort bikes.
Way back in the middle ages, when I was a kid and we all used to chat with Geoffrey Chaucer and John Lennon, we used to distinguish between ‘touring bikes’, which were a bit heavy and cumbersome, and ‘racing bikes’, which looked pretty much the same but were lighter and faster. Nowadays racing has really moved on into high-tech territory, and the ‘road bikes’ of today are kinda like an updated and improved variety of the racing bikes of yesteryear.
They’re generally deeper in the frame than a hybrid bike, built from light but strong materials, have really good gearing, and sport those oh-so-skinny but fast wheels and tyres. They also almost invariably come with the curved ‘drop’ handlebars which allow the rider to get right down and aerodynamic, which is really useful for riding into the wind.
Today’s ‘road bike’ is very suitable for a wide range of riding, and doesn’t deserve to be shunned by commuter or casual cyclist. It’s the bike of choice for many of the more experienced riders, but don’t forget the drawback those skinny wheels bring. When riding it you need to be more conscious of obstacles such as cracked road surfaces or a bit of gravel on the road.
Other bike types
Outside the scope of this introduction, but there are other types of cycle which might suit your purposes better than any of the above. Recumbent Cycles have you sitting down lower, in a seat which has a backrest and with the pedals and crank set forward. Recumbant riders swear by them as being more comfortable and efficient, but (I’m told) they don’t handle hills as well as the ‘upright’ cycles. Folding Cycles are worth considering if your riding is going to be mixed with travel in bus, train or tram. Today’s dedicated ‘Touring Bikes’ sport a stronger and longer frame, to give you an increased wheelbase distance for comfort on longer trips, and they come with mounting points for just about any combination of fenders, racks and whatnot else.