We are a "late 50's" Australian couple, Paul and Sue, who started our cycle-touring careers in 1996 with a two week ride in New Caledonia organised and supported by BikeVic (Victoria, Australia). Paul has been a keenish cyclist since he was a kid in the UK, though the years when our two daughters were young restricted us pretty much to short rides on local cycle tracks. About 1994 he started riding his bike to and from work (a 30km round trip) increasing his bike-fitness exponentially. I used to ride my bike to school in the old days of pedal brakes and no gears, but not much else except with our two daughters, till I bought a hybrid mountain bike to train for the New Caledonia ride (which was great fun).
However, social rides with fitter friends found me always last in the group, who had to wait for me at the top of every hill! Reluctantly, I agreed to Paul's suggestion that we hire a tandem for a weekend, and we've never looked back! We now ride single bikes on rides up to about 100km a day, but use the tandem for longer rides (such as the 210km "Round the Bay in a Day" ride, or cycle touring). I can now keep up with all the ladies and some of the gents even on my single bike, so the tired old joke of "the one on the back's not pedalling" clearly doesn't hold true! I would love a dollar for everytime I hear that comment from overweight middle-aged guys - even in France and Italy!
We have completed two independent cycle tours (5 weeks in France in May-June 2002, and 9 weeks France and Italy in Sept-Oct 2003) and I have just booked our next trip for April-June 2005. We don't pre-book accommodation - my French is adequate to manage basic communication, so we book as we go, giving lots of flexibility to jump on a train if the weather is bad or we don't like a city, or to stay longer in some of the gorgeous villages in the South of France if we want.
Our other interests are cross-country skiing, live theatre, street-orienteering, bush-walking and lots of socialising with family and friends. We have both "down-sized" our jobs, moving slowly towards retirement rather than waiting for the axe to fall. Paul works four days a week as a draughtsman/designer doing residential work on the understanding he can take holidays whenever he wants, and I have given up my four-day a week job to do some work from home when I can fit it in!
For those ladies who maybe are not super-young, super-skinny or super-fit - neither am I, but I still manage most things, given time!