Above: Dan Rupnow, 63, of Inman Park, says that he and his wife ride their bicycles along the BeltLine as often as they can. Photo by Phil Mosier
Bicycling changed Sue Nagel’s life.
She was riding with a group one day in 1987 when a fellow cyclist — “a really cute guy” — pulled up alongside her and remarked approvingly, “Nice bike.” Momentarily caught off guard, she smiled and returned the compliment: “You have a nice bike, too.”
Three years later, Sue and Bob Neurath tied the matrimonial knot. The Tucker residents have been married — and riding bicycles together — for the 27 years ever since.
They’re members of bicycling’s fastest-growing demographic: seniors over 50, according to an article published by the advocacy group People for Bikes, titled, “Bike Use is Rising Among the Young, But it is Skyrocketing Among the Old.”
“We ride for fun, and it’s great exercise,” said Bob, 57, a geographer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at its main facility near Emory.
He rides about 100 miles a week, usually with a group of cyclists out for a leisurely weekend ride or as a participant in one of the many cycling competitions held around the Southeast.
“We have enough commemorative T-shirts, pint glasses and socks to decorate a theme bar,” he laughed.
In a group ride, where everyone is trying to keep up with each other, older, more experienced cyclists enjoy a little bit of an advantage over younger ones, noted Sue, 58, a program officer for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC’s Buford Highway campus.
“It takes a long time to reach your maximum potential as a cyclist, so at 50 you can beat up on some of the younger riders because they aren’t fully developed physiologically, and they’re not kicking it quite as seriously,” she explained, adding, “There’s a special feeling about doing that!”
For older adults interested in renewing the love affair they experienced with bike riding as kids, the most important attributes in the equipment are comfort and fit, Nagel said.
“Go to a reputable bike shop that has a staff that will help you pick one out and fit you on it,” he advised. “Getting a bike that’s designed for the terrain you’re going to be riding on is important — a mountain bike, gravel bike, road bike or dirt bike handle differently. And they’ll make sure you have a comfortable, level seat at the correct height, and handlebars that are at the right height and shape.”
Added Sue, “When they’re just beginning, a lot of people don’t know what kind of riding they want to do, so I’d recommend borrowing or renting a couple different styles of bikes to find out what kind you feel most comfortable with.
“If you’ll be trying to keep up with others, like in group rides, you’ll want equipment comparable to theirs. But if you just want to enjoy a ride, you can get a basic entry-type bike and have a wonderfully good time.”
Over the past five years, Dunwoody retiree Don Hall figured he has cycled more than 55,000 miles — that’s the equivalent of circling the Earth twice, plus a round trip from Atlanta to Seattle.
“My typical ride is 35 miles-plus,” said Hall, a Vietnam vet who served in the Marine Corps before embarking on a 50-year career in sales and sales management. “It keeps me in shape, and I enjoy the camaraderie with other riders. Many of my best friends are cyclists.”
Like most everyone else, the 68-year-old Hall started riding bikes as a child to get to friends’ homes and around the neighborhood. Then in 1987, he took up cycling seriously as an adult.
“I was a runner for many years and was challenged to do a triathlon,” he recalled, “and discovered I liked it much more than running.” Hall stopped running in 1991.
One of his favorite events is the Georgia Golden Olympics, held annually for athletes over 50.
“I’ve been doing that for the past nine years,” said Hall, who participates in four cycling competitions in the 65-69 age group. In addition, “every other year there’s a National Senior Games, and if you qualify in your state you can compete there.”
The 2017 National Games, Hall’s third as a participant, took place in early June in Birmingham, Ala.
With regard to ride preparation, Hall said he drinks a lot of liquids, mostly water, but doesn’t follow a special diet. “I just eat when I’m hungry, but I don’t eat anything two or three hours before a ride.”
But he does monitor his weight closely.
“I weigh myself once or twice per day to make a decision on how much to eat,” he said. “And I chart my weight, which has not varied plus or minus two pounds in several years.
“It drives my wife nuts because she wants three meals a day,” he laughed.
Hall also lifts weights once or twice a week — “not heavy weights, but lots of repetitions” and makes sure to get seven hours of sleep a night.
For anyone considering taking up cycling, Hall’s advice is simple and direct: “Just do it,” he said. “If you commit to consistently putting in the effort, you will develop fitness and learn to love cycling — it becomes a lifestyle, and it’s very addictive.”
Not all seniors enjoy Hall’s exceptional level of physical fitness. For them, Eric Hunger offers an alternative.
“About 40 percent of our customers are 50 and over,” said Hunger, owner of ElectroBike Georgia in Brookhaven. “Many of these people have hip or knee problems, so they like the fact that they can engage the pedal-assist feature and not have to pull up on the pedal like you do on a traditional bike pedal, especially ones with toe guards.” With pedal-assist activated, e-bikes can cover 25-35 miles on a full charge, according to Hunger.
His multi-geared bikes also can be pedaled in the usual manner, or propelled entirely by the electric motor at speeds up to 15 mph, he noted.
“We have a large seat selection as well as baskets, helmets and other accessories so customers can tailor their bike to their specific needs.”
Another option for physically challenged seniors is operated by the city of Decatur.
Silver Spokes is an innovative year-old program designed to “get seniors back on a bike and learn how to ride again,” according to Sara Holmes, adult program supervisor for Decatur Active Living.
For a nominal fee, participants, who typically have mobility issues, attend a class to re-acquaint them with the rules of cycling, then venture out for a supervised ride on adult tricycles provided by the program, along with helmets.
“A lot of our seniors want to learn how to get back on two wheels,” said Holmes, “but we start with three so they can get comfortable with the idea of riding again and not have to worry so much about maintaining stability and balance.”
Silver Spokes’ next round of classes are set for September and October.