3 Ways To Adjust Bike Fit and Equipment as You Age
A lot changes as you age, and cycling is no different. Sticking with the sport may help you stay fit and healthy, but your body will inevitably change. At age 60, you can’t reasonably expect to pedal the way you did when you were 30.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy cycling well into your latter days, though. Our good friend Darryl MacKenzie has been cycling for almost 36 years, and he’s found a way to keep it fresh and exciting even as his body and cycling style have changed over that time.
The key to a long and enjoyable cycling career is understanding how your cycling goals must change as you age — and making some key bike adjustments to better accommodate those changes. Let’s explore what Darryl has observed for himself and others over the years.
How Cycling Goals Change as You Age
The further you get into your cycling career, the more your goals will shift. Some of this has to do with the ways you’ll grow to appreciate different aspects of the sport, and some of it simply comes down to what your body can handle.
For most long-term cyclists, Coach Darryl breaks it down into roughly four phases, similar to what he’s experienced in his career.
“Not everyone goes through all these phases, but it’s very likely they’ll take place in somewhat this order,” says Darryl.
New Cyclists: Cruising
These are the early months or years of trying out the sport. You may not take it all that seriously, riding often but not on a consistent schedule. Commitment may wax and wane, and your weekly distance probably varies considerably.
Phase 2 Cyclists: Speed
If you’re going to turn into a committed cyclist, something will spark you to the next level. For Darryl, it was his first Saturday ride with a master’s racing club. It changed his life, and he was suddenly driven to be the fastest cyclist he could be — otherwise, he would be forever struggling to keep up with serious riders.
In this phase, speed is paramount, and that makes aerodynamics a primary focus. Comfort takes a back seat, and your younger, more flexible body can easily handle the shapes you must take to maximize speed on the bike.
Phase 3 Cyclists: Endurance
As Darryl aged into his late 40s, his cycling priorities began to shift again. His body wasn’t quite as keen to cooperate with the same level of riding intensity, so he began to favor longer rides at lower speeds.
This is the endurance phase for cyclists. Centuries and double centuries become the norm as you learn to push your body in different ways. But, with longer rides, comfort on the bike becomes more critical. Aerodynamics are of lesser importance, and you become focused on finding ways to enjoy 100-plus-mile rides (such as installing a tensioned leather saddle).
“When you’re 80% of the way through a century, you don’t want to be so uncomfortable that you can’t continue,” Darryl explains.
Phase 4 Cyclists: Longevity
As you continue to age, you’ll face a few more physical limitations. That doesn’t have to spell an end to your cycling journey, though. In this phase, it’s all about finding ways to stay comfortable and stick with it.
For the past decade or so, Darryl has focused on riding more frequently, but at a lower intensity and shorter distances than before. He’s still managed to ride 7,000 miles per year on average over that time, simply by spreading out his saddle time a bit more throughout the week.
3 Key Equipment and Bike Fit Adjustments To Make as You Age
As you can see, priorities naturally shift for a cyclist as they enter different phases of their pedaling career. The biggest change is the gradual move away from prioritizing aerodynamics to preferring comfort. And there are things you can do to your bike to ease that transition.
“The cyclist is going to age,” says Darryl. “With that, there are adjustments that you can and should make to the bicycle in order to make it more appropriate for the type of cycling you’re doing.”
This is the most important adjustment you can make, as it reflects the inevitable decline in muscle mass (and strength) you’ll face as you age. Simply put, it gets increasingly difficult to push hard gears for climbing as you get older.
When you’re younger, you may find it relatively easy to pedal huge, 52- and 39-tooth chainrings on the front and a small 28-tooth climbing gear on the back. As you get older, though, it’s usually a good idea to go for easier gears and take some of the strain off your knees. Most older cyclists will find a 50-by-34 set in the front and a 32- or 36-tooth climbing gear in the back will make climbing much more enjoyable — and they may avoid facing knee surgery.
As a young cyclist, your focus on aerodynamics and your accompanying flexibility will send you into a steep forward lean. You’ll want your handlebars as far forward as possible to accommodate this position — something cyclists call maximum “reach." As you age and grow less flexible, though, you’ll soon find that this position loses its appeal, and you’ll want those handlebars to be a little closer to you so you can sit in a more upright position.
To achieve this, you’ll need to adjust your stem length — the distance from your steering tube to the front of your handlebars. You’ll probably find a stem reach that’s 20 to 30 millimeters shorter than what you’ve used in the past much more comfortable at this stage.
Stem length isn’t the only bike-fit adjustment you can make to increase comfort as you age. You can further adjust your handlebars by rotating them upward toward you. This will push you slightly more into an upright position and, more importantly, spread the pressure on your hands a bit more evenly to make your rides more comfortable.
To make this adjustment, simply find the four small bolts at the center of your handlebars. Loosen either the top two or the bottom two, then rotate your handlebars up slightly. Move them until the pressure feels even across your hands, then tighten the bolts back down.
More than any other adjustment Darryl makes during bike fits, this one brings a huge smile or relief to cyclists’ faces.
Enjoy a Long Cycling Career
Understanding these adjustments and making them as you age is one of the most important things you can do. It could make the difference between a short and long cycling career.
“If you don’t make these changes to your bicycle, then your enjoyment of cycling is most likely going to decline over time,” says Darryl.
So, if you find yourself enjoying your time on the bike a little less or losing some of that pedaling strength, it may be time to make some tweaks. You may just buy yourself another decade or two on the bike if you do.
Investing in a good saddle is one of the most important ways you can ensure comfortable rides for years to come. Check out our lineup of tensioned leather saddles to find the right one for you.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Photo by Munbaik Cycling Clothing on Pexels