Gerontologists talk about “aging in place,” the decision by senior citizens to stay in their homes as their needs change, instead of moving to a warmer climate, a retirement home or a nursing home. For me, the goal is “aging on my bicycle.”
I have been riding a bike since my first summer job after high school. I have cycled in California, in the Midwest and in Buffalo; on side streets, on bike lanes and in traffic.
In 50-plus years, my bike has never been stolen and I have never been seriously hurt or injured while riding.
I have used my bike not just to get to work, but to shop for groceries and to attend public meetings, cultural events and parties.
There is nothing like it. I don’t need to fill my tank or search for a parking spot. I am not tied down to the schedules or routes of Metro bus and rail. Most important, perhaps, is the incomparable feeling of strength and control when I power a trip with my own muscles and bones.
Now, five years into retirement, I am facing a major birthday. I thought I might celebrate by buying myself a new bike. I don’t really need a new bike; my current bike is old but it works just fine.
My only reason for wanting a new one (aside from the celebratory imperative) is that my old bike is too heavy to lift onto the new bike racks on the Metro buses. With a lighter bike, I could venture out on cloudy days knowing that I would have the bus as an option to get home if the weather turned nasty.
As I considered this new treat, I started to have my doubts. I wondered if the investment would pay off. I bought my current bike 35 years ago and paid the equivalent of one month’s rent. Would I be riding the next one for 35 years?
I also wondered, is it still appropriate to pedal the streets of Buffalo at my age, or is it just too weird?
I might not feel this way if I were living in China or Denmark, where I imagine there would be plenty of older cyclists and I would blend in better. In fact, I found a study showing significantly higher rates of cycling by the elderly in the Netherlands and Germany, compared to here at home.
Since I do not plan to emigrate, I turned to more proximate role models. There is the 80-plus couple who just bought more comfortable bikes. There is my over-55 former co-worker, who told of getting together with a group of cousins to ride around the city on Sunday afternoons. There is the gray-haired guy who often parks his bike at the gym entrance. There is my 70-something friend who rides his bike to shop for groceries and to get to tai chi classes. If they can do it, why can’t I?
In the end, I decided not to worry about cost-effectiveness or age-appropriateness. I need a different metric. Every year on the bike is a victory over the aging process, and even a few years of weatherproof riding will give me a wonderful nonmonetary payoff.
Also, my identity as an urban cyclist is more central to me than my identity as a senior citizen; I’ve had it a lot longer.
Forget about feeling weird. As Satchel Paige said, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
So I’ll be heading over to the bike store soon. I’ve heard that 70 is the new 50.