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Comment of the Week: The decline of ageism in biking

Posted by on October 17th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Sunday Parkways North Portland 2014-6
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

It was once true that people who bike and like bikes were mostly young. News flash: this is no longer true.

That was the message of reader Anne Hawley, responding this week to our coverage of a Northwest Examiner newspaper article about a white-haired auto repair shop owner named Frank Warrens who sees a bike lane on Northwest Everett as part of a campaign to ban cars from downtown Portland.

Hawley’s short, sweet reply:

There’s a lot to be annoyed with here, but as a bike-rider with gray hair, approaching 60, can I just head off any tempting ageist remarks (based on that unbelievably stereotypical photograph) with a quick #NotAllOldFolks?

Thanks.


I’ve been using every opportunity over the last few months to talk up a fact I noticed in June: biking is still growing a bit among people ages 18-24. But almost all the growth in the last decade actually comes from older people. American biking rates are now almost identical among people aged 25 to 54, and (this really knocks my socks off) almost identical among people aged 55 to 84.

It’s some combination of healthier bodies, changing lifestyles, safer streets and (maybe most important) the aging of Baby Boomers who grew up free of the notion that adult-sized bikes are shameful marks of poverty. But however it happened, it might be the most important demographic force behind the modern biking movement. Thanks for the reminder, Anne.

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

43 Comments
  • bryan October 17, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    58 here, and I wear Spandex.
    Get outta my way, whippersnappers!

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  • wsbob October 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Anne Hawley’s comment made a good point. I’m glad at least some people did read and think about what she wrote. There were people commenting to the earlier story mentioned, that obviously either didn’t read what she wrote, or didn’t care or don’t like that some people riding just may be somewhat older than themselves, or have values and opinions different from theirs.

    I’m kind of amazed at how many people riding out in Beaverton that look to be about Anne Hawley’s age as shown in the picture accompanying this story. Most appear to be serious, well equipped for practical riding, commuting or shopping, rather than racing or sport riding. This is a good thing, suggesting they’re potentially a very important part of a power base for community infrastructure upgrades that could improve conditions for biking.

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  • Mike October 17, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Great choice for Comment of the Week. I’m a late-comer to biking (upper 40s), having moved to Portland 8 years ago but only becoming a true year-round bike commuter 2 years ago. The ride to and from work is often the highlight of my day — especially in the winter — and I hope to continue riding this way for years and years. Well said, Anne.

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  • Tony H October 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Yes! 58 here, and I love to help dispel the myth that riding a bike is just something for younger people.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    51 y/o. Been riding a bike (in city traffic) since I was 7 or 8. No reason to stop. Why, with all that exercise, I bet I have the cardiovascular system of a 50 year old.

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  • Jim Lee October 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Pull up your socks, Michael, and build yourself a fixie.

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  • Grandpa October 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Not to belabor the obvious, but yep, old folks ride bikes, and resent uppity pups stereotyping them. Thanks Anne

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  • patrickz October 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    73 here, and just got new knickers. Been cycling since the ’50s and cycled to work for 26 years. Swimming helps, try it!

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  • spencer October 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    I’d also like to add that our American car culture literally kills us all slowly, so that by the time many reach 50 years old their decrepit bodies are “shot” and not remotely capable of exercising, let alone self propelling across town. That is what we’re fighting. Portland is the 1% of healthy America, and bike commuters are the 1% of the 1%. This makes bike riding practically a star wars fantasy to the sedentary medicare crowd.

    Kudos to all who buck that trend, and get your friends out on the road.

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  • Dervish H. October 17, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    59 here. Commute to work daily from SW Garden Home to near Kelly Point N. Portland and back. 17 miles each way. Rain or shine.

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  • Jim Lee October 17, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Medicare here, carless, and far from sedentary.

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  • TOM October 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    65 and average 2-3K+ all weather miles a year

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  • Jeff October 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Did a tour this summer. 300 people, 425 miles, 25k feet of climbing. Avg. age: 60.

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  • S. Brian Willson October 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    73 years here, double BK ambulatory amputee, been riding an arm-powered 3-wheeled recumbent handcycle for 16 years, over 70,000 miles worth, averaging 80-90 miles a week. Now recovering from total shoulder replacement shoulder surgery replacing my worn out right shoulder. Should be back on the cycling road by later in December.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly October 17, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Those of us who were around during the 70s bike boom are… guess how old now! Many of us are rediscovering the bicycle.

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  • Petra Lynn Hofmann October 17, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    FWIW, the Elmhurst Bicycle Club, 450+ members, of which more than half are over 60. Over the past several years our club members have logged more than 270,000 club miles which includes Chicago winters. We have several active members over 85 who consistently log 1000 mile seasons.

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  • Drew October 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    At 60 years riding 100 miles/week, I feel as strong as I was in my 20s. Finished a super randonneur series for the first time a few years ago.

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  • Scott Batchelar October 17, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I’m 52 and loving that I regained something I loved to do back in the 70’s – yes I do ride an electric bike but compared to what conditions were like back then in the 70’s – Sharrows? You want me to share the road, OK! Bike Infrastructure? Whatcha talking bout Willis?

    There was no such thing as Sharrow’s, if you used a word such as Bike Infrastructure we’d have given you a – what are you talking about look.

    All the things we now take for granted we never had – I had to ride down a gravel shoulder on Main Street in Hillsboro to pick up groceries from Plaid Pantry, talk about being a Strong and Fearless Cyclist.

    Sometimes I think we today don’t get how good we have it – the bike boom we had back then was every bit as big as what we have today and we had NONE of the benefits.

    So be careful when you apply ageism to Bicycling – you just might run into somebody that rode back in the late 60’s to early 80’s and receive an earful.

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  • Scott Batchelar October 17, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    By the way I ride over 100 miles a week

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley October 17, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Holy cow. I walk away for a day and I’m the Comment of the Week. *stunned*. Pretty awesome. Thanks, guys.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley October 17, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      I should have said “I pedal away for a day…”

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  • TOM October 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I think some factors that have been overlooked are ….many over 60 are retired and freed from the working days – lots of free time – homes paid off – need for non-destructive exercise – more disposable income to afford toys ,,ie: nice bike gear – some regard for a “greener lifestyle” and of course …it’s easier and safer than in the past.

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  • CaptainKarma October 18, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I read ageist remarks on bp still. They are usually directed toward people driving motor vehicles. It still surprises me and I wonder who these contributors are, wholistically. Perhaps if and when those commenters are lucky enough to survive into seniorhood, ageism will be passé.

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    • buffalo October 19, 2014 at 4:55 am

      Initially read last line as ‘lucky enough to survive into _adulthood_’ … Works, I guess…

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  • bikesalot October 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Turning 70 early next month, retiring from work at the end of this month. I am on track for another 10,000 mile year, as I have done for most recent years. It will be interesting to see what changes in retirement. (Hint: my wife is planning a ride for us from San Diego to Florida, as soon as we get this potential El Nino weather thing resolved.) Lots of things to see around the country by bike where the logistics were difficult on limited annual vacation.

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  • Kathy October 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    I rode my red Gitane 10 speed throughout the 70’s. It was my primary transportation in high school and university years. Life changes excluded bike riding for 30+ years. Then, 4 1/2 years ago, age 56, I rode a bike that made me feel 20 again. Every time I ride it I feel 20. Once again, my bicycle is my primary transportation. And, Tom, many of us who are 60+ are not retired, don’t have lots of free time, don’t have our homes paid off, don’t have lots of disposable income, don’t consider a bicycle to be a toy, don’t bother with nice bike gear, and where I live, riding a bike is neither easier nor safer than in the past.

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  • Dervish H. October 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Kathy, thanks for the response to Tom… It’s spot on! Ha ha I used to smoke Gitane and ride a Peugeot!

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  • TOM October 19, 2014 at 10:12 am

    KathyAnd, Tom, many of us who are 60+ are not retired, don’t have lots of free time, don’t have our homes paid off, don’t have lots of disposable income, don’t consider a bicycle to be a toy, don’t bother with nice bike gear, and where I live, riding a bike is neither easier nor safer than in the past.

    Kathy & Dervish ….sorry to hear that you are exceptions to the term “many”, which ..by the way , does NOT mean ALL or MOST or THE MAJORITY.

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    • Lizzie October 20, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Cycling is very dangerous where I live so I transport my bike to areas that are safer to ride. Being retired, I’m finding a way to have a quality life and get by. Cycling benefits are amazing. Before I retired I kept a bike to work, ran errands on it at lunch and couriered jobs to other buildings – but mostly cycled on the weekends. You can get a good brand used bike on Craigslist and and have it fixed up. My bikes may be toys to some but they are part of my daily life that I wouldn’t give up.

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  • Jaci October 19, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Just retired at 65 and been back riding a year now ever since discovering recumbent trikes! Ride at least 10 miles a day. This is my sanity keeper. I never want to stop!

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  • William October 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    65 now, started cycling at 8years old. It keeps getting better! Who could have possibly predicted?!

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  • Lizzie October 20, 2014 at 5:04 am

    I’m 67 and love bicycles and cycling. It gets me outdoors. I had bikes off and on over the years but didn’t have a good place to ride them. I started cycling again about 7 years ago, and it was so fun I’ve never looked back, eventually cycling 10-32 miles a day. Day touring and urban cycling is my favorite [recreational].

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  • 9watts October 20, 2014 at 8:05 am

    It was once true that people who bike and like bikes were mostly doing it for sport. News flash: this is no longer true.

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  • Dave October 20, 2014 at 8:11 am

    CaptainKarma
    I read ageist remarks on bp still. They are usually directed toward people driving motor vehicles. It still surprises me and I wonder who these contributors are, wholistically. Perhaps if and when those commenters are lucky enough to survive into seniorhood, ageism will be passé.
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    This 59 year old believes that many ageist comments (regarding young as well as old drivers) are thoroughly justified. I think that another reason for many of us having never stopped riding is that we were lucky enough to grow up when roads were less crowded, schools allowed cycling to their sites, and I have to say that the drivers of the 1960’s and 70’s, before cell phones and dominance-device cars, were still human. A ’65 Lincoln is for elbow room–a ’14 Ford F250 is a device for intimidating other road users.

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    • 9watts October 20, 2014 at 8:19 am

      Well said, Dave.
      Part of the problem I think is that driving a car taxes our faculties. Doing it well, perspicaciously, alert to the possibilities and probabilities is draining. Many people engaging in this practice are too tired or distracted to give it their full attention. When we try to rationalize why they screwed up (here on bikeportland), we sometimes lazily, but at other times probably correctly finger their age (young, not much experience; old, declining vision, slower reaction times, etc.).

      Take bicycling or walking. Are ageist remarks as plausible with bicycling or walking? I would suggest not. And not because we favor those modes (here), but because those modes don’t overtax our abilities so easily. Screwing up on foot or on a bike rarely harms another person; the speeds are slower (a function of our energy levels, not the gas pedal), our bodies and minds can cope, for the most part.

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    • wsbob October 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

      People relying on ageism to direct general criticism towards other people, are indulging in simple minded discrimination. As part of doing so, consideration for the ability of the individual is cast aside, mindlessly throwing all people over various age levels arbitrarily arrived at by the indulger, into one big category: Old people.

      There’s reasons for it occurring, but no good excuse for this indulgence. Allowing it to continue occurring, unchallenged, alienates people from each other, and threatens support for cross generational issues of importance.

      The ageist perspective also has the potential to diminish the design and quality and safety of road and motor vehicles for use on them. People should not have to have the senses and reflexes of Formula I drivers, to safely use roads with a motor vehicle. In many road and traffic situations though, that’s what driving a motor vehicle boils down to. Regardless of their chronological age, many people driving may be having great difficulty bringing forth the ability to to safely drive a motor vehicle in those situations.

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  • TOM October 20, 2014 at 9:11 am

    9watts
    Well said, Dave.
    Part of the problem I think is that driving a car taxes our faculties. Doing it well, perspicaciously, alert to the possibilities and probabilities is draining.

    I think you are correct. When driving in city traffic, I feel like a fighter pilot in that it’s essential to know everything going on …360 around you.
    Have to watch for peds/cyclists , the guy in the next lane , the one tailgateing you, stop lights, crossings, cameras and the unexpected. It CAN get very draining.
    I’ve traditionally had sports cars , but now have a reasonable pickup and drive slower knowing that my reaction times are now greater at 65.

    I also think that driving makes me a better cyclist and vv , riding bike makes me a better motor vehicle driver than someone who only does 1 of the 2 activities.

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  • Lee October 20, 2014 at 10:51 am

    54&FIT here,been riding year around since 1978 averaging 320 days a year putting in 4000-5000 miles per year mainly for Fun & Fitness. I’m not car free, but I’m on track, 3 years in a row now of riding my bike more miles then driving the car ! Portland is one of the Best city for riding a Bike & one of the Worst for driving a car.

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  • geezer October 21, 2014 at 2:36 am

    59.5, been riding since 1961. First bike was a fixie.

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    • Dave October 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Track bike?

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  • Ben October 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I love getting passed while hauling up a hill by someone twice my age. I hope to be half as fit in my 70s as the folks I see on my daily commute. You’re all an inspiration.

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  • Opus the Poet October 21, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I’ve been riding in the street since shortly after LBJ was sworn in, and I’m still riding. The damages from the wrecks have slowed me down and medical issues not related to cycling have curtailed my cycling lately, but I still want,/i> to get out and ride. After I fabricate the fit components I need to ride I will be back on the road.

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  • Greg October 21, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    I think it’s awesome that folks still like to ride at all ages.

    I was wondering about the phrase “unbelievably stereotypical photograph”. Since it’s a picture of Frank Warren, and Mr Warren is quoted in the article sounding cranky, and his picture looks cranky, who is it a stereotype of?

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