Spotted on a ride during my recent visit to Australia: a poster celebrating “Seniors Week”:
What’s your gut reaction to this image? Aspirational? Respectful? Predictable? Was it anything like the instant reaction it got from the group of folding bike owners I was riding with, aged late 50’s to early 70’s:
1. “Shoot me please.”
2. “Is that uninspiring or what?”
3. “If that’s a senior moment, just put me down now.”
Now before I’m berated for dissing over-sized polo shirts, polyester pants or large vinyl totes, let me say that no one in the group had anything against the woman in the poster. What we unanimously objected to was yet another patronizing example of stereotyping and the resultant marginalization of seniors by a society that “worships a youth we all lose”.
So what’s this got to do with bicycles?
Very little, unless you’d prefer to see your future ageing self depicted more like this:
I was asked to write about my travels on a Bike Friday, but after looking over my ADD-inducing site, I declined. I am but one of 20,000+ Bike Friday customers doing the same. Plus there’s an increasing trend towards “traveling in your own back yard”, with the bicycle evolving accordingly – witness the rise of the extracycle or cargo bicycle, and bicycle commuting in general.
Nor am I going to underestimate your eco-awareness and beat the “how green is my folder” drum I’ve been beating ever since the release of the tikit. It goes without saying that if a regular bicycle can save you gas, time, gym fees and the planet, a portable bicycle must do it in spades.
Instead, I want to talk about a mundane, seldom mentioned, yet utterly futuristic feature of many of today’s folding bikes: low stepover.
The Low Down On A Folder’s Best Feature
Low stepover means, you can get on a bike more easily. Your can get your leg over it, so to speak. Your granny can get her leg over it, bless her. Your great, great granny can too, even if the other one is in the grave.
Low stepover makes a bicycle “human scale”, accessible to all riders great and small, young and chronologically old. In this way, you can ride it from Sesame Street right up to that great rest stop in the sky, long after your beloved Pinarello has become a hand-me-down.
Low stepover gives a rider psychological assurance that they can easily make contact with the ground if things get a bit exciting.
“It turned really easily. I could wear a skirt to work on the bike. I had to come off the bike really quickly because a car turned in front of me and I never thought about how to do it. When I stopped at intersections and had to straddle the bike, it felt stable and easy to get back on. It’s a light bike and easy to maneuver. It could change my life because I’ve been thinking about how to use my car less.”
In my time at Bike Friday, I have identified four groups of people who are typically sidelined when it comes to cycling:
Fortunately, the increasing number of folding bikes popping up in bike shop windows and our burgeoning dealer network seems to signal a change to the attitude “they’re not real bikes”. Change. Perhaps someone has spotted Obama tooling around Chicago on a folder and blogged about it?
Let’s take a look at those four groups:
“Old fuddy duddies ride folding bikes,” I was told by one bike shop. “The beauty about being a senior is that you’ve reached an age where you don’t care about being Lance anymore,” said one customer. “You want something that works, that keeps you fit, that you can ride with you kids and grandkids.” And that if you so desire, you can ride the perimeters of countries and win gold medals with.
“Although I am a “sweet, little old lady” who is a 1937 model, I am the world’s leading perimeter rider, having bicycled the perimeters of 21 different countries – 12 on a Bike Friday. I set 3 US perimeter records bicycling Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania this past summer. I plan to continue “perimetering” on my Bike Friday as long as I live. The bike is tough and survived the Latvian roads. The bike tires you sent me did get me through 2,000 miles and that folding extra tire was perfect. Also my Bike Friday fits me – a 67 year old woman whose legs are getting stiffer and stiffer – yes, I have trouble getting my leg over the bar on a regular bicycle!”
“Some walked steepest portions of course, but I rode the whole thing. I was honored to compete with a very famous guy among Senior Cyclists everywhere, Gordy Shields, 89 – a great guy. Compared with his expertise and experience, I’m but a novice though in great health. Next time, Gordy’s looking to see what he can do at 90 and I’ll be just a whipper-snapper at 84! During my recent Huntsman World Senior Games warm-up runs prior to actual races, I had a couple of near falls when successfully jumping off the bike on the run – it kept me vertical. It would not have worked so well with escaping over a conventional bar, as I can attest from nearly killing myself only 16 months ago when taking a header over handlebars of my great old Fat Chance/IF mountain bike.”
Frank Pierson, 83, World Senior Games.
Who hasn’t seen a kid straining to ride a bike that is too big, because the average parent doesn’t want to be investing in bicycles as well as new socks and school uniforms every year? Who’s shuddered at seeing a tiny tot perched precariously atop a full-sized tandem, unable to easily reach terra firma if they wanted to – and all kids want to.
A low stepover bicycle is kid-friendly by design and should ideally adjust to take them all the way from pram to prom night. When kids can place their foot on a bar and deal with a wheel that’s closer to their head size, it makes for a less threatening experience.
“My Bike Friday Family Tandem is a flying carpet of great magic, the perfect solution to the eternal quest of doing something with your kids where you can both have fun and truly communicate.”
I guess this is just a category of “bigger kid” and I’m a card-carrying life member. The height of the average American woman is reported to be around 5’4″, and for a Chinese, of which there are a few billion potential cyclists, around 5’zip.
Yes, there are “women’s specific bikes”, offering careful gal-geometry, smaller front wheels, scaled down components. But you can only do so much with wheels of a certain size. Small wheels afford so much more flexibility with frame sizing.
Jeri El-Swaify, triathlete and cycling coach, Hawaii
“It’s a no brainer,” says Irv Housinger, an early Bike Friday adopter and co-designer.
Which brings us to …
EVEN LITTLER PEOPLE & THE OTHERLY ABLED:
If you’re truly Lilliputian, a low stepover bicycle is the only bicycle you can ride. For years, Little People have lamented being stuck with crummy, ungeared kid’s bikes “with Disney graphics all over them”. A multitude of physical problems often come with the gene, making exercise crucial to avoid obesity, but difficult by conventional means. What they need is a bicycle built for kids – but fitted for a grown-up.
Dennis Healy – read more about Special Needs Bike Fridays
I have achondroplastic dwarfism and am 47 inches tall with a 16 inch inseam. Last weekend, I participated in the 2006 Chicago Bike the Drive 30 mile ride. It was a very enjoyable ride and I was able to complete it in the allotted time, something I would not have thought possible a few years ago.
Achondroplasic dwarf Dan Okenfuss, rides his folding road bike to and from his office in Sacramento. “I wanted a bike to keep up with my 6’4″ brother Chuck on the 115-mile El Tour de Tucson,” he said.
But I’m Young, Good Looking, Athletic, Immortal…
So you’re neither a senior, a junior, a small ride or a dwarf. What does all this mean to you?
You will not be Forever 21. You might need to stop laughing at small wheels and start learning something from those fuddy-duddy, low stepover, folding bikers. The more we ride a bicycle, the more we benefit ourselves, our families, the health system and our planet.
And the longer we can do so, the less bingo we will play, the sharper our minds and more respect we will gain from the younger generation, including folks who manufacture posters about Seniors Week – and those vinyl totes and polyester slacks.
The Galfromdownunder admits to having a twisted view of seniors after been surrounded by adventurettes like 70-something Margaret Day, who rode across Australia’s Nullabor Desert on her Bike Friday. Yup, that’s how she’d probably like to be depicted in that poster.