Bicycling: a personal perspective

DOWNEY - Next month I will turn sixty-five, officially entering the ranks of the elderly. The term "elderly" carries with it a connotation of feebleness and fragility, just like the widely used health-care designation, "geriatric." Of the several words used to describe those who are old, it seems to me that the expression "senior citizen," or better yet, just "senior," is the least condescending.But I'm here to say that being sixty-five does not relegate me--at least not yet--to a life of stooped shuffling. And one of the reasons I feel vital and full of energy is because I've discovered bicycling. This discovery occurred after I retired, in the fall of 2010 at the age of 62. With a lot more time on my hands, some health concerns, including osteoarthritis in my lower back, and the broad environmentalist perspective I bring to these articles every week, it began to occur to me that perhaps a bicycle would be a desirable alternative to driving a car around Downey for those nearby errands that rarely require going farther than a couple of miles. I hadn't ridden a bicycle much as an adult, though I did do some long-distance running before developing sinopulmonary health issues about ten years ago. So when my father-in-law offered me his 1939 Schwinn--then hanging in pieces in his garage--I jumped at the chance to rebuild and start riding it. (The final assembly was beyond my skill level and was expertly handled by Pat's 605 Cyclery in Norwalk.) It was thrilling to be out and about on a vintage bicycle, but the need for speed soon overtook me, and I accepted a 21-speed mountain bike as a gift from a friend. That bike was everything I needed to get around Downey. I started with round trips not exceeding 3 miles and eventually built up my confidence to the point that I was comfortable riding my bike the five miles diagonally across town from my house to Kaiser Permanente. At the time, I was involved in the study of some regional transportation issues that included an occasional meeting in downtown Los Angeles. I began to wonder if I had the courage and stamina to traverse the eleven miles to downtown L.A. So I checked out the bicycle option in Google Maps, which gives you the best and safest back-street routes for bike travel. And lo and behold, I discovered I could make it to Caltrans across from L.A. City Hall in one hour flat! That's quicker than driving there, plus the parking's free and right out front! Last August I decided, for a combination of reasons, to return to my old job in Culver City. The same question arose. Could I actually ride my bike to work in Culver City--17 and a half miles one-way from my front door. Having exhausted myself last summer attempting that trip on Bike to Work day, I was a bit fearful, but cautiously optimistic. Another bike upgrade was necessary, to a bike specifically sized for my height. But I've worked up to the point where, if weather permits, by the end of this week I will have commuted to Culver City from my home in Downey five times for a one-week total of 175 miles. Please forgive me for bragging. I recognize that not everyone is blessed with the same portion of good health that has allowed me to work up to this much cycling. But it's enormously important to recognize--especially for us "seniors"--that a bicycle affords a low-key and low-stress option for exercise that's almost unparalleled. It helps with balance--frequently an issue for seniors--though if that's too much of a problem for you, adult tricycles are available which take care of the balance problems while still providing the opportunity for stress-free exercise. Besides your legs, your upper body gets a light workout, as well as your lungs and heart. Finally, let me point out that, while the City of Downey dearly needs to develop its bicycle infrastructure to allow for bicycling as viable alternative transportation, the residential streets in Downey are already just about perfect for bicycling. Most Downey residential streets are wide enough for bicyclists to proceed along with two-way traffic. And from my experience, most of Downey's residential streets are practically deserted most of the time. So you can stay away from the major arterials and get pretty much wherever you need to around town on residential back streets. Now you'll want to be familiar with the rules of the road. And your personal safety is of utmost importance, so venture out only if and when you're comfortable that you can control a bicycle safely. But if you're prepared on those two counts, then, whatever stage of "senior" you might be, you can still experience the healthy joys of bicycling. In fact, why not come out this Saturday for the Downey Bicycle Coalition's first official monthly community bike ride? It's at Apollo Park at 8 a.m. Bring your bike and a helmet, be prepared to sign a waiver, and if you're a child under 14, bring an adult along for supervision. Because bicycling's not just for kids anymore. It's great for us seniors too!

********** Published: January 24, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 41