Exercise After 40 — You and Your Bicycle

You have decided to give bicycling a try, again.  Do yourself a favor and put out of your mind re-uniting with your childhood bike.  Kid’s bikes are for kids!  Your adult bike is an investment, and you should take time to investigate which bicycle makes the most sense for your needs.

This is a mountain bike, and if you are re-introducing yourself to the sport, this is exactly the bike you DO NOT NEED!


Mountain bikes weigh in at 28- 32 lbs.  Whatever the weight of your bike, that is how much you have to drag up hills.  Not only that, notice the thick heavily treaded tires.  These are great for dirty and gravel but really at to the effort you have to put into moving it on paved surfaces.  And get away from the thinking that they are more sturdy than other bikes, they are not!  Much lighter bikes are equally as sturdy.

The bicycle below is your standard road bike with straight handles.

road bike

Below is a road bike with drop handles.

road bike drop

The difference is simple, they dictate the position of your body while riding.  Bicycling is by its nature very easy on your back, and very good for lower back muscle development.  But in terms of comfort while you are riding, most of us over-40 types do better in the more upright position.  I recommend that you get the straight bar.

You can buy a good starter bicycle new for between $650 and $1100.  If that sounds expensive, let’s put some perspective on it.  If you buy into an inexpensive gym, $30 per month, a year is going to cost you $360.  And I can assure you, from experience, you are much more likely to exercise longer on a bicycle than at a gym.  Good exercise is more about “how long” than how much you exert in a short time.  An hour in the gym might seem like forever whereas on a bike it is almost fleeting.  A good bike ride will last nearer to 2 hours and will be mostly cardio.

Bicycle composition

This may sound a bit strange, but bicycles come is several common compositions.  The most common type is the steel bicycle.  Don’t let the name fool you.  Steel bikes are not any heavier than aluminum bikes.  Either one, steel or aluminum, can weigh in around 25 pounds, a good starting weight.  Then there are titanium and carbon fibre bicycles.  Both these frames are much more high end which translates into dollars, of course.  Still, you can buy a good carbon fibre bicycle for under $2000.  What you get in return is a much lighter bike.  The really high end bikes can weigh in at a paltry 14.5 pounds.  But then these bikes, the Fuji if particular, can cost upwards to $15,000!  Don’t let the name “carbon fibre” fool you.  The technology behind these “composite” bikes is not new, although new in the sense of bicycle history.  They are equally as strong as any steel bicycle, and reward you with less weight to deal with.

Bicycle Parts

– The cassette


The above is the rear set of gears on your bicycle.  This one has 8 gears but they can also have more or fewer gears.  The cassette will wear out after about 3000 miles.

The crankset


The front set of gears, known as the crankset, contain either two or three driving gears.  I recommend the one with three.  The lowest gear, also known as the “granny gear” is almost vital when climbing a big hill.


pad brakes

The padded brake is the most common brake used on bicycles today and provide a good braking medium.  Brake pads should be replaced about once a year depending upon how much you ride.  It is good to get your bicycle tuned up about once a year and you can have the shop check your brakes at that time for wear.

disc brake

Above is an example of the bicycle disc brake.  The difference is simple.  Rather than using a rubber on metal, side of the wheel, to stop the bike uses a pneumatic ceramic on metal system.  The biggest difference is in how much less pressure you need to use to engage a disc brake over pad brakes.  Like pad brakes, these brakes wear out too and need replacement.



Bicycle wheels, like frames, come in many styles.  The above is the most common.  But these days, wheels are measure not only by rim diameters, 26 inches being the most common, but wheel width.  (see below)


The width shown above is good for road bicycles.  While the thicker the width the tire, the more comfortable the ride, you also invite more friction, something that slows you down, with the wider tires.

You should check your spokes at least once a month to insure they are in good working order.  Spokes can loosen up or even break.  This, of course, lends to the overall safety of the bike.  Each spoke should be firm, allowing no play at all in it.

Also, learn to fix a flat!  You can buy repair kits, but for my money, about $5 a tube, I find simply replacing the tube not only more expedient, but more sensible.  All you need, besides the replacement tube, is a small portable pump which can either be attached to the bike or put in your backpack.

Lights not reflectors

If you expect to be out on your bike after dark, but certain you bike is equipped with a rear red light, at the very least.  Reflectors really do little for your safety and are best left off the bike.  The rear lights are inexpensive and keep you visible to traffic coming up from behind you.  Today there are rear lights with rechargeable batteries included.  You simply connect the light via a standard cable to your computer and allow it to charge up.  But also consider a good front light as well.  These days, both lights come with a standard “flashing” mode which attracts the attention of others on the road, which you want!


Bicycle chains do wear out!  I put over 7000 miles on one once and could not understand why shifting gears had become difficult.  The man who checked my chain pointed out to me that over time bicycle chains stretch.  I had added nearly an inch of length to mine!  No wonder I was having trouble.  Chains are very inexpensive.  Change them at roughly 3000 miles.  Keep your chain, and other friction points, lubed.  Use a very light lubricating oil.  All bike shops sell such oil but you can do just as well with WD-40.

Seats (saddles)

narrow saddle

The above seat is your typical racer’s saddle.  But some shops seem intent on selling similar saddles to everyone who comes in.  It’s a fashion statement but not too smart when you are starting out.

gel saddle

This saddle is a “gel saddle” and maximizes comfort.  I highly recommend this, or similar, saddle if you are starting out.

Shoes & clip ons


Most bicycles come with peddles similar to the one shown above.  These are fine for bikes strictly used around town, not for exercise.

cleat clip peddle

Shown above is the standard “clipless” peddle and its associated shoe wear, the cleat.  These provide a stable platform for long bike rides.  While you are attached to the bike peddle, a small twist of the ankle quickly slips you from the peddle, a very easy release.

I hope what I have offered gives you food for thought in your bike purchase.  It is probably most important that you find a dealer, preferable a small businessman, to buy your bike from.  He will also prove to be an invaluable source of information about your bike, riding, and just about anything else you can think of.  Such shops also frequently have riding clubs.  These clubs are great places to learn the ropes, and you do not have to be an experienced rider.  The generally accommodate people of all levels.



Exercise After 40

Exercise is the United States, and probably the rest of the world, is geared entirely towards people in their 20s and 30s.  I belong to a gym but in all the years of my gym membership I have yet to come across an instructor over the age of 40.  Hell, most of them have yet to reach 30!  I paid for a dozen or so lessons from a trainer once.  She was nice but she had no idea, that I could see, of how to treat the over 40 body.  And at that time mine was over 5o!  Asking such people what this “core” is, like a location, and you get a series of odd and incredulous looks.  “How can you not know?” They seem to ask.  If I had known better at the time I would have said something like, “It’s my joints and back which need coaxing into motion.  If we can just start there everything else will work itself out.”

At the time I still had it in my head that jogging was a good thing!  Wrong! When your joints are over 40 they get very upset when you pound on them incessantly as happens with jogging.  Then you will find yourself at you doctor asking him why your joints hurt so much and he will say something like, “Well, you damn fool, you are 43, not 23, act your age!”  I was actually about 53 when I heard those words.  At the time I did not realize I had alternatives and said something stupid to the effect that not jogging was not really an alternative.  He told me that if that was so then I needed to strengthen the muscles surrounding my joints.  Enter the gym!  Sound like a vicious cycle?  It is!

This brings up a good point.  Before attempting any exercise, get yourself checked out by your primary care physician and tell him/her what your plan is.  (S)he will be able to tell you your beginning limits.  When you enter into cardio exercise, it is always good to have your “cardio” assessed to see if it is up to it.

One day, while jogging around a pond, my body said to me, “I’m not doing this any more!”  I protested and pushed on but my body pushed back by slowing me down.  Each time out  felt increasingly more tired and distances that had been fairly easy became more difficult than they should have.  Finally I gave in and retired my array of running shorts.

Then, one day, it occurred to me how much I loved riding a bicycle when I was a kid.  I used to go everywhere on it, and I can remember how I said in fairly good shape just doing that.  That is when I invested in a new bicycle.  For about $350 I got a good solid starter bicycle and set out.  To be sure I was more than a little wobbly at first but after a short while I worked things out and got fairly good.  Well, I thought I had gotten fairly good.  What I had failed to do was to read up on what I should be doing to stay healthy while making bicycling a regular exercise regimen.  One day my body protested that I was abusing it and shut me down in about 10 seconds.  What had happened was I had become extremely dehydrated and I am fairly certain my core temperature rose to a very unhealthy high level.  Still, it took me a couple more years to finally get with it where healthy bicycling goes.  While I was properly hydrating myself I had no idea how to pace myself, how to attack hills, and how to increase my endurance.  That said, I will try to pass on all that I have learned and in doing so, hopefully, encourage you to take up bicycling and forego shin splints and balky knees that come from jogging and other high impact exercise.

The Bicycle — It is extremely important to get a bicycle that fits you.  In this respect one of the most common mistakes I see bicycling beginners do is they buy a bike that is too heavy for them, better known as the “mountain bike.”  This bicycle, with its fat tires and heavy frame, looks like it can take anything you can give it and anything the road throws at it.  While that is true, this bike is truly for the experienced off-road bicyclist.  It is also about 10 to 15 pounds heavier than the bike you need.  If you are just starting out get what is called a “road bike.”  A reasonable substitute is what is called the “commuter bike.”  This bike is meant for exactly what it says, commuting to work or school.  An “around town” bike that may not be suited to an exercise regimen.  There are several good brands, Jamis, Scott, and Cannondale, all of which make a good starter bike that will weigh in about 25 pounds.  Expect to pay around $750 for the basic bike.  Non-chain bicycle stores are probably your best bet.  It is in their interest to serve you well.  And, like a car, buy the bike at a place that repairs them!  Your bike will break down eventually.  Parts wear out.  For example, at about 3000 miles your chain will have stretched and your cassette (the multigears on the rear wheel) will wear out and need to be replaced.  You will know it is 3000 miles from the speedometer/odometer you bought.  I recommend “Cateye” brand as a good easy to understand device.

Buy yourself a good bicycle pump.  You want your tire pressure to be no lower than 1/2 your body weight.  The right amount of pressure keeps the wear on your tires down, and makes your ride easier than if it is low.

Your body — Get your bicycle fit to you.  That is, have the store set your seat to the right height.  And speaking of seats, do not get one of those narrow seats that all the racers use.  You are not a racer!  And after a short while it will hurt your butt more than you want to know!  Also, if you plan to commit to this form of exercise, there is a whole series of specialized bicycling clothing you can buy.  A good pair of padded shorts is going to cost you between $50 and $75 and is worth every penny of it!  If you have the money you can buy polyester biking tops and bottoms but they are going to run you about $150 or so a pair.  A cotton tee shirt, though a little warmer, works just fine.

Your body needs water, lots of it!  All bicycle shops sell plastic water bottles, get 2!  Make sure you bike had at least one holder, 2 is better.  While it is true that as the temperature goes up you need to hydrate more, you still need to hydrate on cold days.

Your route — Every good bicyclist has at least one set route.  He knows the mileage of the route, the hills, the rest points.  Most have several routes.  I have 4, a 22-mile route, a 30-mile route, a 42-mile route, and a 50-mile route, all of which I do regularly.  Having a familiar route is essential to good training.  I recommend that a starter route be 20-miles long.  But within that route give yourself “turn around” points at certain mile markers.  Do that route, or parts of it, very regularly until you have it down and it seems easy.  Once a route is truly “easy” you need to increase your distance.  The only way to improve is through challenge and when something is easy, the challenge is gone.  Most states have “rail-trails.”  These are bicycling paths that have been carved out of abandoned railroad beds.  They are particularly good for the beginner because they take away your having to deal with motor vehicle traffic which can be  intimidating for the beginner.  If you enter “Rails to Trails Conservancy” in your search engine you will find the site that has locations and details for railtrails in every state.

The Ride — Only sprinters are out of breath.  Unless you aspire to be a world class bicycle sprinter, you she never ride so hard that you become breathless, or even winded.  For at least the first month of riding, go at a pace that you can maintain throughout your ride.  This is where the speedometer comes in handy.  The casual rider will ride at between 6 and 8 miles per hour.  Make an initial goal of being able to ride continuously for an hour at 10 MPH.  Then, as time goes on, increase that rate to 11 and then 12 MPH at a given distance.  That speed will be your average over your course and will be dictated by hills.

Maintaining a good rate is accomplished by your bicycle’s gears, 3 in the front and 9 in the rear.  The front gears, the smaller the gear the faster you will pedal.  The opposite is true of the rear gears.  Familiarize yourself with your gears.  When you are challenged by a hill you want to keep shifting to a lower gear so that you are “spinning” and not pressing.  You may find yourself having to slow down to 3 or 4 miles per hour to traverse a hill but that is not only all right, it is advisable.  As you become more familiar with your route, your bicycle and your abilities, you will be able to vary your speed, and your spin, according to the hill.  Hills are not just a necessary evil portion of a bike route, but a welcome challenge to good training.  Hills force you to use a slightly different set of muscles and a different mind-set, both of which work to your advantage in the long run.  But if a hill does defeat you, you find yourself dismounting and walking to the peak, do not avoid it in the future.  Try using a lower gear the next time and keep doing the hill until you own it.

Good exercise is measured in length of time, not speed or distance.  My bike rides vary from 2 hours to as much as 5 hours, and occasionally even a little longer.  Those rides all have built-in rest stops.  If, while riding, you ever feel the least bit dizzy, stop immediately and give your body a good long rest, along with a healthy drink of water.  If you find yourself becoming breathless, slow down first, and if that is not enough, stop and take a break.  Remember, you are not competing against anyone.  Ignore that 23-year-old who just passed you up.  They are irrelevant!  If you use an “out and back” route or a “circular” route, note your half-way point and take a break there.  If you can, create a route that takes you to a place where you can go into a coffee shop or the like for your break.  In the summer it will help cool you down and in the winter, warm you up.

Records and schedules — Keep a written record of your bicycling noting your distance and time, as-well-as the date.  Put yourself on a schedule of at least 3 rides a week.  At least for the first year, never ride more than 3 days in a row.  Give your body a rest.  It will reward you.  Give yourself a time and/or distance goal for each week, and increase that goal on a monthly basis.  During that year you should regularly feel tired, never exhausted, at the end of any ride.

Rules of the road — Bicyclists are subject to the exact same rules of the road that automobiles are.  Stop at stop signs, red lights and for pedestrians in cross walks.  Stay to the right as far as you can, and do your best not to weave in your path.  Use hand signals when turning.  Always wear a helmet!  A man I used to work with was knocked by a car into a curb stone.  His head struck the edge of the curb stone and he was knocked into a coma even with the helmet.  He did fully recover but were the helmet not there, he would have been dead at the scene.  Even at 10 MPH, your head banging into the pavement is more than enough speed to cause death.  Use lights at night and wear light colored clothing.  Do your best to always be aware of your surroundings.  Be particularly mindful of children who are riding bicycles or even walking in front of you.  Their tendency is to move into danger, your path, without warning.

When I started biking finishing a 21 mile course I set up was about all I could do, and on some days, I maxed out at 14, with rest stops!  Now, on any given day, I can ride 35 miles non-stop, have ridden more than 6o miles on several occasions, and feel doing 100 miles as reasonable.  This has come, however, after several years of regular riding, and educating myself on how to conduct myself during any given ride.  On those days when I find myself exceeding my limits, I take it easy until I finish.  Also, I always have a cell phone with me to call for help if necessary.  That has happened only once but that one time came without warning.  I also have the numbers of the police departments of the towns I most frequently ride through.  Using 911 on a cell phone only gets you to the state police.  Local police can get to you much more quickly in an emergency, either yours or someone else’s.

Hopefully this has been helpful and the idea of taking on bicycling will not seem nearly so daunting as it did before.  My last birthday listed me as 64, my resting pulse sits just below 60, my blood pressure 120/72.  And I have heart disease.  I plan to live to be 100, and to still be riding!

Military Preparedness

This month, June 2013, the Department of Defense announced it will be reducing the size of the army, both active and reserve, by 14%.  The reasoning is dual: budget cuts and peacetime requirements.  The problem with this thinking is simple: the army was already too small.  It is relevant here to remind readers of the maxim that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, he saw the Federal Government saddled with what he viewed as an unwieldy debt.  Jefferson’s idea was to completely eliminate the regular army but “settled” for reducing it by 1/3.  He cut the army’s budget by ½ and stopped all naval ship building stating that a “big boat” navy was unnecessary.  It was, in fact, the will of the people he carried out but it nearly proved our country’s undoing.

Curiously, however, it was Jefferson who founded the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802.  Jefferson, like other founders of the country, was aware of the vacuum of professionally trained military officers in America.  Washington himself was an exception, but by and large the leaders of the Revolution had been either political appointees or voted into leadership in their state’s militia by their fellow townspeople.  But Jefferson’s view of the future, even with a home grown professional military establishment, he viewed peacetime military needs to by small.

The War of 1812 happened because of the impressment of American commercial sailors being impressed, forced into service, in the British navy.  America did not have the navy to protect its interests.  Although England had no desire to reign over America, it did carry the battle forward was it was engaged.  America was so shorthanded that it was not until 1814 that it was able to raise a force sufficient to repulse the English, and even then a combination of luck and help from the French was needed.

That done, however, America once again fell into a military morass, keeping just enough troops to fight on its western frontier, and the occasional skirmish with Mexico.

The Civil War did nothing to change the American mindset.  The entire war, on both sides, was fought with each state’s militia.  Even though these forces were large they were also quickly and easily disbanded at war’s end.  Heroes like George Armstrong Custer, who rose to the level of Major General, 2 stars, during the war, was returned to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel after the war since he had been a part of the Michigan militia.  To this day, such practices are still common.

The next engagement of any size, the Spanish-American war, did not seriously challenge the state and size of the military to any great degree.  And when America finally entered World War 1, April 1917, its entire army, active and reserve, consisted of about 300,000 men.  Worse, those who were in the regular army, were poorly trained and poorly equipped for the most part.  The American army had no serviceable aircraft with which to counter the German air corps, and no tanks either.  So poorly prepared was America that it was a full year before the first American troops saw action.  Fortunately, American patriotism ran high and once America committed itself, recruiting soldiers in large numbers was fairly easy.  But as anyone familiar with the military knows, from enlistment to the completion of initial training takes a good six months, and then you have green troops.  Thrown into action, green troops are likely to suffer a high casualty rate.   General John (Black Jack) Pershing, a man with considerable experience, knew this only too well and was able to forestall the introduction of American troops into battle until he was satisfied they were properly trained and properly lead.

But World War 1 left such a bad taste in the mouths of Americans, the hideousness of the trench warfare and the liberal use of gas, brought home the horrors of modern warfare.  Americans dubbed it as “the war to end all wars.”  The felt justified in using the draconian doctrines of handling post-war Germany that they were unable to see that it not only destabilized the entire Western Europe, but sowed the inevitable seeds for a second world war.  To be fair, the French and English demands upon reparations from Germany for actual costs of war were so heavy that the economic bankruptcy of Germany was insured.  America, for its part, was happy to simply walk away and be done with it all.

The war over, America once again reduced the size of its military to a level that put the country in jeopardy, although Americans were wont to see or understand this.  Funding for development of new weapon systems, particularly the military aircraft, was cut to nearly nothing.  The allies had forced upon the defeated German people, and itself, a tonnage limit to the number and size of naval forces.

During his court martial in 1925, General William Mitchell warned America against the military complacency it had not only embraced, but demanded.  He warned the cost in American lives at the outbreak of hostilities, a foregone conclusion in his estimation, would be great.  No one listened.  On July 1, 1941, a mere 5 months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the active army forces stood at 151,000.  Once again, too many of those soldiers were poorly trained and poorly equipped.

After WWII, Korea and Vietnam provided enough inertia for America to keep a sizeable and adequately supplied military.  In the late 1980s, during the Reagan-Bush administrations, the Base Closure Commission was tasked with closing and combining unnecessary and redundant military facilities.  This was actually a good idea.  But with it came the incessant reduction in the size of the active duty military, those who are not a part of either the reserves forces or the National Guard.

When the first Gulf War happened, the reliance upon National Guard forces increased more than at any time since the Civil War.  To be clear, the American National Guard, while partially federally funded, fall firstly under the command of each state’s governor and then as a secondary reserve force to be activated, brought on active duty, during periods of national emergency.  The primary mission of these citizen soldiers had always been primarily to ensure the security of the individual states.  The Vietnam War did use National Guard troops but it was more the exception than the rule.  Today, that had changed.  Also during the Vietnam War, those National Guard troops used in the war were assured of a single tour and nothing more.  That too is no longer true.  Entire National Guard units have experienced 2, 3 and 4 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This has led to the states being consistently short-handed in National Guard troops to conduct necessary state activities.  And yet, these short-handed states, will be asked once again to reduce the size of their force.

My concern is a simple one.  The extensiveness of our next altercation is an unknown but it is a sure thing.  If, for example, North Korea decided to invade the south, we would be hard pressed to provide the additional forces South Korea would need to protect itself.  To its credit, South Korea possesses one of the largest and best trained military forces in the free world.  But even so, it is not nearly as large as it northern neighbor and would require our immediate and substantial support.  I am not certain to what level we could meet that commitment.

That part of the world which would love to take America down is only encouraged by our continued reduction in force.  They know our ability to respond is reduced and it gives them confidence to do their mischief.  You must remember, there is a certain percentage of the military which cannot be deployed to a war zone simply because of our requirements at home, and in other countries.

I believe that if anything, the size of our active duty army needs to be at around 1 million men, or a little more than twice its present size.  Similarly, our reserve forces, to include the National Guard, should be at last another 1 million men.  And this is over and above active and reserve naval and air forces and their respective reserve components.  Yes, it is expensive but it is also the cost of our peace of mind in today’s world.  While we may never fight another war like World War 2, we also cannot entirely dismiss the idea.  We do so only at our own peril.