Seniors gear up for smooth ride

Biking breaks barriers between older and younger generations

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published May 27, 2015

 Adult trikes are one of the many bike modifications that are popular with older riders who want to stay active but develop different needs as they age.

Adult trikes are one of the many bike modifications that are popular with older riders who want to stay active but develop different needs as they age.

Photo by Sean Work

METRO DETROIT — With gorgeous summer weather finally here, many of us are itching to get out and enjoy the warm breeze and sunny skies while the season lasts.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, biking is something of a favorite pastime for Michiganders. The state placed 18th out of 50 for bicycle-friendly states, based on legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning.

And it’s no wonder: Bicycling is often regarded as one of the best ways to get outside and enjoy the scenery, as well as get some exercise. The best part about biking, though, is how the hobby seems to transcend generations.

At least that’s what Tim Focht said. The owner of Tim’s Bike Shop in St. Clair Shores said he’s seeing more 50 and older riders come into his shop than ever — and it’s a trend he expects to continue.

“It’s only going to grow, with the way they’re putting in bike trails for people,” Focht said. “(Seniors) like to get outside and get exercise, too, but they can’t always walk very far or very quick. Biking gives them a little more distance.”

The interesting thing about biking, he said, is how technology has managed to bring the old-fashioned two-wheeled bike into the 21st century with gadgets to suit every need. Even relatively inactive seniors can find a bike setup that works for them.

“A lot of times, when they get up in age, they go with the adult trikes,” he explained. “It’s got three wheels, so it gives them more balance and stability on the bike.”

He added that most 50 and over riders aren’t looking to enter the nearest bike race, but they instead are in it for a more leisurely ride with low impact.

“They’re looking for a seven-speed comfort bike. They don’t want the complications of 21 gears,” he said. “I actually do quite a few bikes for people who have had knee replacements. That surprised me, but they have a hard time walking and prefer to ride.”

That’s no surprise to Barry Silver. The Birmingham resident is an active member of Next, the Birmingham senior center, and he likes to get out on his bike as often as he can. He’s not the only one, either.

“You’re going to come in here (the center) and see this,” said Silver as he held up a cane. “You’re also going to see walkers, but outside you’ll see a few bikes, too.”

Next is currently trying to promote biking as a way to keep seniors not only physically active, but social, as well. While the center offers ample opportunities to get out and play pickleball, go bowling, and play golf or tennis, several seniors have been meeting in the Next parking lot to tour the neighborhood by bike.

“I’ve talked to people here, and they like biking. It’s safe and picturesque. It’s scenic,” Silver said.

To that end, Next Executive Director Cris Braun is working to bring more bike opportunities to the center. First and foremost, she’s hoping a local business would be willing to donate a bike rack to be installed outside so bike lovers can easily secure their rides. She’s also hoping a bike expert can come to Next and do a talk about the ins and outs of the activity, such as safety and maintenance.

“It’s clear that seniors are aging much differently these days — they’re healthier and more active, and we always want to offer more for them,” said Braun. “Riding uptown to go to the farmers market or library; they might not be able to walk if they can’t walk too far, but those places are very accessible on a bike.”

Silver hopes more bike shops include the senior crowd in their product selection. After all, citizens over the age of 65 are expected to make up a fifth of the population by 2030, giving them a considerable share in the recreation market.

“It’s really about connectivity,” he said. “With biking, it’s not ‘you’re on this side of the land and we’re on this side of the land.’ We can do this together, all ages.”