Enjoy the Ride

by Dominic Farrenkopf for Montana 55

As bike trails expand throughout Montana, so too does the number of cyclists. One of the largest growing groups of those taking to the bike are riders older than 55.

Annie Creighton, of Valley Bicycles and Ski in Hamilton, said she has many clients older than 55, and that number is growing.

“Getting into cycling is actually quite easy; the equipment is affordable and pretty minimal,” Creighton said. “People need to ask themselves what kind of riding they will be doing and then select a bike based on that decision.”

Creighton explained three types of bikes.

Joan Bake of Hamilton enjoys lengthy rides on the backroads of the Bitterroot Valley.

Joan Bake of Hamilton enjoys lengthy rides on the backroads of the Bitterroot Valley.

“There are mountain bikes meant for all-dirt terrain. This bike is used for forest roads and trails where there are few or no cars. The next category is road bikes. They are intended for all pavement. They are equipped with drop handlebars or flat handlebars to suit the rider’s style and purpose. The final style is a comfort bike. This bike is used for light recreation and in-town travel,” Creighton said. “People can get help selecting a bicycle from their local bike shop. Most places will also have a bike stand that holds a bike in place while allowing you to pedal it in the shop before purchasing it. So, essentially you need a bike, a helmet, a little know-how and the willingness to get out and ride.”

Rachel Field is one of those willing riders. At 66, she is a retired school teacher who takes every opportunity to travel on two wheels.

“I have been riding all my life. I grew up in a small town in Montana and as kids we all had bikes and rode everywhere to meet friends, run errands or go on picnics. I took a break during my teaching career but after retirement I began riding again. That was 13 years ago. I will say that even if someone has not ridden since childhood, it only takes a little practice to regain your confidence and balance. Start by practicing in a school parking lot,” Field said.

Field finds that most of her cycling is in and around town, so she rides a Sedona Hybrid Comfort Bike by Giant.“Compared to other bikes I have had, this one feels like I am riding a Cadillac! This bike comes in three sizes to fit short, medium or tall people,” Field said. “I enjoy riding on the side streets through neighborhoods, and I especially like riding through the alleys in town. People have such interesting back yards and there is rarely any car traffic in the alleys. On longer rides, of one or two hours, I enjoy riding the back roads, outside the city limits.”

But just getting around is only part of the benefit. “I ride for exercise, recreation and practicality.
For recreation for sure, because it is so relaxing. I think that every time I ride I am getting some form of exercise, and just getting out in the fresh air is good for me. Practically speaking, when the weather is good I really like to do my shopping and errands on my bike. Nothing is more than a 15- or 20-minute ride away: the post office, grocery store, pharmacy, bank or the brewpubs,” Field said. “I always feel better after I have been riding. I think it is good for my mind as well as my body. I have some of the typical aches and pains that come with age, and I find that riding my bike is very gentle on this aging body of mine.”

To accommodate the rising number of cycling seniors, both rural and urban Montana are rife with
roads, streets, paths and trails that are perfect for two-wheeled enthusiasts.

Lisa McKinney, director of communications at Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, spoke about cycling opportunities for Montana seniors. Some of these opportunities include national tours.

“Adventure Cycling Association’s mission is to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle. We are the largest nonprofit membership bicycling organization in North America with 50,000 members,” McKinney

Adventure Cycling has been running bike tours for 40 years.

“We currently have 102 tours which visit 40 different states, taking in some of the most spectacular scenery in North America, covering ground from Alaska to Hawaii, California to Maine, Canada to Puerto Rico,” McKinney said. “Many cyclists dream of traveling on a self-supported bicycle tour, but lack the experience and know-how to strike out on a bicycle adventure. We have many educational tours and courses that teach the basics of traveling by bicycle, dirt touring, and how to be a tour leader.”

Adventure Cycling is also a great resource for maps.

“People love our maps. The Adventure Cycling Route Network is an established cycling route network
with over 44,000 miles of routes throughout North America. Thousands of cyclists each year utilize these maps for their bike-touring adventures. We sell maps for these routes and digital data for phones and GPS devices,” McKinney said.

At 67 years young, Joan Baker still chooses to cycle adventurously in her own way.

Rachel Field“I have been riding seriously for 20 years,” said Baker. “I was a runner at one time and enjoyed 5Ks,
half marathons, until I began having issues with my knees. Running is a great stress reliever and cardio workout; however, it’s hard on the joints. I decided to find an alternative form of exercise. I have always been a gym member, but I need to be outside whenever I can.”

Baker’s riding preference has changed over time.

“I rode mountain bikes for 10 years and then switched to road bikes. I currently have an Allegro road bike,” Baker said. “I live in the Bitterroot Valley and, although I have access to the bike path, I find that I enjoy some of the back routes the area has to offer. I find any excuse to ride. Riding gives me energy and I like the feeling of challenging my body. My favorite route is a back route from Victor, Montana to Hamilton, Montana. It offers good hills and flat areas to recover, with minimal traffic. The total route is approximately 25 miles. Biking offers a unique opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Bitterroots as well as the animals, both wild and domestic. I have only been chased by one turkey since riding in this area.”

For more information on Adventure Cycling, visit: adventurecycling.org/freemag or adventureycling.org/maps

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