Do cyclists improve with age?

I was born into a family of few sporting traditions. Apart from an uncle (who died in WW2) who had been a notable amateur footballer and an uncle in Ireland who had played hurling for Tipperary in the all-Ireland final in 1937, I had few role-models to follow. But my youth was dominated by sport, especially in my teens: football, cricket, tennis, ice-skating and cycling. In my 20s, these gave way to more racquet sports, principally squash and badminton until, one day, tired of pulling muscles, wrenching my back and twisting ligaments, I sought professional advice about which sports were the most injury-free. The two options I was given were: swimming and cycling. It was at that point, in my late 20s, that I took up cycling as a serious sport and (as the saying goes) have never looked back since.

Bill Duffin in 2010. Photo by kind permission of

But what I never considered at the time was the longevity of any particular sport in a person’s life. I know we can all pick out someone who might still be playing football, tennis or badminton in their 70s or 80s. Some may even continue aggressive contact sports like rugby into their later years, but the numbers are very low. If you look, however, at the growing number of people who continue enjoying (or even take up) non-contact sports in their later years, you will find that sports like running, swimming and cycling are going through a boom period.  If you were to draw a graph of these athletes’ lives, when are they likely to peak at their sport and to what age could they reasonably expect to continue?

I see people in the world of competitive cycling breaking all kinds of records at ages when they really should be wearing slippers and smoking pipes. I cycle in the same club as the legendary 87 year old Bill Duffin who, in 2011, broke the national 10 mile time trial for his age group. He completed the distance in 28m 23secs, at an average speed of 21.15 mph……very good by anyone’s standards. Another octogenarian and cycling companion, Peter Etheridge, has broken 13 bones in his body in separate cycling incidents and is still able to put in very respectable mileages at a good brisk pace. Then I received this cutting from one of my brothers, telling me that Arthur Gilbert is still competing in triathlons at the age of 90. Is there no limit? Apparently not!


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on January 12, 2012, in Miscellany and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Inspirational, Frank.

    We are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago again, next year. We haven’t yet decided from where we start!

  2. Jonathan Belbin

    A few years to go yet, Frank!

  3. I ride with someone who just recently completed the Race Across America in nine days at age 60. She had been riding for 30 years. Cycling has its share of injuries (collarbone, shoulder, etc.) but seem to not be as inhibiting as other sports. And it seems that over time, our muscles become more conditioned to the sport and improvement is possible for years within reason (I will not be racing the Tour de France at 60). It is reassuring knowing we’ll be able continue this into our twilight.

    • …..and despite breaking my femur three years ago, now with bones held together by metal pins and plates, it hasn’t diminished my ability for long-distance treks nor of climbing major mountain passes.

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