There is nothing better than getting on your bike and going on an adventure. We miss so much of our local surroundings when we are behind the wheel of a car, areas of beauty that we may pass with the blink of an eye and not realise their full potential.
Cycling opens up new possibilities, allowing us to see the world in a new light and making the most of what is around us. You can live in the same area all your life but taking different routes on your bike can offer limitless opportunities to find something new and exciting on your doorstep. Which is what cycling is all about!
We all know the fitness benefits of cycling, especially in the over 50’s but when you’re out adventuring the health benefits are simply an added bonus. In this blog we’ve tried to discuss some of the best routes available for the over 50’s but let’s be honest they are not really age specific as most of the routes in the UK (apart from the extreme off road ones) are pretty much open to all ages so we’ve put together a few sites that you might want to check out and the reasons why.
Why choose cycling over running?
The main reason cycling is often suggested for (but not limited to) the older 50 individual is the impact it has on the body. Running long term can have a negative impact on your joints, particularly the knee due to the forces exerted which can cause problems. The likes of cycling and swimming are lower impact and therefore kinder to your joints.
Osteoarthritis of the knee is one such condition where a move towards lower impact activities is advised. This is where the cartilage (the shock absorbers) within the knee joint deteriorates over time resulting in bone on bone contact between the Femur and Tibia which causes pain and effectively limits your movement.
It is a degenerative condition often leading to a partial or full knee replacement so diagnosis is essential in managing the condition and let’s be honest, delaying the need for surgery as long as possible whilst not compromising your active lifestyle. It affects those in later years but research has suggested that the average age of diagnosis is dropping which is a problem since those in their 50’s are too young for a knee replacement.
There are a number of treatment options but for more information visit our knee osteoarthritis section.
Aside from the impact of the sport cycling is a great way of getting some fresh air and seeing the world from a different perspective whilst helping to improve your fitness. Granted running can also keep you fit but in an hour of cycling you’ll have covered a greater distance and seen more sights than with an hour of running, so has the upper hand from an aesthetics perspective.
Preparation is the key to success
It doesn’t matter what you do, planning is key to everything and cycling is no different. You should plan your route in advance to understand what may be ahead and ultimately if it is suitable for you. We’ll shortly discuss some of the different types of routes available and whilst in theory they are pretty much suitable for all age groups you should check in advance for some key things, namely; distance, gradient and terrain. These three things can be the difference between an easy ride, a ride which will push you and one which may be one pedal rotation too far.
Part of the fun of cycling is the adventure so you obviously don’t want planning to take that away but the beauty of cycle routes listed online is that there is a wealth of information on the ride, difficulty levels etc so that you can make an informed decision before getting on your bike and trying it out.
Obviously, from a safety perspective having the right gear with you at all times is a must, from the right clothing and an adequate amount of liquid refreshment to safety gear such as lights and a puncture repair kit. Finally, it is always advisable to tell someone where you’re going and when you’re likely to be back.
We came across this post from 2008 from the Telegraph highlighting the top 10 family cycle routes in Britain and whilst a few years old we still feel it is relevant as cycling is not a just the pursuit of the individual but can be a family activity, taking your children and grandchildren out to enjoy the fresh air and countryside.
The routes cover the length of the UK but here are some of our favourites:
Caernarfon, North Wales: This is a wonderful place regardless of whether you have a bike or not and for the historian there is Caernarfon Castle built by Kind Edward I which is a World Heritage site and well worth a day out. When you’ve finished your tour of the castle the Telegraph points you to the Lon Eifion trail which sweeps towards the village of Bryncir and as the paths are smooth it will give you chance to take in the surrounding views of the Nantlle Valley quarries and in the distance you will even catch a glimpse of Snowdon.
Bewl Water, Kent: A little more off road, but deemed an easy ride, the 12 mile circular route around the reservoir is extremely popular. The route is supposed to take 5 hours and as there is bike hire available it is designed for all abilities and perfect to take the kids, or if you’re out on your own then you can take on the 12 mile challenge yourself.
Ashbourne, Derbyshire: This county has some wonderful scenery and is very popular with cyclists. If you’ve ever taken a trip to Bakewell to visit Chatsworth House the local villages are full of cyclists at the weekend, with the rolling hills offering a challenge for the avid rider. Ashbourne however offers a traffic free alternative, covering 13 miles to Parsley Hay and runs along the old railway line, one of the first to be converted to a cycle path.
Documented Cycle Routes
There are a host of sites detailing cycling routes and www.gps-routes.co.uk is just one of them, focussing on routes as defined by the National Cycle Network rather than user defined routes. A quick check by county shows 31 different routes for Greater Manchester, 33 in Lancashire and 36 in Cheshire. So plenty for those in the North West to get stuck into to but also plenty elsewhere as the country doesn’t stop at the Cheshire boundary.
If we take Greater Manchester as an example then there are all types of routes, from casual country park tours in Smithills, Tandle Hill and Werneth Low at just 2 miles each compared to slightly longer journeys at 10 miles plus starting in Manchester and stretching to nearby towns.
Clicking into a route (if we take Manchester to Stockport, since this is where our office is) it shows the elevation of the route, a map and various downloads available, from an ordnance survey map and MMO and GPX files to load into your gadgets. This route in particular takes you through Alexander Park, Chorlton Water Park and along the River Goyt which just goes to show that despite being one of the most densely populated areas in the north you still don’t need to ride on the roads and can still enjoy some interesting sites along the way.
What have other people done?
In our research we came across www.cycle-route.com which gives users the chance to upload their own routes, add comments and define their difficulty. If you’re new to cycling and don’t know where to ride or are bored of the norm and looking for something different and exciting then why don’t you see what other people are doing. Likewise, if you have your own perfect route then share it and allow others to experience the same enjoyment.
A quick search of the Greater Manchester area shows a number of routes ranging in difficulty and length from a quick 6 miles in Wardley to a 34 mile loop from Northenden to Rainow and back again, taking you through the Cheshire countryside where there are a loads of lovely country pubs to stop at for lunch.
The beauty of planning your route online and looking at what other people have done is that you don’t need to get you’re A-Z out and start figuring it out yourself, you can follow these or just use them as inspiration but the possibilities are endless.
There is also a forum so you can ask any questions you might have and be part of the cycling community.
We’ve touched upon this in an earlier blog but canal tow paths are a great way to see the local area and the best thing about is that there are no cars, though obviously there a few other variables to consider in that of people, swans (they don’t move for anyone) and of course the water (which you want to avoid).
Typically canal towpaths are designed for cyclists with many of the towpaths in the Greater Manchester area concreted which is great for riding on and you can pick up some speed. The canals weave through the countryside and offer some fantastic scenery which certainly adds to the enjoyment of being out on your bike. It is also a great way of getting into the city as from Wigan you can ride straight into Deansgate in under an hour without passing a car, so if that is not incentive enough then what is?
If you’re looking to go further afield than the UK then the world is your oyster. We came across this blog post detailing the world’s 10 best bike tours which covers some amazing looking places but given that number one on the list is 6,000km long tracing the coastline of the North Sea across no less than six different countries it is not for the faint hearted.
Above all else, have fun and enjoy the ride.