My sister, who is 5 years younger, learned to ride a bike as a child, but I did not. All my life I have been envious of people who pedaled, my husband for example, who does routes and even goes to the mountains by bicycle. He tried to teach me several times but nothing, in the end we were almost angry. I found out that they were giving a course for older people and I signed up. When, suddenly, I saw myself pedaling I did not believe it. ‘We’re not grabbing you!’ The teacher would yell at me. What a feeling! It is an emotion that you do not believe it. María José, a 61-year-old from Bizkaia, is already thinking about the second part: buying a bike, although first she wants to give “another short course to remove fear.”
One in ten people in Spain does not know how to ride a bicycle, a percentage that rises to 25% in the case of those over 70 years of age. In this, as in almost everything, the gender gap is noticeable: 5% of men have never got on a bicycle, compared to 15% of women, according to data from the Bicycle Barometer in Spain 2019, a report biannual prepared by the Network of Cities for Bicycle, the General Directorate of Traffic and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces.
María José was one of the latter until October when she signed up for a five-day course periodically organized by Biziz Bizi, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of two wheels in Bilbao. The workshops last five hours and are free: “90% of the people who attend go out pedaling,” says Javier Umaran, Biziz Bizi spokesperson.
María José confirms: «I know how to pedal; To say that I know how to ride a bike seems too much for the moment. But he knows yes and, what is better, the experts consulted in this report assure that it is something “that is not forgotten”. Javier, María José’s ‘teacher’, tells how an older adult is taught to ride a bicycle. And he has experience that the users of the course he has been teaching since 2003, rather users, have on average between 55 and 70 years old.
Work the balance
“The first day they ride a bike with the saddle low, so that their feet touch the ground, and they take off slowly down a small hill.” For those who have never ridden a bicycle it may seem like a bit of a strong start, but in view of the success of the course, it must be the form. «They spend an hour throwing themselves down the slope, at first they barely lift their feet off the ground, they slow down, but little by little they lean less to the sides and gain balance. The balance is proportional to the speed they take. Classes last only an hour “because more than that time would be very tiring, and with fatigue comes the risk of falling,” warns Umaran.
There are those who are in this first hour and they end up launching with their feet up and others, like María José, who do not dare to pedal until the fourth session. “It cost me. They told me: ‘How cautious!’, But no, it is not a precaution, it is that I have a fear … ». But he did. “Most of the women who sign up for our classes have never ridden a bike. Probably, they did not have as girls or at home there was only one for all the brothers and only the oldest used it. For this reason, when they manage to pedal alone – and almost all of them do it – we feel tremendous joy », says Javier Umaran.
The flat start
When they already dominate the slope and pedal at times, the next and final step is the start on the flat. Without the inertia provided by the slope of the terrain, things get a little more complicated here: «The key is to get a good boost with the foot that we have on the ground – the other is on the pedal -, start quickly and, as almost everything, repeat many times “, recalls the instructor, who recommends for those who are already older in this sport” walk bikes with low bars or folding, which have smaller wheels tend to give less fear to people ” .
The two benefits of pedaling for the elderly
Apart from the pleasure of pedaling, doing it from the age of 60 has two clear benefits: “The bicycle is a sport that improves balance, which is an aspect to work at those ages to reduce the risk of falls”, warns Íñigo Urretxua , a physical trainer with more than 25 years of experience in the world of cycling. The second great benefit is the development of the musculature: «The problem with falls in the elderly is that, as they have hardly any muscles to protect and support the bone structure, the bones break more easily. With the bike, muscle develops, especially in the lower body, where the most delicate accidents occur. However, although cycling, along with swimming and walking, is one of the sports with the fewest ‘contraindications’, not everyone can pedal. “It is not advisable in people who suffer from arrhythmias because there may be changes in the heart rate and they would need the supervision of the cardiologist. Not for those who take anticoagulants or suffer loss of consciousness, dizziness, epilepsy … ».
And children … how do they learn?
- Best age:
«Physical capacities are best worked on until 12 or 14 years of age; and with 5 or 6 it is a good age to start cycling ”, proposes Íñigo Urretxua, cycling physical trainer.
- Without ‘wheels’:
“Putting two small wheels behind is not advisable because it slows down learning.”
- Pushing off with your feet:
Children learn by “pushing themselves flat with their feet.” To do this, they need a bicycle adapted to their size with which they reach the ground perfectly. “They go to one side and the other, but immediately they know which foot to put to regain balance,” says Urretxua.
- Go ‘letting go’:
Once you have worked your balance, it is time to pedal. At first they will do it with an adult holding them from behind, who will release them little by little. “In a summer month they have it mastered.”
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