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If you're over 40 or will be someday, you need to fight back against the slow erosion of time. There are guys 20 years older than me who can beat me without breaking a sweat. But now I know their secrets.

My last bike tour crippled me.

I was fighting a strong headwind for most of the first day, and when the weather improved I didn’t. My left knee was swollen and sounded like a blender full of ice cubes. I turned back less than halfway through the tour, and I took a bus the last ten miles back home because it hurt too much to ride.

I’m better now, but this trip was my first sign of middle age. Although it’s not just about the years (or even the mileage).

I know a lot of people 20 years older than I am, who could ride circles around me all day and wake up ready to do it again tomorrow. I want to be like them, and now I've learned their secrets.

I’m writing this because you might be in the same situation. If not today, then someday…

For my birthbike tour california mountainday, my wife bought me Roy Wallack’s book, Bike For Life: How to ride to 100--and beyond. If I had read this book a year ago, I wouldn’t have been defeated on my tour. The chapter on knee pain taught me how to fix my problem in less than a month.

I’m not going to give away all of Roy’s secrets. There are some tools, techniques and exercises in this book that haven’t been discussed anywhere else that I’m aware of. But there are some very useful concepts I think you should know about.

The biggest take-away was the importance of maintaining your fast-twitch muscles as you get older. These muscles are the first to go, and that’s a big part of the reason old people lose their balance, coordination, and reflexes.

(For a quick primer on fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, check out this BBC article.)

You build fast-twitch muscle fibers by lifting very heavy weights. There’s a science to this, and a specific way to do it,* which he explains in detail in the book. I had never done this kind of exercise before. It’s been a game-changer for me after just a few weeks.

Roy Wallack also reminds you that you have a life off the bike as well as on it. Bike for Life teaches you a handful of critical exercises that reverse the damage caused by cycling. (Yes, riding a bike can be bad for you, just like too much of anything) Your posture and your back muscles need extra attention.

The flip side is that everyday life tears down your body in ways that make you weaker and slower on the bike. Bike for Life has 10 longevity stretches and another set of exercises that make you stronger and faster.

This book is packed with a ton of other great tips that I can’t get into here: Yoga routines that help your biking, detailed workout plans designed to put you at your peak for a ride or race on a specific date months in the future, tips on attacking hills and a lot more.

Roy also implies that you shouldn’t take his advice as absolute truth. Throughout the book he interviews “mature” cyclists who sometimes win races by doing the exact opposite of what he suggests. He’s also candid about his own embarrassing mistakes.

Early on, the book recommends that nobody over 40 should ever go on a bike tour. I’ve already broken that rule many times, and I intend to do so for decades to come.

Thanks to this book, I’ll be able to.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice. This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease. The activities described are potentially dangerous. Consult a physician before engaging in any kind of exercise regimen.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. So, what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

You know the risk. Get out there on a bike, and you could be hit by a car. You could catch a wheel in a storm sewer, crack your head against the concrete, and suffer permanent brain damage or death.

Add the risks of poisonous snake bites, death by heat exhaustion, heart attacks, being shot, and a zillion other dangers. Why would you ever go out on a bike ride? What are you thinking?

You’re thinking in a probabilistic way. All of those things could happen, but the probability of any of them happening is so tiny that you can probably ignore it.

You could bike every day for the rest of your life and probably never have to encounter any of the dangers we just mentioned.

Probabilistic thinking is one of the things that puts you on your bike in the first place, and it can serve you well in many other aspects of your life.

There are many people out there who might like to bike more, but they live in terror of the risks. They’re making an assumption. There are two possible outcomes: A) You could have a wonderful time, or B)You could die.

For the person who is afraid of a bike ride, both A and B are equally probable. They’re suffering from a big misunderstanding.

If there were equal odds of enjoying a good ride or dying a horrible death, you’d probably think twice before going on a bike ride. But the odds are not equal. Probabilistic thinking enables you to enjoy your bike ride, knowing that the chances of a fatality are somewhere in the ballpark of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery.

Now let’s apply this probabilistic thinking to some other part of your life.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. But what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear
Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear

I’ll give you a few examples. I used to be afraid of singing in front of people. I thought I would sound terrible and people would boo me off the stage.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but let’s assume it would be the end of the world. It’s still worth singing, because the odds of having an audience that rude and boorish is minuscule. If you ever sing in public, most of the audience will be fans, friends, and family who love you.

What are you afraid of? Talking to that good-looking person, or finally asking them out?

Okay, here the odds of success might be against you (but then again, you may be surprised). But the odds of a really terrible outcome are still small enough to ignore. Worst-case scenario, this person might politely turn you down.

Unless you have really bad judgement, your immediate future probably won’t include a drink in your face, a restraining order, or even a terribly awkward moment.

Now let’s look at even bigger things.

Have you ever thought about creating something big for the world, something that might change your life and other lives as well? Maybe you’ve got a book you want to write, an idea for a new game or an entire business. Maybe you’re thinking about a long and dangerous journey.

How dangerous could it be?

Here’s where you apply your probabilistic thinking skills.

Whatever you want to do, you can probably think of several bad outcomes. But how bad are these outcomes, and what are the chances that they’ll really happen?

Most of the dangers you list will fall into one of these two categories. First, they’re not so bad. You can live with them, and you’ll be able to dust yourself off and carry on. Or second, they are pretty grave and serious, but the probability that they’ll ever happen is low.

Once you understand probability, you can take on challenges that may have seemed much harder before. Buy a house. Go after a better job, or start your own business. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Find the love of your life, or at least test-drive a few candidates.

Since you’ve involved yourself in biking, and maybe bike touring, you already have mad skills when it comes to probabilistic thinking.

Use what you’ve got, and soon you’ll start getting all the other things that you want out of life.



This is one way you can boost your memory on a bike ride.

I wrote about this a while back, but here's a video I made about how riding a bike can improve your memory. I hope you enjoy it.