THE MIDLIFE CYCLIST
Title: The Midlife Cyclist
Author: Phil Cavell
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
We’ve been here before: a book aimed at the performance-orientated rider which also contains much that is relevant to cyclists of all levels – as was the case with Bike Fit and Fast After Fifty which even targeted a similar age group as ‘The Midlife Cyclist’.
Phil Cavell made good use of the Covid lockdowns, because ‘The Midlife Cyclist’ was “substantially written during the Covid-19 pandemic”; fortunately, his wish that it “will hopefully seem less devastating and frightening at the time of reading than it was at the time of writing” seems to be coming true.
Another result of the pandemic is that many of us are more aware of our health, and might even be trying to take more care of our bodies. What better time to look at a book that helps with that – in particular where the target audience is probably also experiencing the impact of ageing?
Some might be familiar with Cavell’s name from his work with bike fitting, which he describes as his “professional happy place”, because that is where he has “spent almost every working day for the last 20 years.” I feared that he would prioritise that aspect of improving cycling performance over any other - along the lines of ‘if the only tool that you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail’. Fortunately, that is not the case: Cavell writes from the perspective of a keen cyclist in his late 50s, and knows from personal experience and extensive research that there is much that can be done to improve his enjoyment of cycling – with a good bike fit being only one part of that.
The problem for older cyclists is that “we’re existing outside of our ‘design life’”: furthermore, not only are we living longer, but some of us are making quite high demands of our bodies, with challenging cycling exploits proving increasingly popular. Can we do that without having any negative impact on our lives, asks Cavell, because “our tolerance for error or injury inevitably reduces”?
I am reminded of Keith Bontrager’s comment about cycle components: ‘price, weight, strength: pick any two’. Cavell however thinks that for mature cyclists with the right approach it can be a case of ‘ageing, fitness, health: have all three.’
The book is broken down into a few logical categories, such as the bike itself, nutrition, and biomechanics. There are some references if you want to read further, but Cavell draws much of his information from discussions with a few worthy experts. There’s quite a lot of in-depth science in the book, and sometimes I did struggle to follow it all; however, Cavell works through the evidence and comes up with what (as far as I can tell) are eminently credible conclusions and makes perfectly reasonable recommendations.
It’s not just the sport-specific aspects of ageing that are covered, but also more general points such as eyesight or osteoporosis. There’s even a whole chapter about ‘The mindful cyclist’, which is “one who takes care of their whole self and in doing so makes themselves a faster cyclist and almost certainly a better parent and partner.”
‘The Midlife Cyclist’ is wider-ranging than the other ‘performance-enhancing books’ we have covered, which tended to be narrower in scope; as such, this should have greater appeal – at least amongst those of ‘a certain age’ who are interested in slowing down their rate of decline.
I was sufficiently convinced of Cavell’s suggestions that I plan to make a few more changes in my life - which means that the book has achieved its aim. I plan to continue cycling for many more years, and want to keep that aim as achievable as possible.
Don’t just accept that there is nothing you can do about aging and the effect it is having (or is going to have) on your body: there is a lot that you can do, and with the help of ‘The Midlife Cyclist’ you will soon discover that it is considerably more than you might have expected.