Worcester, Mass.
June 6, 1996

Age no obstacle to cyclists over 60

By Lynne Tolman

    Age is no excuse when it comes to bicycling. Look at Ludger "Bluejay" Robichaud of Gardner, who at 67 is preparing for his fifth long-distance bike tour, from Montana to Virginia to Pennsylvania.

    Robichaud said 40 years working as a pipefitter kept him in shape, and when he retired at 62 he set off on a solo two-wheel trip from Washington state to Cape Cod. Since then he's also biked from Gardner to New Orleans, from Washington state to Tijuana, Mexico, and from San Diego to New Orleans.

    He traces the transcontinental routes on an Adventure Cycling Association map with his finger, shorthand for "been there, done that," and he has the photo albums to prove it: Bluejay and his fully loaded Giant hybrid high in the snowy Cascades, Bluejay at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, Minnesota, Bluejay dipping his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean in Dennis.

    "I used to run, never competitive," Robichaud said. "I'd rather do something unorganized." He carries his fishing rod on his bike along with his camping gear, "and I'll stop and fish for a few days if I want." Still, he averages 80 miles a day on his tours.

    "I don't feel any different now than when I was 30. I haven't lost my wind; I haven't lost my endurance," Robichaud said. "I think it depends on your genes also. My mom was 101 years old when she passed away," and his father's sisters lived into their 90s.

    "There's no pounding on a bike. It's an aerobic sport but it doesn't really beat on your body like running does," Robichaud said.

    Because cycling is a low-impact, non-weight-bearing activity, it's forgiving on the joints and can become or remain a fitness mainstay well after middle age, when aerobic exercise is known to delay or reverse the physiological effects of aging. Exercise improves reaction times, flexibilility, heart function, muscle strength and lung capacity, even reasoning skills and memory, and helps reduce body fat, blood pressure and the risk of stroke.

    The U.S. Cycling Federation, which governs amateur racing, counts 1,273 racers over 55 among its 31,097 riders. As for noncompetitive biking, the Adventure Cycling Association reports that biking across America is shifting from a college kids' adventure to a retirees' dream trip. At League of American Bicyclists rallies, the gray-haired set usually outnumbers younger counterparts.

    USCF trustee Bob Beal, 69, of Hingham started biking at age 55 after decades of sedentary living and dropped more than 70 pounds. Since then, he has survived two heart attacks and triple bypass surgery, and believes cycling saved his life. "The doctors say it's the best thing in the world for me. They said if I hadn't changed my lifestyle, I wouldn't have recovered."

    Joe Dora, 71, of Gardner said cycling is his savior while a vascular problem is keeping him from running. Dora, who retired as a phone company manager in Worcester in 1984, started biking about that time for triathlons.

    He took home seven gold medals from last year's Massachusetts Senior Games, and is signed up for all four cycling events at the Games next weekend in Springfield -- 5- and 10-kilometer time trials, and 20- and 40-kilometer road races.

    As for his age, Dora said, "You don't feel any different on the inside, but more people will be passing you in a race." Still, he said, staying in shape makes a difference. "If I don't do something physical every day ... you don't feel right."

    For 61-year-old Raimo Ahti of Lunenburg, a self-employed stonemason, cycling is great cross-training for his No. 1 sport, cross-country skiing. The sports "have been helping me get over the 60 barrier, and I hope the 100 barrier," he said. He doesn't race the bike as much as he used to, but was the 60-plus road cycling champion in the Bay State Games last year and keeps up with Fitchburg Cycling Club riders on 70-mile training rides on Sunday mornings.

    Running used to be Ahti's best sport in triathlons, but cycling leaves him fresher. "You can go three to five hours, and when you come back you can wash the floors and cut the grass. If you run three hours, you can't go dancing afterward. My wife and I love to dance."

    For Robichaud, the rewards are mental, too, such as learning geography. "I really believe that if I come from a past life I was what they called a 'voyageur,' like a trapper. These guys went out on their own, wherever they needed to go, and would just keep going. I like to see what's over the next hill."
    The Northeast Connecticut Visitors District has published a biking guide to the state's "Quiet Corner," with maps and cues for 10 loop rides, each 10 to 25 miles long. There are also "spokes," showing roads that connect the loops. For a free copy of Northeast Connecticut's Bike Guide, call 860-928-1228.
    Watch for cyclist Walter Eyles of Sturbridge on Saturday (June 15) when the Olympic Torch Relay travels from Nashua, N.H., to Providence. The 51-year-old racer is one of 400 cyclists chosen to carry or accompany the torch on part of its 15,000-mile journey from Los Angeles to Atlanta by foot, bicycle, steamboat, train and biplane. In Central Massachusetts, the caravan will come through Acton, Maynard, Stow, Hudson, Marlboro and Hopkinton before turning east to Boston.

    Eyles used to live in Westminster and rides with the Fitchburg Cycling Club. In 1982, he was Massachusetts-Rhode Island veterans time trial champion. Last summer, he and his 19-year-old son, Matthew, fulfilled a lifelong dream by cycling across the United States, from San Francisco to Portsmouth, N.H. His ride with the Olympic flame will be much shorter -- about 33 miles.

    Other New England cyclists chosen for the torch relay are James Dunlea of Quincy; Sam Morse of Cohasset; Bruce Carlson of Newington, Conn.; Jim Pammer of Keene, N.H.; James and Janet Proctor of Enfield Center, N.H.; John Moriarty of Glendale, R.I., and Billy Rounds of Warwick, R.I.
    TIP OF THE HELMET -- To the Minuteman Road Club's Diane Tower, 31, of Hudson, who leads the New England Women's Category 4 Challenge Series after eight of 18 races. The next race in the series is June 23 in Andover.

    And a nod to Tony Gallo, 17, of Fitchburg, who won a bronze medal last Sunday in the New England Regional Criterium Championship in Charlestown, R.I. His team is New England Cycling Support Association. NECSA's Joshua Thornton of Providence came in first in the juniors 17-18 category, and Chris Ramadon (Cyclonauts) of Palmer was second.

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