Appeal of two wheels extends its reach to the older generation

Older cyclists are enjoying the health and fitness benefits of getting out on the road

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, and most are aware of the need to protect the planet for future generations. So with pedal power increasing heart rates and reducing the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, it is hardly surprising that recent research has shown an unprecedented level of interest in cycling.

With an estimated 510,000 people enjoying cycling as a sport across Ireland, interest in the activity has gained momentum and whether on the busy city streets or on rural country lanes, adult cyclists are an increasingly common sight.

But while there has been an uptake in the number of middle-aged people taking up the sport, cycling is also something which appeals to the older generation, with many simply carrying on using the two-wheeled transport option they have enjoyed throughout their lives.


Stephen Breheny, aged 73, has always enjoyed using a bicycle to get around, but in the early 1990s he began cycling in earnest after being asked to take part in a challenge. "I was asked to participate in the Co-operation North Sportif which involved cycling from Dublin to Belfast in one day and returning the day after," he says. "The training for this involved doing 10 to 15 miles three mornings a week and a two-to-three-hour cycle at the weekend.


"I ended up doing seven of these challenges and two 'Border checks' which involved cycling from Enniskillen to Sligo and back. And over the years I have also done the Wicklow 200, the Ring of Kerry, the Ring of Beara, the Tour of the Burren and the Tour of Sligo. I have also cycled from Westport to Dublin and vice versa and also from Malin to Mizen both ways, along with other events in Majorca, France and Italy.

“If it wasn’t for my friend asking me to do the challenge in the ’90s, I don’t think I would ever have done so much cycling because my main pastime at the time was golf. But I found that after playing a round, I was more often frustrated rather than relaxed and after taking up cycling I found that I would come home feeling exhilarated after it.”

Stephen, who is a retired garage/bike shop owner, says when he started cycling three decades ago there was just himself and one friend involved locally. By the end of that year, there were 10 people taking part and as the numbers began to grow they started a club and joined Cycling Ireland.

He says there are definitely more people getting involved in the sport and while this is very positive, it can also make the cyclist more vulnerable. “There has been a massive growth in cycling, particularly in the last two decades,” he says. “With the ‘bike-to-work scheme’ adults have been purchasing better-quality bikes and during the recession a lot of people gave up the likes of golf (due to cost) and took up cycling instead. Also the growth of health-awareness campaigns, charity cycles, sportifs, triathlons and greenways, more and more people are being catered for.

“But with this growth of cyclists and related clubs, there are now an awful lot of bikes on the road and drivers really need to be more aware of how vulnerable we are. I am also a (car) driver myself and I can appreciate how frustrating it must be when one is stuck behind a group of cyclists, but if a driver loses patience and their car hits a biker, there is only one outcome.

“There is an TV advertising campaign asking drivers to keep a 1.5 metre distance from cyclists, but this is not happening, and I have actually been touched by wing mirrors a number of times. Also, the side of most roads can be in a terrible condition with manholes which aren’t flush with the road, potholes and debris which forces the cyclists out further on to the road – I think the vulnerability of cyclists on the road cannot be overstated.”

Road safety

Fellow cyclist Seán Hyland agrees and says a lot has changed since he started cycling six decades ago. “In the ’60s there were very few cars, and everyone cycled,” says the father of two.

But today, road safety is a very big concern – and I think all road users need to work together to make our roads as safe as possible for all road users with no group demanding more rights than the other.

“I know people talk about the taxing of cyclists, but I think it would be a nightmare to introduce and enforce in any practical way – and I have been paying road tax for close to 50 years. But while during the last number of years, motorists have got more careful with cyclists on the road, there are still some who think it is okay to pass very close to cyclists (who are facing) the high speed of oncoming traffic and on blind corners.”

Despite the potential dangers posed to cyclists, Seán, who will be 72 this year, says cycling is something he has always enjoyed and doesn’t intend to give up any time soon.

“My job as a junior postman involved cycling and it kept me fit,” he says. “Then a few friends and I started cycling with Westport Cycling Club and I began racing for a number of years. After getting married in 1976, building our new house and our daughters being born in 1977 and 1978, there wasn’t much time for cycling, although I did continue to cycle to work.

“Then when my daughters finished college and started working, I slowly got back on the bike and by the late ’90s, together with a few friends, we set up Westport Covey Wheelers, which now has a very active leisure group.

“I now go out every Sunday morning, weather permitting, and usually around three times a week with friends or on my own. I find that when I get on my bike, it is like turning on a switch to a new world, whether that involves talking to friends (fellow cyclists) or just enjoying the peace and solitude of the countryside. Everything about cycling has improved over the years, including the quality of the roads and the bikes and even the clothing.

“And since I retired in 2016, I found that it gives me a since of purpose and inner peace. When I started cycling, our club had fewer than 20 cyclists now it has over 140 members – and I’ve noticed many more older people starting to cycle, particularly with the new greenways and electric bikes.

“As you get older you do not have the same flexibility or long-term stamina, so you just have to adapt and go as hard or as fast as you used to – but, for me, cycling is not about how far or fast you can go, it’s about enjoying whatever distance you do.”

Fit and flexible

Seán Breheny agrees and says getting out on his bike has been so instrumental to keeping him fit and flexible, regardless of the speed he is travelling. “Since I retired, I cycle about 40km twice a week and also with the club on Sundays,” he says. “I try to do two or three events every year – so this year I’ll be doing the Westportif, the Pink Ribbon and the Tour of Connemara.

“I would encourage everyone to go out and find a quiet road and just cycle. As I’m getting older, I’m really glad that I kept up my cycling. I might be getting slower, but it is great being with the club as you get a little bit of training and there is always a group to go with. Cycling is great – but remember that it’s not a race – and as long as you can balance yourself and pedal, then off you go.”