Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking?

seniors mountain bikingIt seems to me that relatively few of my recreationally-active, age-related peers (AARP crowd, baby boomers, seniors) are mountain bikers.  I just don’t see many out on the MORC trails in the Twin Cities area where I mostly ride. (I don’t have data to support my hunch so if you’re aware of any that would support or contradict it, attach a comment or contact me.)

Skiing seems to be a close cousin to mountain biking, with elements from both cross country and downhill skiing.  And when I’m XC skiing or snowboarding here in the Midwest, I see plenty of seniors.

I’d like to author an in-depth blog post about this and follow it up with another one on what could be done. But I need some help.

What might be the contributing factors to the lack of mountain biking seniors? Fear? Cost? Areas to ride? Image? 


  1. Dan Cobbledick said:

    A better question would be, “Why are ANY seniors mountain biking?” Skiing, with its wide open spaces and soft landing zones, is not really an apt comparison. Any fall on a bike is likely to break old bones.

    March 18, 2014
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Dan, bone strength and age is relative, and as I blogged a few days ago, mountain biking can actually improve it.

    As for skiing, here in the Midwest, most of the time the snow on our downhill ski slopes is almost as hard as dirt. That dissuades some seniors, for sure, but others learn to just take it easy and have fun staying within their comfort zone. I’m just looking to see if the same can happen more often with mountain biking.

    March 18, 2014
  3. I won’t qualify as senior citizen for a number of years yet (i wont say what that number is, however!) My opinion is my own, worth every penny paid, but could it be that many seniors came of age during a time when various forms of skiing were still extremely popular? Mountain biking became ubiquitous around 1986. I’m one that never truly lost that feeling of euphoria felt when you throw a leg over two wheels and go…but some have lost it, and worse, some feel that bicycling was something one outgrows when driver’s licenses are available.

    Many mountain bikers are thrill seekers: speed and more speed, jumps, hucks, etc Perhaps that image is a turn-off for the avg senior. You’re doing more than anyone I know to counteract that by showing us all that a blissful ride on the river bottoms, or a joyous hour spent bouncing off a rock is not only fun, but contributes to bone health and a sense of well-being.

    Thanks, Griff.

    March 18, 2014
  4. John Schaubach said:

    Thanks for the good question. The sport of mountain biking is realatively new and evolving rapidly into new threads with the advancement of bike technology and course options to ride on. So mountain biking is not so much about mountains now…. it is a growing variety of off road, all terrain pedal driven driven experiences that offer adventue and challenge for all ages and skills. This development is ahead of the curve of engagement. And there is really very few ;entry level options for seniors to easily find their sweet spot in all this. What bike? ( I have settled on my fat bike as first choice year around.) Where to first ride? What off road bike skills must be learned? (Your technical bike riding coaching last year helped me become a much better and safer rider. Thanks.) What safety equipment is needed? What physical demand is called for? Having someone to ride with when starting out is essential. Joining an experienced biker on ones family tree is a good place to start. It is pretty cool to see three generations of a family mountain biking together.

    March 19, 2014
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Bruce, thanks for your kind comments but I think I need to up my accounts of blissful rides and ratchet back my accounts of bouncing off rocks!

    March 19, 2014
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    John, your comments about entry level options for seniors are right on. It’s what I’m hoping to figure out.

    John and Bruce, I posted this for Jenny and Liz on Facebook but I’ll ask you as well:

    When you guys introduce newbies to mtb’ing at the Cuyuna Lakes, you take them on Haul Road trail, is that correct? I know that that’s what Aaron Hautala tends to do. Is the level of difficulty often too much for new riders? How about Easy Street? Are there plans to construct an easier beginner-level trail there?

    March 19, 2014
  7. John Schaubach said:

    Good question on where to take newbies at Cuyuna. If they have never ridden an off road bike before, I suggest first gravel riding, forest trails or, at Cuyuna, Sagamore trails. This way the rider experiences variation in ground resistance, the amount of momentum needed to go over changing terrain, the physical power needed to climb a grade and what it takes to navigate a controlled line through all this. This basic skill building leads to the confidence needed to tackle single track.

    I do think Haul Road and Trout are the best starting trails at Cuyuna. Decent sight lines…. A nice roll without to much climb that helps conserve the momentum of the bike. … No difficult challenge features. Just good cross country flow.

    But realistically they are not the perfect beginner trail. I would like to see available, say, a mile loop with a wider track that encorporates simple graceful flow design of gradual up an down and sweeping side to side bermed turns. Something that would immediately afford the new rider the core mountain biking experience that these purpose built trails are designed to deliver… something that is so engaging and inspiring they will want to ride more …and know they are able to.

    March 19, 2014
  8. Roger Christensen said:

    I’m 66. I’ve been mountain biking off and on for about 15 years. Most falls are at low speeds in relatively soft dirt. No issues whatsoever. A great pastime and really good for us. As a side effect of an operation I had, I had a stroke last year. Riding singletrack was the single most beneficial activity I could do afterwards, trying to improve my balance and hand eye coordination. Highly recommended.

    March 19, 2014
  9. Hi, Griff. Beginners with me have tried Haul Road and most of the other green and blue trails. I took my daughter on Demo trail (not the rock ridge) and got flak…she fell in poison ivy (hey! Lookit…oops!) , and it was my fault for the dermatitis. The bruise on her arm was of no consequence!

    Truth is I haven’t had the opportunity to guide anyone I don’t feel would have trouble. The worst charge I had was an 11-year-old boy…not from lack of skill, but because he was so excited he couldn’t concentrate on piloting the bike. He rubbernecked and chattered so much I worried he’d have trouble. He was fine.

    Most of Cuyuna was designed to look a little harder than it really is to make it fun and challenging, but ultimately safe. They did a good job of meeting goals, IMO. Some will complain a bit about climbs, but not about the downhill rewards!

    March 19, 2014
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Hey Roger, good to have another mid-60s mountain biker here.

    I’m a little stunned to hear that you’ve been using it to improve your balance and hand eye coordination to help recover from your stroke. I’m guessing it would be the opposite for most people, ie, “I can’t mountain bike any more because my balance/hand eye coordination is shot.”

    How long has it been and how close are you to being able to ride at the level of difficulty/skill that you were at prior to your stroke?

    March 19, 2014
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    John, it never occurred to me to do what you do for those who’ve never ridden off road at all. That’s a really good strategy, ie, a little skill/confidence building BEFORE attempting a beginner single track. We actually have some of those super wide dirt trails here in Northfield and in nearby Faribault but I’ve not taken beginners on them because they don’t deliver the fun factor that the new purpose-built trails do.

    But I can see now that a two-stage approach would be best for pure beginners, ie, “I’m first going to take you on an old style, boring dirt trail just to give you a little experience on what it’s like to ride in the dirt. And then step 2 will be a new style, fun beginner trail.”

    I think your vision of a trail that’s able to do both at once is brilliant. Build one at Cuyuna and get Bruce to help you!

    March 19, 2014
  12. John Schaubach said:

    Hey Griff, don’t sell some of these other kinds of natural surface biking too short. I do prefer single track. But I also make sure I get in some gravel and forest trail riding here and there as well.Sometimes the single track is closed to protect iit. That’s why I have come to love my fat bike. All year round there is always a place to ride

    March 19, 2014
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Good point, John. I’ve actually never ridden a fat bike on gravel, on an old style dirt trail, or other non-singletrack natural surface trail. I now have some homework to do. I’ll get right on it!

    March 19, 2014
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    The core question in my mind is whether there are effective strategies that would make it more likely for baby boomers to try mountain biking. If you guys talk to other boomers about mountain biking, what works/doesn’t work?

    For example, would a beginner MTB class for boomers only be more effective than trying to get them to show up for an all-ages beginner MTB class?

    March 19, 2014
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    John/Bruce, what’s your thinking about protective gear like gloves, knee/shin pads, and elbow pads when introducing newbies to mountain biking?

    On the one hand, it could be argued that if people are wearing protective gear, they’re less worried about getting hurt if they fall and therefore they’re more relaxed, learn more quickly, and thus even LESS likely to fall.

    On the other hand, it could be argued that if a ride leader/instructor is wearing protective gear and/or urging that the new riders do likewise, it says that this sport is very dangerous even at the beginner level, and therefore they’re more anxious, learn less quickly, and thus even MORE likely to fall.

    March 20, 2014
  16. Roger Christensen said:

    Hi Griff, I had a minor heart op last March. During/after the op I experienced a stroke. Left side total jelly. In a day or so I had some leg movement. In 3 days I was in therapy and left the hospital 4 days later- after various disagreements on my recovery. I had/have some left hand/arm issues, but in the week following checking out of the hospital, I was on my bike for short periods. In a month or so I was back on moderate singletrack. It was highly beneficial. I didn’t get to do enough for various reasons, but feel if I had I would be even better.

    That’s been a year, and I don’t know if I will ever be back to the level I was at-not that great-but I’m pretty good now. I’ll know more this spring as soon as it dries up. I did do 20 miles on a local race last November. I was able to finish and ride all but the sketchy downhill that I have never been able to ride…. so the fact I do bicycle was probably beneficial for my recovery.

    And mtb’n was way better recovery than anything else I did. It really improved my hand eye coordination. Riding kind of forces your brain to function. If you can walk and hang on the bars, you can ride. So…..Bikers Bounce Back Better !!!! and yes, you can use the 4 B’s to promote MTB’N !!

    March 20, 2014
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    That’s a great story, Roger. BBBB, indeed. Post an update when you get out for a ride after it dries up. Here in southern Minnesota, it’s looking like it’s still going to be a while before our trails will be ready. Where do you live?

    March 20, 2014
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    John/Bruce, when you introduce newbies, do you address the issue of pedals – flats vs. clipless?

    I ride flats all the time but it seems like it would be alienating to newcomers to the sport for a ride leader/instructor to be clipped in, much less for them to be preaching the benefits of clipless. For anyone who’s new to the sport and not confident of their balance ability on a bike, the idea of having ones feet secured to the pedals seems to freak them out.

    March 20, 2014
  19. Roger Christensen said:

    I’m just south of Viroqua WI. We have a great trail system here-Sidie Hollow and the Kickapoo Reserve plus the system in town-Hubbard Hills. You should come down for a ride and to sample the local coffee and now BEER too! We’ve been to Lebanon Hills and really enjoyed it. You may know Pete at the local bike shop-Bluedog Cycles. An avid mtb’er and trail advocate. Trails should be rideable in a couple of weeks, even if we have to use the fat bikes.

    March 20, 2014
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    I just might take you up on that offer, Roger. I love that area of Wisconsin. Years ago, I competed in a mototrials event near Westby, just north of you.

    You may know a guy named Marty Larson who just moved here (Northfield). He was very involved in the Vernon Trails http://vernontrails.com/ and is now one of the co-founders of a new mtb club here called CROCT: http://croct.org/ See his face in the group photo in this blog post: http://croct.org/first-meeting-of-cannon-river-offroad-cycling-and-trails-croct/

    March 20, 2014
  21. patmccloskey said:

    Griff. We have plenty of senior mountain bikers here in Western Pa and WVA. We give the young ones all they can handle. Sure there are the young racer types who are tough but for the most part, we have a bunch of guys who can ride and hold their own. http://Www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com. Check out my blog. You might also be interested in http://www.seniorsskiing.com.

    July 24, 2016
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Hey Pat, thanks for chiming in.

    I think the issue for me now is to what extent mountain biking can be introduced to seniors, first as ‘recreation. A few will graduate to where it becomes a ‘sport.’ I’m guessing that you and your buddies have all been riding for a while and consider it a sport for you. See my Part 2 on this issue: https://mountainbikegeezer.com/why-arent-there-more-seniors-mountain-biking-part-2/

    July 25, 2016
  23. patmccloskey said:

    That is true. I have been riding since 1987 and a lot of our guys have been riding a long time too. We do consider it a sport like skiing. Keeping up with equipment technology helps a lot. Regards and keep doing your good work to spread the fun.

    July 25, 2016

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