Bottom Line: Knoweth Thy Limits, Wise One.

Ride with younger guys? Then ride wise and slow down. Credit: Pat McCloskey

As I  was pounding the rocks of  Laurel Mountain on the mountain bike with  a group of younger riders here in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands, I was thinking strategy.  At 63 years old, I am still in pretty good shape but the older I get, I start thinking about the old adage “age and treachery will beat youth and skill”.  Not really applicable in most cases but at least I can try – right?  So the first thing I think of is: don’t push the anaerobic limit to be the first up the hills and over the rocks.  Let the young guns deal with that and I will just keep them in sight.

I have learned to ride within myself and only exert myself enough to keep a visual on the group, especially with a longer three hour + ride.  A more scientific approach is the below which is done with a heart rate monitor:

  • Zone 1: 60 to 70 %; very comfortable effort; use this for warmup and cool down
  • Zone 2: 70 to 80 %; comfortable enough to hold a conversation; most training is done here
  • Zone 3: 81 to 93%; “comfortably hard” effort; you may be able to say short, broken sentences.
  • Zone 4: 94 to 100%; hard effort; the pace is sustainable, but conversation is a few words at a time.
Author Pat McCloskey ponders whether to go around a big section to get back to the parking lot.

Basically the zones are dictated by two theories.  The original theory is dictated by the target maximum heart rate of 220 minus your age. Then you can calculate with a heart rate monitor which zone you can ride in.  This calculation is not quite accurate because it does account for conditioning.  A better way to use the zones is to calculate what is called Heart Rate Reserve which is your max heart rate minus your resting heart rate. Find out what your real max heart rate is by exerting yourself in Zone 4 with a monitor and then in the morning at rest, calculate your true resting heart rate.  This allows for conditioning and the zones can be used according to that calculation on a heart rate monitor.  All in all, I use a monitor on rides to tell me when I am exerting myself above my perceived rate of exertion which will lead to fatigue on a long ride if I am not careful. Use the monitor and slow down accordingly.  As long as I keep the group in sight and can be in the Zone 2 area, I am a happy rider.

Another strategy is not to ride every section but take a breather and bypass a section and/or coast to the next meeting area.  Sometimes that means taking a fire road instead of a technical trail..  I like to challenge myself and take the technical sections but I know if I take them all, I will not be able to keep up or complete the ride.  Ride to ride another day is my motto, and I am not out to prove anything.

Lastly, know your limits and know when you are finished.  You don’t want to get hurt and if you are too fatigued, it can happen easily on a mountain bike.  Sometimes you have to cut out and take the fire road back to the parking area for a head start on the post ride beer.  Hey, you had a good ride, with younger, stronger riders, but for a guy who is older, this is the way to stay involved without compromising your ride or theirs.

Riding season is upon us, and there is no reason not to challenge yourself within limits.  Go for it.  Have fun but as Harry Callaghan once said, “ A man has to know his limitations.”

Cross or divert? Use your noggin and your heart rate monitor to decide. Credit: Par McCloskey


  1. Good advice, Pat. Just used these stategies this week-first trail ride 17 weeks after knee replacement with my very in shape 26 yo son! Made it with some rest periods! I’m 63 also-ride to ride another day!

    • Pat McCloskey says:

      Thanks Brad. The older we get…..the better we were.

    • Bruce Courtney says:

      Congrats on your come back. I just turned 60 & my doc said that my right knee has basically no cartilage left. I plan to go one more time this March with my real knee, then probably submit to the total replacement. Can you give me any advice on preparing for the surgery & what to expect after in terms of rehab? All the best my friend.

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