If you’re Sydney Abrams, you’ll be getting ready to ride this weekend’s Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Sydney’s been riding the event for as long as he can remember. When I gave him a call to share with him that he’s our oldest rider this year, he said “Surely there’s someone older.”
Nope. He’s got the next oldest rider beat by five years. But he thinks there should be more octogenarians on the ride.
“A few years ago, I looked around the ride and didn’t recognize anyone,” he lamented. “I had more friends who rode, but they got older and decided they didn’t want to or couldn’t, or they died.”
For the past few years, Sydney, too, has cut back, riding half the STP and returning home from Centralia on the train. He emphasized to me that his ride “doesn’t count” since he doesn’t finish in Portland. But clearly, when he doesn’t see any people his age riding bicycles, it does count.
He decided to get into biking when he moved to Mercer Island 55 years ago.
“They told me, anyone who lives on Mercer Island and doesn’t ride a bike is crazy.” So he went to get a bike. When he visited a shop, he was overwhelmed by the technical aspects the sales person peppered him with, and told the mechanic he had no idea what he was talking about.
“He told me, ‘Well that’s a funny thing to say about a $400 bicycle,’ and he was right! Back then, four hundred dollars was like four thousand dollars. So I bought a $150 bike instead.”
Even that, he admits, was a chunk of change to drop on a bicycle. Sydney figured if he spent that much, he’d have to ride it, or “My wife would give me hell if I didn’t.”
And ride he did. Sydney recalled how he worked in wine distribution and sales, and would park his car and ride his bike to do his sales calls.
Sydney remembers attending Cascade membership meetings on Mercer Island, where the Club was formed 42 years ago. He also served as the chair of the citizen’s advisory committee on bicycling, a joint venture of the State House and Senate Transportation Committees. “If it ever had anything to do with bicycling, I supported it,” he said.
Today, though, he is troubled by conflict on the trails among users. He shared story after story of pedestrians – particularly elderly ones – who have been “scared off the trails” by bicyclists who ride fast and aggressively. His stories are sad – and embarrassing. No elderly women out for a walk should get cussed out or threatened by guys on bikes. His own wife, a noted artist, was clipped by a pedal and had to have surgery to repair the injury.
Sydney presses on, a good ambassador for staying active later in life.
“A few years ago, I had to walk up the Puyallup hill. I was exhausted. But I tell people, ‘Even if you have to walk a hill or two, you can still have a nice ride.’”
Look for Sydney riding his blue Rivendell Romulus on the first leg of this weekend’s event. Take a moment to ponder, “What will I be doing when I’m 85 years old?” and consider how impressive it is for Sydney to be out there. Then, when you’re back home and riding your local trails, look out for the other octogenarians. After all, if you keep bicycling in your life, you’ll likely live to be one of them.
[Author note: Is this what our community has come to? It interests me to think, here’s an 85-year-old man who’s been biking for most of his life. He's just like each of us, plus a few decades. Sharing the trail with care and mutual respect should be the norm so that we’re not literally running the active senior citizens, insulting the walkers and intimidating the kids off the trails. Who are the vulnerable user in those instances? We who ride bikes want courtesy, safety and respect on the roads and trails. That means we have to give it as well.]