Walking down Agricola Street on any given day, you’re sure to see anywhere from five to 47 vintage two-speeds either chained up or being navigated by charismatic, stylish and carefully dishevelled-looking twenty-somethings. Their modes of transportation are at least 30 years their senior—and the older, the better.
But what about the folks who were driving these vintage Raleighs and Schwinns when they were brand new? Despite the stereotype that Halifax’s cycling population is primarily made up of hipsters and yuppies, there’s actually a major group of much older, experienced cyclists here.
Sixty-seven-year-old Bob White took up the sport at a young age, like most people. He founded the Nova Scotia Ramblers Bicycling Club in 2007, and it has since grown to be the largest bicycle club east of Quebec City.
“The club exceeded all expectations and is now self run,” he says. “Last year, we closed off with 235 members, and the average age is about 60. We have been to Cape Breton, PEI, Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire and Florida as a group.”
White, who clocks 8,000-10,000 kilometres each year, says Halifax’s cycling culture has fluctuated in the past, but he’s happy to see it alive and well now as it ever was.
“I led my first group tour over 50 years ago,” he says. “At the time, biking in Halifax was cool and popular. This waned in the 1970s, however, since the late-’90s cycling has made a great comeback. I look at central and north end Halifax—bikes are tethered everywhere. The scene reminds me of a mini-San Francisco several years ago. I applaud everyone who bikes. The ones who commute are heroes in my books, simple as that.”
Gary Conrod, 58, has been a member of the Velo Halifax Bicycle Club for 41 years. He says the more seasoned cyclists, like himself, beat out the younger cycling population by a landslide—not just in Halifax, but all across the country. “I think number-wise, while lots of youth are biking, it is a very tiny community compared to the larger city. We are talking thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Older cyclists are by far the majority in Halifax, as stats show for all Canadian cities.”
Conrod says the lack of young people in the cycling community is something to do with the current generation’s obsession with indoorsy, individual past-times. No, he’s not just blaming texting and video games. Urban cycling, he feels, has eclipsed long-distance, cross-Canada trips.
“There used to be thousands of young people cycling across Canada,” Conrod says. “I did it as a 19-year-old. I did it with a huge group. Now, the young people are mostly gone. Most cyclists you will see out there on the highways are middle-aged, about half of them seniors. Where did the kids go?”
Bob White say the kids didn’t go anywhere. They just grew up a bit. “I have friends in their 70s and 80s who still ride 75-kilometre distances, and I ask myself: why not?” says White. “Folks who are retired usually have the time and funds to bike. It is all about making the decision to do so. So, come, dust off that bike in the basement and like me, be 12 again.”