Jan takes to the power of pedals

STEPHEN EASTON meets determined Jan McKenzie who, despite falling off her bike again and again, never gave up on learning to cycle at 70

INSPIRED by an extremely enthusiastic woman she heard on the radio raving about the wonders of a bicycle skills course for adults, Mawson resident Jan McKenzie decided to give it a go herself.

She hadn’t ridden a bike for 62 years, but it’s the quintessential thing that you never forget, right?

“I couldn’t ride at all,” she laughs. “When I first started riding there were times when I fell off every time I got on! It was horrible!”

When Jan enrolled in the “New Horizons” course run by social cycling club Pedal Power last February, she was still unsure about the whole idea of becoming a bike rider at 70, but put her doubts aside and pondered what kind of bike she would ride and where it would come from.

Cyclist Jan McKenzie. Photo: Gary Schafer

Cyclist Jan McKenzie. Photo: Gary Schafer

Reluctant to buy one in case she hated it straight away, Jan decided to start off with a practice on a friend’s bike and saw the gradient of the learning curve she faced was rather steep.

“I tried to get on her bike but I just couldn’t do it,” she recalls.

Despite this less than successful debut, Jan was still determined to join Pedal Power and enrol in the course.

She turned to Google, researched the “best bike for an older person” and chose a touring bike with a wide seat, step-through frame, short wheelbase, tall headset, shock absorbers and grip-shift gear selectors.

“I went off to the course and it was just great!” Jan enthuses. “It went for 10 weeks and I loved it. I met people and everybody was so helpful. I would fall off the bike, get back on – you know, I really was the worst in the class, out of about 14 women, but I’d go every week and I’d try.”

She is effusive in her praise for the patient and helpful instructors and volunteers from Pedal Power.

“In the end they sort of assigned people to me to yell out instructions,” she says. “They were fabulous! They rode with me when all the other people went off, touring around and I was sort of struggling along. It was wonderful.”

Pedal Power runs separate New Horizons programs for women and people over 55 who want to learn and improve their bike skills to ride safely and with more confidence. Jan chose the course for women and found she made a lot of new friends.

“I became friends – good friends – with about four of them,” she says. “I meet them occasionally and we go for a ride together.

“I also thought the younger women were really very patient and tolerant of a beginner, and I was always conscious that I might hold them up.”

The course is not only for absolute beginners like Jan, but any adults in the target groups – women over 18 and anyone over 55 – and covers a whole range of bicycle skills for adults, including traffic awareness, nutrition, basic maintenance and even includes a lesson in using the bike racks on Action buses.

“By the end I’d achieved pretty much what I’d wanted to,” says Jan. “I can ride without falling off, which wasn’t the case for about the first four weeks, but I still can’t say that I’m very good at it!”


More information at pedalpower.org.au


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