Getting Old Sucks. Rowan Minnion Has Tips for Making MTB Rides Better With Age

Rowan Minnion, a 44-year-old mountain biker, researcher, exercise physiologist, and the founder of the supplement company Blonyx has a few ideas for staying fit and progressing mountain bike skills as we get older.
Photos courtesy of Rowan Minnion

Getting old sucks. Some people really want to make sure that you know that fact when you’re young. So much so, that it can make you wonder, what can be done to prevent aging from sucking so much.

Rowan Minnion, a 44-year-old mountain biker, researcher, exercise physiologist, and the founder of the supplement company Blonyx has a few ideas, after thorough research on the topic and going through the annual motions himself. We caught up with Minnion to hear out his recommendations. Since one of life’s few guarantees is death, we might as well try to make the space and the rides before that mile marker as comfortable as possible.

Where does it hurt?

“The changes I noticed most, it’s along the kind of injury and recovery route. It seems that my body gets beat up a little bit more for the same level of activity I would do ten years ago, 15-20 years ago, kind of thing. I just wouldn’t feel as beat up.” That’s not on every ride, he says. Usually the big weekend rides, or a jaunt down an epic descent are when he starts to notice.

“But, it’s how you feel after, you know. The kind of aches and that kind of thing, and you really just feel like you have lethargy the next day and those aches, and when you go back to bike the next day, you just don’t have it, or have the same strength for those punchy climbs.” It’s a marked difference from his rides twenty years ago.

“When I was younger, and especially in my 20s, I wouldn’t be affected by that. I would get up and go the next day. No problem.” That doesn’t mean the rides on a bike trip are one and done. Minnion says, you just have to be a little more careful. “If you do have two, three days of riding ahead, don’t go all out on the first day.”

Another area Minnion feels has been impacted by age is balance and reaction time.

“And this is interesting and this is where the science has come into this. Reaction speed and balance is something that can start to fall away as you get older. And I definitely find that if I’m fatigued from the day before riding, that on my next day, I’m a little bit slower. My reaction time is a little bit slow and it takes me a little while to get my balance going.”

Minnion believes that reaction time and balance are more closely related to strength and muscle condition, and we’ll dive into that topic soon. Though it seems like cardiovascular performance would also take a considerable hit in later years, that might not always be the case.

“So, I think you can still build your cardiovascular fitness and a lot of people say that as you get older, you do lose cardiovascular fitness and there’s research to show that, but there’s also research to show that you can actually keep it where it is and even improve it. You’ve just got to put the training time in. It’s a whole lot like, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ But if you do use it frequently you actually keep it.”

Elasticity vs. rigidity

Over time, static positions, like the time spent behind a desk can add up, as do injuries, and form imbalances. “And, I think that when you’re older, you pay for that a lot. And biking is one of them. With biking, you’re in this body position that is quite static,” he says, “and what I found as I get older is I get punished for that.”

Unfortunately, riding, like sitting at a desk is not the best position for a good posture. In both seats, the person is hunched over with shoulders bowing in. That calls for extra attention and stretching.

“So, the thing that I focus on, for me are retraction, the shoulders strengthening and stretching, to kind of bring them back, so I’ve got a better kind of upper shoulder posture.

“And the other one is hips, and especially in my hip flexors.” Minnion pays more attention to his hamstrings and posterior chain, because with sitting and riding, the hamstrings and posterior muscles can become less active than the quadriceps and hip flexors. Over the past few years, he’s worked to train for balanced strength and mobility.

“And that has been a real game changer. I’d recommend that any biker get bands that you can hang from your door handle or something like that where you’re just pulling and doing a bunch of pulling work and stretching out as well.”

Taking fewer risks

The adage is as old an excuse as time itself: “I’m too old for this.” As Minnion noted above, the recovery time for crashing typically lengthens when people get older. That might mean that it’s easier for some to dismiss features that they used to ride when they were younger. Risk is relevant to everyone’s perception of danger, however, and their skillset.

“You know, this is a really interesting question. And it kind of depends, like, I go bigger on my mountain bike and go down scarier stuff than I ever have in my life; now. And I’m like, you know, I’m 44 and I’m in the bike park, hitting Dirt Merchant and A-line, and trails like that. But I know, three, four years ago, I looked at them, and thought ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’ And I’m not really sure how they came about.”

That doesn’t mean he’s more of a daredevil as he’s gotten older. Minnion admits he has a greater fear of injury, but can manage it. Mountain biking can promote a culture of dare, and a “If you do it, I’ll do it” mentality. “I think the bottom line is, I have to wrestle with it a lot more to stay and take those risks and push myself biking.”

Minnion sees his friends in the other boat occasionally though, who don’t want to take the risks that they used to and just aren’t interested in pushing the limit anymore. “I put it down as them having other priorities in life, they can’t get out to ride as much and so it’s like preserving that.” Usually, they are just out to ride and have fun.

Training for youth

Minnion has some excellent (in my opinion) advice for keeping your agility, balance, and reaction speed in check as you age. It involves playing, on and off the bike, and seemingly practicing skills for the sake of fun or even to pass time on a rainy day.

“As a mountain biker, spend time on skinnies and stuff like that and actually practice. It’s that fine tuning that you do when you’re on wood work and I think it really helps your general riding,” he says. “That’s one, and the other one interestingly is play video games. It’s something that I never had done – and I still don’t play video games that much – I did as a kid, and I’m gonna start getting back into it now and I’ve read this research about doing it and saying that, like anything, your reaction speed and time slows down if you don’t use it all that much. But, playing video games is a really great way of getting your hand-eye coordination really fine tuned.”

Strength training also helps tremendously, says Minnion. “[By] going in and at least twice a week doing heavy squats, heavy deadlifts, shoulder press, all this kind of stuff that is pure strength, there’s a lot of research that in general if you’re aging and if you want athletic performance, strength training is something you really need to bring in as you get older and because it’s one of the first things to start to decline.”

If he had to recommend one thing on riding more as an older person, it would be this: “I think, prioritize it. Aging and how it impacts your riding, I do think it’s about how much you do it. As you get older, you’ve got so much more going on in your life. I run a company, I’ve got two kids and things like that, that really do take up your time. And if you don’t prioritize mountain biking or whatever sport it is you have, you simply do it less.”