Who Needs Bingo? Elderly Cyclists Smash Expectations With Mega Trips

Retirement used to involve less activity, not more, but times have changed. Among certain retirees, long-distance cycling — and we mean seriously long distance — has replaced gardening, golf, and lawn bowling. One elderly man rode from Scotland to Mongolia. Another man and his wife started cycling around the world the day that they retired.

Why the shift? Australian retiree Tilmann Waldthaler believes that at least some cases, 80 is the new 50.

Tilmann Waldthale doesn't feel like an 80year old

Tilmann Waldthale, 80, says he feels like 50. Photo: SBS Australia


“I don’t look like an 80-year-old, I don’t think like an 80-year-old, I don’t act like an 80-year-old,” says Waldthaler.

Waldthaler has cycled more than 520,000km through 143 countries. With “the body of a 50-year-old”, he shows no signs of slowing down.

For Waldthaler, the life-altering moment came in 1972. He was on his way from Cairns to Darwin when he noticed a person bike-packing. The sight fascinated him. Ever since 1977, he’s biked around world. During one stint, he rode more than 55,000 from New Zealand to the Arctic Circle in Norway via Asia and the Middle East. It took him five years.

Waldthaler has been held at gunpoint in Iran and hit by a bus in India. In 1982, he met his wife in the Sahara. The couple don’t have any children. But they have 14 bikes.

The Jensens began their bike adventure the day after retirement began

The Jensens began their bike adventure the morning after their retirement began. Photo: Market Watch

Nonstop duo

Another couple hopped on their bikes the day after husband Eric Jansen retired. They locked their door at 7:30 am, started pedaling, and haven’t stopped since.

It was never the Jensens’ plan to cycle around the world for their retirement. But after husband Eric had finished his 40-year career in industrial construction, their plans to return to the United States from Malaysia escalated. The following day, they began pedaling. Now they’ve cycled more than 10,000km over eight months.

They’ve explored Thailand’s ancient temples and been greeted by hundreds of village children in rural Laos. Chance encounters with other retiree cyclists re-energize them when homesickness, stifling heat, food poisoning, or punctured tires sour their mood.

Despite the occasional glum moment, the Jansens insist that the experience is the most joyful of their lives.

Len Collingwood now holds a World Record

Len Collingwood at 65. Photo: World Record Academy


“You feel like your teeth are falling out”

Len Collingwood took to long-distance cycling at the age of 68. Now 71, the Edinburgh grandfather has even broken a world record — okay, a pretty obscure one — for the longest rickshaw journey. He rode from the Scottish capital to Istanbul.

Leaving in 2018, Collingwood cycled through 12 countries, including England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

“The most difficult part was the cobbled streets in Belgium — you feel like your teeth are going to fall out,” he says.

For whatever reason, the chance to set a world record strongly motivated Collingwood. World records had always fascinated him, and when he realized that he wasn’t too late to hold one, he began planning.

He made a deal with his wife: She could train as a yoga teacher and he could become an adventure cyclist. Agreement in place, he started riding from Mongolia back to Edinburgh. Almost immediately, a snowstorm swept over the steppes. Hunkered down in his tent wearing all his clothing, he withstood the minus 18˚C temperature.

To fuel his 80km daily regime, he ate more than 4,000 calories for six months. He says that there was never a day he couldn’t face the saddle.

“There’s always something to be curious about,” he says. “And I’m very happy in my own company.”

A helluva high-school reunion

It seems ambitious ideas are a common theme for these retirees. American Merle Knotts of Georgia was also 68 when he was told that his particular idea was too ambitious. But he didn’t let skepticism stop him. Instead, the retired computer programmer left in 2007 on a 5,500km journey to his 50-year high school reunion.

Nowadays, if you look at the Facebook group Bicycle Travellers, you’ll find everyone from a foursome in their mid-60s cycling for six weeks around Slovenia and Croatia to 84-year-old Horst Blancke who has just finished riding over 4,000km across Australia from Darwin to Perth. Chalk it up to the efficiency and low-impact nature of cycling — Belgian cobblestones notwithstanding.

selfie of 84 year old cyclist in Australian bush

Horst Blancke in mid-journey. Photo: Horst Blancke/Facebook

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall is a writer for ExplorersWeb. She has been writing about exploration and historical expeditions for four years. Previously she wrote about the human body in relation to exercise for publications and websites based in New Zealand. She also wrote modules for the Zealand Certificate of Exercise, Level 4. Based on Wellington’s South Coast, New Zealand, Myall is a full-time mother of two young girls, an enthusiastic trail runner, and a fanatical traveler. She also owns and operates a small travel agency.