Meet the cycling club where 81 is still young
A series celebrating older people in our community who defy their years to do amazing things.
At 81, cyclist Bill Yates is still just a boy.
He is one of five men wedged into tight, bright, Lycra gathered in the Princess Margaret Hospital car park on a drizzly Monday morning. Cycle shorts reveal thin, pale pink scars running over his kneecaps. The matching incisions are lasting signs of surgery.
Ten years his senior are veterans Graham White and Les Fibbens, and rounding out the group are Eric Hunter, 85, and Bruce Stanton, 82. Some have come for the exercise, others for the company, but for most, the weekly meeting of the Magpies is simply routine.
The Magpies, named after a series of incidents with the pesky bird, are a group of Christchurch cyclists who meet to ride about 80 kilometres out to Tai Tapu for a coffee and a chat.
Cyclist Les Fibbens, 91, fondly remembers the group’s inaugural meet. About 15 years ago, a handful of mostly retirees got together for a ride and, after finding most cafes were shut, went back to his house to ‘‘rummage in the cupboards for something to eat’’. At some point during the ensuing banter, the Magpies were born.
A diverse group of men and women make up the now 100-strong group with various fragments at differing abilities operating across the city. Some were lawyers, others doctors or managers. Most were former runners who ‘‘wore [their] body out’’ or competitive athletes, all were passionate about fitness and wellbeing and ‘‘getting on a bit in age’’ was no barrier, Hunter said.
A healthy rivalry and competitive spirit among the group kept the older members chugging along and ‘‘keeping up with the young ones’’.
They rode with a buddy, side-by-side, and chatted about life, loss and love.
‘‘You get to know the boring ones . . . the conversation doesn’t last long.
‘‘There’s one of two of us who have lost our partners, which has been very, very hard . . . we’ve helped one another but it’s not been easy.’’
Despite having two knee replacements and a hip pin, Hunter has shown no sign of slowing down.
In July, he returned from a 13-day bike tour of Budapest, where he clocked up about 100 kilometres a day, one of only three in the 17-strong group to opt out of using an electronic bike. His ambitious streak helped him complete several high-level rides, including the multi-stage Tour of Ireland and the Isle of Man International Road Race. He was a non-travelling reserve for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and won the team’s section in the first ever Coast to Coast.
Hunter entered the Coast to Coast multisport competition for the last time aged 79, the oldest person ever to complete the 243-kilometre event.
A Sport Canterbury’s Spaces and Places report found that retirees in the region did more cycling, golf, bowls, and aquarobics than the national average. Twenty-seven per cent cycled, eight per cent higher than the national average. Fellow Magpie Bruce Stanton took up track cycling at age 63, and is still in the arena 20 years on.
Stanton, 82, was the oldest competitor in the track cycling programme but came home in first in all but one of the races he entered in the South Island Masters Games last year. The only one in the group on Monday to have retained his own knees and hips, he credits his exemplary health, refusing to make excuses for himself.
‘‘Keeping active, that’s what you have to do. Find something and keep doing it, get out there.’’
Bill Yates, 81, leads fellow Magpie cyclists Bruce Stanton, 82, Graham White, 91, and Eric Hunter, 85.
Les Fibbens has been a keen cyclist all his life and was a founding member of the Magpies.