If you can remember this

you’re old.

  • sprocket boards at the bike shop, so you could build a custom freewheel
  • “corn cob” or “straight block” freewheels (14-15-16-17-18)
  • “alpine” gearing (14-28)
  • “Half-step” gearing (in which each shift between chainrings is ½ of each shift between cogs) or the “half-step plus granny” touring variant
  • downtube shifters
  • pre-Hyperglide cogs, which you could flip over when worn and they’d be like new again.
  • Zeus (the Campagnolo clone company)
  • Jack Taylor, Ron Cooper, 3Rensho, Cinelli, Ciocc, and other framebuilders
  • Framesets hanging from ceiling hooks in the bikeshop – you ordered parts to have them built up custom.
  • Suntour, Stronglight, Atom, Regina, Normandy, Simplex, Weinmann, Dia-Compe, and other component manufacturers
  • center-pull brakes
  • No braze-ons – all accessories clamped onto frame tubes
  • Braze-on pump pegs
  • When Cannondale made bags (panniers, handlebar bags), not bikes
  • Tire savers
  • Tubular (“sew up”) tires

How old is old?

  • “40 is the new 30.” (Douglas Coupland, author of “Generation X”)
  • “50 is the new 30…and delusion is the new self-esteem.” (Steve Kelley snd Jeff Parker – from the comic strip “Dustin”)
  • “Don’t trust anybody over 30.” (Jack Weinberg of the UC-Berkeley Free Speech Movement)
  • “14 or Fight.” (Christopher Jones, fictional character from the movie “Wild in the Streets”)
  • “Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one/If you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan)
  • I saw a sign advertising Senior Apartments the other day. This is old to them:

I discovered the lifespan of a Campagnolo Super Record cassette is 3 chains. I placed my fourth chain on the Wilier last week and took it out for a test ride. Fine around the block, so we headed into the countryside. Soon, one cog began skipping under load. Fine, I thought, I can get by without that gear for today. I’ll change before the next ride. Then another and another began skipping. I realized I could not get up the infamous Mounds Park Road missing 3 of my lower gears, so I cut the ride short. I still got to see (and climb) this:

Actually, Campagnolo 11 speeds come with two groups of 3 and 5 loose sprockets, so individual parts could be replaced, if one could buy them that way – or if one chose to take some of the parts out of the box and leave others behind.

Note that we are moving on from the trees blooming to the trees leafing out. This is a few miles down the road from our adopted highway, and a few seconds before I came upon a rider with a broken derailleur hanger – which kind of ends one’s ride. I didn’t feel so bad about cutting ten mostly uphill miles from my ride.

With a new cassette in place I headed out again on Sunday, riding into a strong headwind for 25 miles. It was 45 degrees (7 C), so I tucked a bag between my jersey and my jacket for the first several miles to add insulation and wind-proofing. My luck held and the wind was still blowing for the tailwind part of the day when the temperature soared to 55 (13 C).

I was thinking that the bike is almost ready to go (more so than I), but that it needs new shoes (tires and tubes) before the trip, which brought this to mind:

The wind had me singing wind songs – the mind brings up what it brings up.


Forgetting where your keys are, or forgetting what your keys are?

One of the definitions of Alzheimer’s Disease is that it is normal to forget where you put your keys. It is not normal to find your keys and not know what they’re for.

My father died of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD, also known as SDAT – Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type) at age 78. He recognized no one around him. My mom, on the other hand, died at age 93. She not only knew who I was, but knew that, since it was Monday, it was my day off and that was why I could be with her all day. The fact that she was dying went unsaid. She died just as it got dark that evening.

How does one die of Alzheimer’s Disease? Forgetfulness goes beyond just “what are these things for?” to forgetting how to chew and swallow. The immediate cause may be dehydration or malnutrition but the ultimate cause is the disease. My father’s autopsy report mentioned cardiac arrest and multiple organ system failure…duh. He died when his heart stopped beating, not really because it stopped beating. He could have remained alive longer with IV fluids and a feeding tube, but to what end? He had made that decision long before, as have I. If you have not done it yet, write an Advance Directive – a document that specifies what care you want (and don’t want) in the event of a terminal condition. I know – you don’t want to think about that. Death happens to other people. Guess what? It happens to all of us. But you’re not old. Guess what? Not everyone dies of “old age”. Ultimately, there is one terminal condition in life – it is birth.

Alzheimer’s is only definitively diagnosed after death, from examining the brain. In his case, they even left that out until we demanded an addendum to the report. They had examined his brain but neglected to include those findings in the report. With research, we may be able to diagnose the disease short of death; maybe even treat, cure, or prevent it.

An aside: you may notice that “cure” is a rarity in medical science. We tend to “treat” disease by administering medications to control symptoms – medications that often must be taken for life and at great cost. We don’t “cure” a whole lot of diseases. The cynical among us may say that there is little profit in cure and a lot of profit in lifelong treatment.

Prevention of SDAT may well hinge on a lot of the same factors as many diseases – eat well, sleep well, stay physically active, control blood pressure (and have the right genes).

The PBS series Nova produced a documentary on the WRAP (Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention) study. It is an hour well worth your time. There were damp cheeks in the program, on both sides of the screen.

The project enrolls the children of people diagnosed with AD (and a control group of people without a familial history) and follows them longitudinally. Every few years, participants complete a lengthy questionnaire (with another completed about them by someone who knows them well) and complete a lengthy battery of neurocognitive tests. Additional optional studies include MRI, functional MRI, and PET scans; lumbar punctures; and treadmill testing.

As a test subject, some of this is difficult, as it involves testing to failure. How long a digit span can you recite backward after hearing it once? You get longer and longer spans until you fail. How steeply can you walk up a treadmill at a set speed? You go until you can’t.

Can we see changes in brain structure and function before one develops symptoms of the disease? Does cardiorespiratory fitness delay or prevent onset of disease? Can we see biomarkers of disease in the brain or the cerebrospinal fluid prior to recognizable disease onset? If so, can we address those markers and influence the disease path? These are a few of the questions the study aims to answer.

What’s it to you? Research shows the children of those with AD are more likely to contract it themselves. My father, his brother, sister, and mother all died of AD. On my maternal side, I have questions about a couple of aunts. But you’re not me. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.” The longer you live, the greater are your chances of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. If you are a woman or person of color, your risk may be higher than if you are a white male. Per 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures “Structural racism pervades many aspects of life that may directly or indirectly alter dementia risk.”

Maybe a coast-to-coast bike ride will help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. That would be icing on the cake. For today, I’ll ride my bike through the snow to the library.

It is snowing. It is the day that US taxes are due. Does that have anything to do with why I am writing this today? It was in 1716 that Christopher Bullock wrote “Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes” (though for the uber-wealthy, even taxes are not a sure thing).

Too late for a midlife crisis

Like joining the Procrastinator’s Club, I never got around to having a midlife crisis. I always was a late bloomer.

Now I’m old, so it’s too late…but I can combine a midlife crisis with an old age crisis – so I’m making some big changes today.

Out go all of my bikes, to be replaced with a Lamborghini. Granted, it’s a 1967 Lamborghini Miura, the car I wanted as a teen, so it’s older than any of the bikes. That makes it okay.

Out go the canoe and the kayak – too much work for an old guy. I’m replacing them with a Chris Craft, the boat that my father taught me to covet in my youth. Again, it’s older than the boats it’s replacing, so it’s still okay. All of that beautiful mahogany…

The espresso machine will go, to be replaced by a giant coffee urn, so I can brew that horrible church basement coffee where the water keeps circulating through the grounds until it takes like burnt mud. I’ll drink many cups every day in my old English bone china cups. (Now, bone china, that’s another story. See my friend Roy’s blog “About Bone” for that. Actually, I guess it’s in one of his books, as I didn’t find it in a blog search. Suffice to say it is made with real bones. You can read Roy’s blog anyway.)

The kids are grown so the minivan will be replaced by a Morgan Plus Four. The Morgan is hand-built on an oak subframe. The retro bikers say, “Steel is real.” I say “Wood is good.”

Of course my wife has to go. Since the theme here is “Out with the old, in with the older”, I don’t plan to take up with a Hollywood starlet as so many old men do. I can’t afford to be a sugar daddy. I’m now dating Helen Mirren. She can afford to keep me better than vice versa.

I’ve been reading a lot about micro-dosing. Psychedelics scare me, so I’m going with Rogaine. What do you think so far? Maybe Grecian Formula next? Or Carter’s Little Liver Pills? Geritol? Possibly Serutan. (“Remember, ‘Serutan’ spelled backward spells ‘Natures’.”)

It may be time to turn in the smart phone. I’m not sure what’s next. Possibly a rotary phone, though in this digital world I can only receive, not make, calls; and no one calls me except telemarketers. I thought about a tin can telephone with branches to connect the homes of all of the stalwarts of the half-fast cycling club. A telegraph key might do the trick. I can brush up on my Morse Code and the signal will travel lightning fast over fiber optics.

Father William

  “You are old, father William,” the young man said,
    “And your hair has become very white;
  And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
    Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

  “In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
    “I feared it would injure the brain;
  But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
    Why, I do it again and again.”

  “You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
    And have grown most uncommonly fat;
  Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door —
    Pray, what is the reason of that?”

  “In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
    “I kept all my limbs very supple
  By the use of this ointment — one shilling the box —
    Allow me to sell you a couple.”

  “You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
    For anything tougher than suet;
  Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak —
    Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

  “In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
    And argued each case with my wife;
  And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
    Has lasted the rest of my life.”

  “You are old,” said the youth; one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
  Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose —
    What made you so awfully clever?”

  “I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
    Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
  Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

“That is not said right,” said the Caterpillar. 
“Not quite right, I’m afraid,” said Alice timidly;
“some of the words have got altered.”
“It is wrong from beginning to end,”
said the Caterpillar decidedly, and
there was silence for some minutes.
Lewis Carroll

It’s not about getting old.

When I was in school I studied the related concepts of “Universal Design” and “Visitability”.

Universal Design is about designing spaces for accessibility from the beginning, so that what we consider “accommodations” are simply a part of reality.

Visitability is about making all living spaces “visitable” by people with mobility challenges.

Visitability was pioneered by Eleanor Smith of the organization Concrete Change in Atlanta. She posited that a few simple changes in how we design and build houses would make a world of difference. If all homes had a zero-step entrance (this could mean a ground-level entrance or a ramp), 32 inch clear openings in first floor doorways, and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom on the main level, wheelchair users could visit their friends and family. If all of these are incorporated into design, the costs are minimal. She began with a local ordinance requiring visitability in all housing built with government funds.

Visitability is not the same as accessibility. To make a home fully wheelchair-accessible includes (among other things) raising outlets and lowering light switches to make them reachable from a wheelchair.

Opponents argue about interference with private property rights, but all housing requires permits and all permits require compliance with building codes. Codes change. Incorporating visitability into building codes means we don’t single out government-funded housing. If we add these to the UBC (the model Uniform Building Code), we don’t have islands of compliance in a sea of non-compliance.

Universal Design means (from the Disability Act of 2005):

  1. The design and composition of an environment so that it may be accessed, understood and used
    1. To the greatest possible extent
    2. In the most independent and natural manner possible
    3. In the widest possible range of situations
    4. Without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialised solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability, and
  2. Means, in relation to electronic systems, any electronics-based process of creating products, services or systems so that they may be used by any person.

It is based on seven principles (from UniversalDesign.org):

In my work I see a lot of people who fall. Many of them are averse to making changes in their homes because they see them as for “old people” and getting old is something they don’t want to do or admit to. I often reply that it beats the hell out of the alternative. This leads to the third related principle, that of “Aging in place“.

Aging in place refers to staying in your own home as you age. If we incorporated universal design into all homes built, that would be a pretty straightforward task. If you live in a 100+ year old home, as I do, that takes a little more thought.

Installing grab bars during new construction is simple and cheap. Installing blocking in the walls to prepare for the future installation of grab bars is cheaper yet. It can usually be done with scrap lumber that would otherwise end up in a dumpster.

Image from Paradigm Interiors – blocking for grab bars, allowing lots of choices

Retrofitting with grab bars takes a bit more thought but is still pretty simple. Wall studs are generally built on 16 inch centers. Grab bars generally come in increments of 6 inches. Do you see a problem here? 6 and 16 only line up at 48 inches (and multiples thereof). Do you need a 48 inch bar? Probably not. But this brings an opportunity. (All of these numbers may change in countries that use the metric system.)

Studs on 16 inch centers with 36 inch (or 18 inch, stopping halfway) grab bar in blue.

We are not all the same height. Standards that you read may show the “correct” height for a grab bar. Actually, the correct height is the one that works for the user. The same height won’t work for one person who is 6’2″ and another who is 4’11”. Our wrist works best when our hand is in line with our forearm, like (e), not (f) below.

Image from ResearchGate

If a horizontal bar is too high, your wrist will look like (f). If the bar is too low, you will either bend awkwardly to reach it or not use it at all. If you mount the bar at an angle as shown, you have a range of available heights to reach with the appropriate wrist position. The other alternative, of course, is to mount the bar vertically, along a stud. Generally, to get into a shower or built-in bathtub, I recommend one bar mounted vertically to hold as you step in, then a second bar mounted at an angle along the side wall to hold once you’re in. Due to the standard dimension of bathtubs, there should be a stud in an appropriate spot. Shower stalls have more variation, but you should still be able to find a stud in an acceptable spot, either inside or outside of the door.

Image from GrabBarPros.com

Before you screw it in place, try it! Either have someone hold the bar while you try it (grasping it but not bearing weight on the hand as you step), or mark the proposed location with blue painter’s tape and fake it, checking the height and angle. If more than one person is in the home, have them all try it.

If you don’t know how to install it, find someone who does. Your life may depend on proper installation. If you’re drilling through tile, tape the spot where you will drill, and drill through the tape. This will help prevent the tile from chipping. Use a sharp masonry drill. If you are drilling through a plastic tub surround, tape it and apply pressure with your free hand to prevent the plastic from chattering in and out from the wall with the drill action. Don’t trust screw anchors to hold the bar. Drill into studs or blocking. Some bars have multiple choices for mounting holes so you can maximize the number of screws into studs.

Think before you place screws. In the pictures above, the solid blue are studs, the large blue circles are the grab bar mounting plates, and the small blue circles are the screw holes. This is a common design. (The ones I mounted today have five holes in each plate, with three screws, so you can pick the best combination.) On the left you note that two screws are solidly in the stud and the third misses. On the right, no screw is solidly in the stud. If your choice is two screws (on each end) solidly into framing and one anchor (or unused hole) or three screws, none of which are actually going to hold, I’d opt for two solid screws over zero. With a three hole plate and nominal 2 x 4 framing (which is actually 1½ x 3½), this is what you get.

When mounting in a wet area, caulk the side of the mounting plate that will be against the wall to keep water from getting behind it and running into the screw holes, ruining your wall over time. Leave an opening at the bottom so that, if any water gets in, it can drain out.

The caulk will not be visible from the outside but, if I drew it that way, you couldn’t see it.

There are lots of choices for bars. Feel the bar in your hand. Is it slippery? Probably not a good choice. How is the diameter? Can you get a good grip? You can get them in stainless steel, chrome, or enameled finishes. You can get finishes that match your other hardware. You can get brushed or knurled finishes to make it grippier when wet.

If you use a suction-mounted bar, don’t have the suction cups cross a tile grout line. The suction will not hold. Don’t place it on a plastic tub surround that is not firmly adherent to the wall. Remount it every time you use it, to be sure it is firmly adherent. They work best on solid surface (e.g. Corian) tub surrounds.

A towel rack is not a grab bar, nor is a curtain rod nor the handle on a shower door!

The hand-held shower shown above is a nice addition, simple to install, and inexpensive – or you can spend a ton of money for the aesthetic you want.

If you tire or tend to lose balance in the shower, a shower chair comes in handy. If you can’t step over the tub edge, a tub transfer bench fills the bill for a lot less money than removing the tub to install a shower or modifying the tub to a step-in model. Note that you can buy them a lot cheaper from a hardware store or drug store than from a medical supply store or a home health agency. I do not recommend falling in the bathroom, as there are no soft places to land.

Why should you listen to anything I just said? As a plumber (and before that, as maintenance director of a housing cooperative), I installed grab bars for a living. As an occupational therapist, I work with people who have been injured from falls and I work with them to make their homes safer. As an old person, this is not merely academic to me. As a bicyclist, I plan to stay healthy and keep riding for a long time.