I love encouraging stories. And I love it when I find them on Facebook, amidst all the rubbish that’s also there.

Last month I treated myself to a new bicycle. My first ever ‘road bike’. What used to be called a ‘racing bike’ in my younger days.

I’ve always cycled. And I’ve always loved exploring the highways and byways of Northern Ireland. I even got a tandem when my children were in their early teens so we could go exploring together.

In recent years I’ve had a child seat added to my mountain bike so that I can now relive that experience with my grandchildren. I also have a Brompton folding bike, great to keep in the car or carry onto public transport. And I have a fast commuter bike too.

But the addition of the road bike has rekindled the passion of my youth. On it, I can go further and faster. Fifty miles on a morning run is now easily attainable.

It’s also encouraged me to use my other bikes more frequently. My commuter bike has now taken me the few miles into the centre of Belfast for business meetings. My folder has had more outings than ever. And I look forward to every occasion I can get one of my grandchildren to come on my mountain bike.

I bought my new road bike from Decathlon, a fast-growing French company specialising in camping and sporting equipment. They’ve recently become the biggest cycle retailer in the world.

And so to Facebook, where I joined the Btwin Owners page – Btwin being Decathlon’s cycle brand.

Here, Btwin owners from Britain, Ireland and beyond share their cycling stories and pictures. It’s great to see how others use their bikes, and compare speeds and distances.

Some of them are riding further and faster than I ever will. Lycra-clad and taking part in Fondos and Sportives, obsessing about their tyres and pedals, gearing and cranks.

Others are finding in their maturity that they’ve been missing what was a joy for so many of us in our younger lives. Ray posted his story.

“Two years ago I was 58. I’ve been partying for over 40 years, I was overweight, I was dreadfully unfit.” So Ray bought himself a bike and started with a few short rides.

Fast forward to 2016 and he’s lost some weight, improved his overall health and managed the London to Brighton 40 mile ride. He has a personal best of 57 miles and is working to increase that. Now his daughter joins him. He’s a happy man.

I was greatly encouraged by Ray’s story, testament to what cycling can achieve. But the comments from others then followed thick and fast.

Ozzy wrote: Similar story here. I am 56 and started cycling last October. The only exercise I did before cycling was running and jumping. Running up bills and jumping to conclusions!” Just nine months on, Ozzy has lost weight, become more positive and he’s taken part in several competitive sportives.

From Vicki: “I’m 44 and never been sporty. Tried several things but never really found anything I could stick at. In 10 months I’ve gone from strength to strength. Several 50 mile charity cycles and regularly my rides are between 25-45 miles! I’m still a bit overweight but I feel a lot fitter.”

And Robin: “The Btwin should be available on the National Health! I’m 54 and went through a frightening episode involving brain scan, time in hospital etc. last summer. Turned out it was ‘only’ stress. Bought the bike and haven’t looked back – nothing like it for clearing the head. Did my first sportive in March and looking forward to doing more.”

And just one more from Mark: “Similar story here. I’m managing 100 milers with 3,000 ft climbs with relative ease.” And again that’s from someone who was overweight and has now lost the excess.

We can’t all be competitive cyclists. But there’s something about gentle exercise and the outdoors that always beats going to the gym. Something that ‘clears and head.’

If you’re overweight, or if you’re unfit, or even if you’re just feeling below par, there’s nothing better than a stroll in the park or a walk along the seashore. Do it regularly.

And if you can, get on a bike. Any kind of bike.

Get back in the saddle. You won’t regret it.

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