Cyclists in Italy reject negative images of older age. They go out of the house dressed in loud colors, and embrace arduous physical challenges. They have fun on their bikes with the enthusiasm of children. They get together to share meals or meet up in the bike shop, where they joke around like boisterous teenagers. In short, older cyclists do not deny the aging process, but they do refuse to be ruled by the mask.
Many nonwestern societies also provide alternative models of old age. For example, among the San mentioned above, older people are appreciated for their storytelling, the time they spend with children, their knowledge and custodial care of important resources such as water holes, and their ability to enter into trance for healing or religious purposes. This spiritual activity is usually avoided by younger people, who can’t deal with the pain and energy drain of trance while they still have children to raise and social relationships to maintain through gift exchange. Older people are free to pursue their interests and hobbies. They are not at all marginalized.
Gerontologists say that the marginalization of people during old age is harmful to their wellbeing. Physical activity is an effective tool for building a way of life that is more socially integrated, one that promotes “positive” or “successful” aging. My study tries to explain not just the anomaly of highly-active individual cyclists but also the culture that supports them. This culture persists in opposition to the values of industrial society that favor the distancing of people from exercise through the use of cars, domestic appliances, and televisions and computers. These machines tend to isolate people in addition to rendering them inert.