20 years of inactivity and scales that read 144 kg? Can this 56-year-old tug on the brakes of middle-age spread and reinvent himself as a mountain biker? In a last-ditch attempt to change his life for the better, reader Frank Thomas Arnhold’s story is one that’s likely to chime with a lot of us.
The years have ticked by and, by and large, they’ve been good to me. But as I stand here now, 55 years old, I’ve got 144 kg to haul around. A weight that’s not insignificant for someone who’s only 1.85 metre. You could say it’s cosy, but really it’s just awkward and cumbersome. It’s the sort of weight where you can be laidback, or laidback to the point of laziness. Either way, it isn’t good for your health.
But however you want to try and word it, my weight just didn’t cooperate, showing indignation in my ankles and knees then added lower back pain to the equation. Each time I wheezed my way up steps or anything remotely uphill, I’d find myself wondering if this was really what healthy felt like. It made me question what had happened to me over the years.
I was hooked on mountain biking 25 years ago. I’d clock 3,000 off-road kilometres each year, and I even won a prize at the Fun Ride Bike Festival in Winterberg in 1995. But then I decided to follow a dream I’d had since being a kid and bought a BMW Boxer motorbike. The transition from mountain biker to motorbike rider happened so quickly that I didn’t even notice. My mountain bike grew dusty without a word. I started playing badminton as a means to keep fit. But my habit of overdoing it with sport meant that I ended up with cardiovascular problems and had to stop playing – the second time this happened, I simply didn’t re-start. That’s why, over the years, the kilos started piling on. What can I say? I am partial to indulging in good food – perhaps demonstrating the same sort of over-eager attitude I show in sport.
In 2017 I realised things had to change. When my work launched a scheme to lease company bikes in 2018 I was the first to take them up on the offer. But while testing a Bergamont e-hybrid bike at my local dealer, the staff asked politely how much I weighed and I couldn’t help but notice the way they glanced down at the bike with concern. After a hurried discussion with a colleague, they suggested one of the Haibike eMTBs instead–this particular bike had more generous geometry in terms of leaving space for my belly.
As soon as I laid my eyes on the Hardseven 7.0 it immediately relit the flame for that long-buried passion of mine: mountain biking. Those big 29″ wheels, the chunky aluminium frame and the matte-blue colourway set my adrenaline rocketing even before I’d sat on the bike. It looked so damn strong and capable that I couldn’t wait to ride it. On that test ride it struck me how this was probably the one chance I had left in life to change things for the better before it got too late. It was almost like the eMTB could tell, and kept whispering ‘I’m your saviour.’ That was it. I was convinced. But having that conviction turned out to be far easier than actually turning the new me into reality.
My physique, weight, and total absence of fitness launched vocal protests but I was able to hush them with the presence of pedal assist – although I quickly realised that even with a motor, there’s no such thing as a free ride. I still had a lot of pedalling to do, but fortunately I made it through the first few kilometres without needing an oxygen tent. It left me inspired and hungry for more.
Around the same time my wife and I changed the way we eat, cutting out wheat products mainly. Our initial cries of despair that ‘there’s nothing left to eat!’ rapidly subsided as we developed a new style of cooking – one with diversity and richness that has now become the norm for us. Happening in sync with the riding, the unbelievable occurred: I began to shed weight. I could feel myself getting tangibly fitter and the enjoyment rose multi-fold. Within two months of getting my e-bike I broke the solemn promise I’d made to my wife about not riding in unknown territory. You see, in the past my over-zealous riding had, very occasionally, resulted in crashing. When my wife and I had got our e-bikes, I’d promised to stick to the tarmac to avoid “letting the horses out the gate”, which was her biggest fear in letting me loose on an mountain bike again. She didn’t want to see any broken bones. Fortunately, those early restrictions were lifted and I started looping in some mellow grassy tracks followed by gravel, and, after about six months, I had my first taste of singletrack in many years. Just a quick go, I reasoned. But that quick go turned into gorging on techy climbs and equally as techy descents – regularly.
I could sense it before I spotted it in the mirror. A grin that I could barely wipe off my face. I’d reawakened a long-buried passion and it was making my heart jump for a joy. Along with my 28-year-old son-in-law, I rode more and more challenging singletrack trails in the hilly Sauerland-Siegerland region and I felt better than I could ever remember feeling in the past decades.
By November 2018 I’d lost 22 kg. I was feeling fit and not at all burdened by the years. Forget 56 years old, more like 56 years young. And all thanks to eMTBing.
But with the onset of the dark, cold winter, I was distraught that a long-running bronchial issue still meant that I couldn’t ride when the mercury falls below a certain temperature. But, you know what, that off-season just raised the level of anticipation. The excitement when we got hit by unseasonably warm weather in February 2019 was sky high and I was allowed back on the eMTB.
I’m expecting to shed a few more kilos this year but it’s not such a pressing issue any longer. Whatever happens, happens. For me, having a good time counts more. And I’m certainly having that! I’ve even ordered a second eMTB from my local shop – a Haibike Xduro 6.0, with FOX suspension and more singletrack capabilities. The guys in the shop are visibly stoked at my transformation (for which they’re partially responsible!) from an ‘old man’ into a once-again keen mountain biker.
My old Independent MTB, which saw some history go down, is still gathering dust in the attic. The grip shift gearing is sticky, the Goretex cables loose, and the skinny Ritchey tires are anaemic with a lack of air. Up until now I used to look at it with a sort of nostalgia, but then I realised it could do more than that: as a souvenir of days-gone-by, I’ve fixed the red Ritchey pedals from my old bike onto my new Haibike. They work just as well as ever, bridging the gap between my past and my present–of which I’m incredibly proud. For me, there’s a right time for everything, and that’s just what life is like.
I had to replace my 25-year-old pair of Shimano riding shoes with a hip pair of Northwaves so that I can actually push down on the pedals properly. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do anyway–especially on the next bike tour I’ve got planned on komoot with my son-in-law– the longest stage is 78 km.
That supposed ‘last chance’ has taught me that you can find a solution if you’re really looking for it. It takes bravery to really make the most of it, but you’ll be rewarded with every single turn of the cranks. And if it all starts to feel too much, just up the level of pedal assist, right? So on that note, take the opportunity!
Words & Photos: Frank Thomas Arnhold