Active Aging: How Atlantans are moving in the city

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‘You’re riding all this history:’ Cycling offers social outlet, learning experience for senior riders

Active Aging is a monthly column showing how Atlantans 55+ remain active in the community. Here, residents share how they stay fit and give tips on where you can get moving.

A conversation about cycling with James Tyler is an excursion through the history that distinguishes Atlanta’s communities from one another. His words are river swells, gently and insistently conveying the listener past landmarks and through wooded copses.

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Tyler, a retired educator, interweaves descriptions of his preferred cycling routes with references to the buildup of neighborhoods such as West End and Grant Park. He speaks of long-ago timbering that gave way to development, the lines that segregation drew through the city and the time that Martin Luther King, Jr. spent here.

“As you ride on a bike trail, you’re riding all this history, and you’re slicing through these different, distinct neighborhoods,” he said. “A lot of this stuff, you really can’t see by car.”

Tyler, 71, is active with the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club, which seeks, per its website, macattack.com, “to bring awareness of the sport to the black community.”

According to Tyler, the connections MACC offers are beneficial for people of any age seeking to ride.

“They’re very encouraging to people who want to join the sport. They have standards for doing something for everything associated with riding,” he said.

“Age is not seen as a demarcation or barrier to any of the things you might want to do with riding.”

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James Tyler’s favorite in-town riding spots include Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Park, which is rich in plant and animal life.

Credit: Shakeesha S. Jeffries

James Tyler’s favorite in-town riding spots include Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Park, which is rich in plant and animal life.

Credit: Shakeesha S. Jeffries

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James Tyler’s favorite in-town riding spots include Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Park, which is rich in plant and animal life.

Credit: Shakeesha S. Jeffries

Credit: Shakeesha S. Jeffries

Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Park

Some of Tyler’s favorite spots are located in Lionel Hampton-Beecher Hills Park. He points out that combined with adjoining watershed property on the outskirts of the city, it makes up one of the city’s larger green spaces with its old-growth forest and diverse plant species. The park’s paved and unpaved trails sometimes allow for wildlife sightings.

“You can see all the Georgia mammals except for the black bear,” Tyler said.

Via an east-running connector from the park, riders can reach the BeltLine, which he said itself “yields spectacular views of the city.”

Russell DeBarros — “Junior Deas” to his social media connections — is also active with MACC. At 60, he’s younger than a few of the more senior riders who participate with the organization on jaunts that often top 50 miles.

“I’m not the oldest guy out there doing this,” he said. “On a regular basis, we’re riding 60, 70 miles at a time.”

They sometimes plan century rides, which set participants on courses 100 miles or longer.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we’re still getting on bikes at the age that we are. We see it as a way of keeping moving, keeping healthy,” DeBarros said.

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Russell “Junior Deas” DeBarros, left, with fellow cyclist Mitchell Smith on a recent ride.

Credit: contributed by Russel DeBarros

Russell “Junior Deas” DeBarros, left, with fellow cyclist Mitchell Smith on a recent ride.

Credit: contributed by Russel DeBarros

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Russell “Junior Deas” DeBarros, left, with fellow cyclist Mitchell Smith on a recent ride.

Credit: contributed by Russel DeBarros

Credit: contributed by Russel DeBarros

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Stone Mountain and Silver Comet

For those looking to stay closer to home, he recommends two paved routes which utilize roads circling Stone Mountain. Cyclists are a common sight for drivers here, and these inner and outer loops — 5 and 7 miles, respectively — have inclines that make for great hill climbing.

“Cars are really respectful,” he says. “It’s great for after work.”

For distance riding, he suggests the Silver Comet Trail. Its limited street crossings offer safety with traffic lights and crossing buttons, and there are often bridges for riders where the trail intersects with larger roads. The foot traffic is often sparse, so riders can use the miles to really open up and train, and Debarros likes the fact that this trail has rest points in the forms of benches, picnic tables and bathrooms, along with two bike shops that offer parts and food “that can really save you in time of need.”

For Tyler, the benefits of cycling in his senior years lean heavily toward opportunities for personal growth.

“You do have some time for self-discovery, and cycling is something that allows you to do that,” he says. “I think we’re redefining what it means to be this age.”

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