Senior bike rider spins through Texas parks for exercise and entertainment.
By Alan Fisher
It is said that life seems to pick up speed as we age. That’s certainly true for Fred Schmid, though not in the traditional sense. While some seem content to let their senior years pass them by, Schmid is spending his in the fast lane. He recently celebrated his 78th birthday but shows no signs of slowing down.
We meet for lunch at a Waco restaurant, where my greasy enchilada plate looks a bit heavy next to Schmid’s soup and salad. At a glance, with his short-cropped gray hair and lean build, he could be mistaken for any other retiree in the room, but Schmid is in better shape physically than most middle-age folks, or even the restaurant’s young waitstaff. As he puts it, “I never have been one who sat around much. My wife tells me I’m hyperactive.”
Schmid’s wife, Suzanne, is responsible for much of his momentum — she bought him a bicycle in 1994 after his retirement, and he has been pedaling ever since. They often train together. On any given day, you can find Schmid on the trails at Waco’s Cameron Park, although, speeding by on his mountain bike, he might appear as only a colorful blur of Lycra and spandex.
It’s worth noting that while Schmid warmed up to riding bikes immediately, it did take him awhile to adopt the fancy clothing.
“When I first started, I rode in jeans,” Schmid recounts, “and then people said, ‘Well, you know you’re more conspicuous riding that way than you would be if you wore Lycra britches.’”
He shakes his head and asks doubtfully, “An old guy with Lycra britches?” He then adds with a grimace and laugh, “You know, I’m from the old school.”
As Schmid’s passion for mountain biking grew, he eventually came around to the clothing. And today his collection of bright jerseys includes some flair to be proud of — the rainbow striping on his sleeves and collar indicates that Fred has won a world championship in his age group. (Actually, he’s won two.) He and Suzanne have traveled across Texas, the United States and Canada for competitions in road racing and mountain bike racing, and Schmid holds national titles in both kinds of cycling.
“Frankly, I’ve never analyzed why I do it; it’s just a challenge to do,” Schmid says. “I like winning, obviously, but I like riding, and I like riding in competition.”
Of course, along with all his victories, there have been a few races that didn’t go so well. While warming up in a wet parking lot in 2005, Schmid took a spill that resulted in a broken hip and two surgeries. The injury kept him out of the saddle for a while, but he credits his fitness for a quick recovery. Within months of his surgeries, he was racing again.
As Schmid clips into his pedals, I notice a fresh set of bandages on his knee.
“Yeah, I was racing and crashed,” he says nonchalantly. Either Schmid is tougher than most people, or mountain biking has made him that way. Regardless, he is living proof that the sport isn’t just for fearless riders in their 20s. Schmid didn’t start until he was in his 60s.
“Try hard and your skills will improve,” he advises.
Fortunately, Cameron Park’s 20 miles of trails offer something for every rider and happen to be right across the street from Fred and Suzanne’s home. But the Schmids are also big fans of Texas state parks and the varied terrain they offer cyclists of all skill levels.
“The opportunities are endless,” Schmid says, listing several parks they’ve visited, from Cleburne to Palo Duro. “I’ve raced a lot of these places, and I’d like to come back and take an easy ride and just look at the scenery.”
During his many rides and races, Schmid often meets people who take inspiration from his trail-tackling talents. If you ever see him ride, prepare to be impressed. And if you are under 60, prepare to feel a little ashamed of yourself if you’ve ever felt too old to try something new. Clearly, revealing that hidden possibility in others is rewarding to Schmid.
“I like the fact that people look at me and say, ‘Well, maybe I can continue to be athletic and in reasonably good health for a long time,’” he says. Indeed, an afternoon of keeping up with Schmid substantially raises one’s bar of personal expectations.
As our day draws to a close, I am left with one last question for Schmid: “So, does riding keep you young?”
“Boy, I hope so,” Schmid responds with a chuckle.
We say our goodbyes, and Fred and Suzanne pedal down the path for home. In an instant they have vanished around the bend. I have to remind myself that he is 78 years old, and suddenly the answer to my question seems rather obvious.