Thursday, January 7, 2010



I would like to share with you some observations on my great-grandfather. I can hear your exclamations now: “Why, pray tell, should I have the slightest interest in your great-grand-daddy?” The reason is that he was a cyclist extraordinaire. But I get ahead of myself.

Greevz Fisher was born in Youghal, Ireland in 1845. He grew up to be an eccentric intellectual who campaigned for the abolition of illegitimacy and was an avowed Malthusian who risked prosecution by publishing and distributing free literature on contraception (remember the times: the latter half of the Victorian era). He also published many pamphlets attacking various national institutions, particularly the Post Office and the taxation system. Fisher was a philologist who had a lifelong interest in the English language and developed his own phonetic vocabulary that he used for his written communications. In his later years he was rarely seen without his pet jackdaw perched on his shoulder. Get the picture?

Fisher was a keen cyclist all his life and the local newspapers recorded his various sporting exploits during his advancing years with almost monotonous regularity. His riding started in Ireland when the sport was truly in its infancy, using one of the very early "boneshakers" which had wooden wheels and iron tires. His later trips took him to Europe on several occasions, including one holiday to France and Italy with his son. This involved crossing the snow-covered Alps and carrying their bikes at times when the road was impassable. He was sixty years old at the time.

As he grew older, his riding never ceased. When he was 78, he rode from Leeds to Liverpool, a distance of 95 miles, taking two days for the outward journey. However, on the return, as it was wet and he wanted to get home, he rode the whole distance in one day. Fisher himself relates: “As I did not want to put up in a country inn in wet clothes and the wind was at my back, I decided to push on. My only mishap was when, after mounting my luggage, I threw my leg over the saddle and fell into the hedge”. In explaining the principles of his life he continued: “I consume a fair amount of home made lemonade. I make my own porridge in the morning and never add any salt, pepper or vinegar. I do not drink any tea, coffee or cocoa as they contain vegetable alkaloids as does tobacco, opium and strychnine.” I wonder if he experimented with them all?

One newspaper article recorded that “the octogenarian may be encountered in all weathers, hatless, with his flowing locks and beard making him a conspicuous character as he pedals along the country roads. What surprises the writer is the vigourous manner in which he pushes the top gear (112) of his three-speeder for the greater part of his riding”. Now a gear of 112 is equivalent to a 52 x 12 on a modern derailleur; that’s a pretty high gear for a bike that must have weighed over 50 pounds and ridden on presumably crummy roads.

Greevz Fisher was regularly completing 70-80 mile rides till he was 83 when ill-health finally forced him to give up his lifelong passion. He died the following year, almost 20 years older than the average life expectancy for the time.

Now jump forward a hundred years. I have many cycling friends in their late sixties and seventies. Several of these successfully compete at local, regional and national levels and believe me, all are in the very best of health and are hopefully destined for a long life. Even though muscle strength and aerobic capacity usually decrease by about 10% per decade after the age of 40, riders at this level still turn in remarkable times right up until they too became octogenarians. Recent USCF time trial results show men in the 75-79 age group completing 20-kilometer events at speeds approaching 25 mph. Women in the 60-64 group were reaching 23 mph averages. Riders in the 85+ group (and no, that’s not a typo) were completing the course at over 17 mph.

Long life isn't just a result of good genes and luck. The odds of your living to be a ripe old age depend on several factors including genetic inheritance, diet, exercise, and mental outlook and alertness. You have control over all of these factors but the genes.

The relationship between exercise and longevity was supported by the Harvard Alumni Study that followed thousands of Harvard graduates over 26 years, monitoring a number of variables, including exercise habits. The study concluded that those who exercised vigorously (jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, etc) had a 25% lower mortality rate than those whom were more sedentary or who engaged in "non-vigorous" activity such as golf or walking.

So, the bottom line is, stay riding as long as you can. Bring out your friends, family and neighbors to our rides. And if a long and fruitful life isn’t incentive enough, think of the future generations. Sewell Wright, whose work in the 1930s led him to be acknowledged as the father of modern population genetics, is said to have argued that the single most important factor in reducing the level of inbreeding in human populations was the invention of the bicycle! Before this, the norm was for marriage to occur within five miles of one’s birthplace, whereas afterwards, suitors rode further afield for their courting, thereby allowing improved genetic mixing to become the rule. Wow!


  1. Hello there. I think we possibly share this relation. My family have been researching our family tree for a while, would be great to talk.
    Drop us a line. Cheers, Lewis.

  2. Sorry. Just seen your query. Pls email me at

  3. Sorry. Just seen your query. Pls email me at

  4. Just come across your lovely article - I was at college and a friend of his grandson, also Greevz Fisher.

  5. What an honour to have encountered a descendant of such a special man.