We can't all be Lance Armstrong, but bicycle touring is something most of us can enjoy at almost any age. ''It's a big part of my life," says Ralph Galen, 80, of Cambridge, a retired orthodontist who looks at least a decade younger than his age, a fact he attributes to bike touring. Cycling keeps you limber, he believes, and leisurely touring (as opposed to racing) is relaxing.
''It's very tranquil," he says, ''and clears the head."
Galen has just returned from a three-week bike tour of France and Germany with friends, on which they averaged 35-40 miles a day -- a moderate pace for him.
''I don't keep track of miles," he says. ''I'm a bike tourer and just like to go from point to point."
When Galen retired at 68, he flew to Paris with his bicycle, tent, sleeping bag, and camp stove. From there, he set off on a two-year odyssey to 13 countries and included adventures such as crossing the Sinai desert on a bicycle and cycling along the Suez Canal. Then he wrote a book about it, ''2 Wheels, 2 Years & 3 Continents" (Spring Garden, 1997).
Galen is a cofounder of the Charles River Wheelmen (www.crw.org), a local cyclists social club (despite the name, there are many female members) that organizes noncompetitive weekly bicycle rides for all ability levels. Every Sunday April through November, the group offers rides of at least two distances, usually 25-30 and 40-60 miles.
The club also organizes tours of varying lengths on Saturday and during the week. Throughout the year, the club has weekend or longer trips to various places, usually rural, in New England.
''We started the Charles River Wheelmen in 1966 with half a dozen people and now we have more than 1,200 members," Galen says.
A number of tour operators offer packages suitable for the 50-plus cyclist. One that does nothing else is Virginia-based Senior Cycling (www.seniorcycling.com), which has the engaging motto ''Old Folks on Spokes."
Senior Cycling trips, destinations from Florida to Vermont, last two to eight days and are geared to all levels. Pat Blackmon, 72, who founded the company six years ago, says her most popular trips are to the Florida Keys, Lake Champlain, and along the rail trails of central Florida.
Rated intermediate, the rail trails tour lasts five days with up to 12 participants averaging 20-30 miles a day for a total of about 135 miles. The package is $905 per person, which includes most meals and hotel accommodations.
Another company, 50plus Expeditions (www.50plusexpeditions.com) specializes in independent and small-group soft adventure travel, including bicycle touring, for active people over 50. One program is a self-guided, eight-day cycling tour of Ireland's beautiful Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula. The land cost is $1,195 per person, which includes bicycles, accommodation with full breakfast, and luggage transfer. The price of a guided eight-day tour of either place is $1,245.
Also available from 50plus Expeditions is a 10-day escorted cycling tour of the Czech Republic, which includes visits to a number of medieval villages declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Priced at $2,695 per person, not including airfare, the tour starts in Vienna and ends in Prague.
Elderhostel (www.elderhostel), the Boston-based nonprofit group specializing in educational travel, has several bicycle tours scheduled for next month.
The Sept. 17-23 trip is to Cape Cod and Nantucket, cycling over flat terrain, averaging 25-35 miles a day. The trip is from $1,195 per person, including ferry, hotels, and breakfasts and dinners.
Another Elderhostel tour Sept. 25-30 to St. Simons and Jekyll Islands in Georgia, is $556, including hotel and most meals.
Contact William A. Davis, a freelance writer in Cambridge, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Going Strong, his column on senior travel, appears monthly.