Peter Foster: Riding High at 80

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When approaching the grand old age of 80, some people may appreciate a heartfelt message in a birthday card, a slap-up family meal, or even a new pair of slippers.

But not for one outgoing octogenarian from Rotherham.

When Peter Foster turned 80 this summer, he geared up to take on yet another high-wheeling escapade by riding a penny-farthing.

Proof that old age doesn’t have to resign you to the armchair, Peter’s seventh decade on earth was spent taking to the skies various times where he embarked on an exhilarating wing walk, the world’s fastest zip wire ride, a light aircraft flying lesson, and a tandem gliding experience with his daughter, Melanie.

But how could a plucky pensioner ever top those?

While watching television last year, Peter saw a high-wheel bicycle being ridden around parts of the Yorkshire and thought – that’s next.

But as a symbol of the bygone Victoria era, these ordinary bikes had become out of the ordinary, so finding one would be a challenge in itself.

Peter enquired at Rotherham Visitor Centre who put him in touch with Bygone Bikes in Leeds.

“They’re a group of old men that ride old bikes – but not that ancient. Luckily, one of the members knew an East Yorkshire couple that owned one,” Peter says.

On a blustery day in August, Peter, joined by his wife Wendy and their grown-up family, travelled to a quaint little hamlet where Peter would be riding downhill past the village’s 700-year-old church.

Having not ridden a push bike in over 40 years, Peter found getting back into the saddle more difficult than he expected – it’s not just like riding a bike. In preparation, he spent many hours cycling around Rother Valley Country Park to get used to being back on two wheels – albeit normal sized.

“It’s like a very thin horse with handlebars instead of ears. Getting on it was the hardest part as I didn’t have the sufficient strength to heave myself up. Usually there is a step on the back which this one didn’t have. Instead, there was a little horseshoe piece of metal just big enough to put the end of your toe on.

“I think I had such a big audience as they were hoping I’d fall off.”

Fortunately, he didn’t. Although Peter says this was his most dangerous feat yet due to the five-foot drop and not being strapped in. He put his trust in the bicycle’s owner, Tony, to hold him tightly. Dressed in a snazzy waistcoat, Peter was hoping to don a flat cap for his ride, but the owners insisted on a helmet and fingerless gloves just in case he did fall.

“I had about four or five goes and each time I did get better. You have to keep your back straight and not stoop or look down, all the while going downhill with the wind behind you. On the last ride, Tony let go and I did the few hundred metres unaided.”

It could be said action and determination is in his blood; his father Henry was a Rotherham Wheeler who rode 195.5miles in 12 hours back in 1934.

But what’s next for this sprightly senior?

“I’d love to drive a 44-tonne truck or be a fireman on a steam train.”

Well, why not? Peter’s quests might not seem like the most relaxing way to spend retirement, but he wants to shun stereotypes about getting older. As full-time carer for wife Wendy who has Alzheimer’s disease, these new challenges are his ‘me-time’ away from his responsibilities.