Confession: I Played “Mack the Knife” In My Cycling Class!

I have a 75-year-old cycling student in my periodized cycling program named Sally. She and her husband are avid cyclists and are preparing to go to France this summer to ride in Normandy. Since the start of the program in early January, she has only missed one class due to her book club (she’s got her priorities!). Her husband was right there with her until he unfortunately tore his Achilles tendon while skiing last month. None of my other riders have been as regular and committed as these two.

I just love Sally! She’s always happy, always working hard, always willing, and very eager to learn. I’d say she is the model student. She knows what her physical limits are, but also recognizes when it’s her mind holding her back and not her physical abilities, so she’s not afraid to try anything I throw out there. Let’s just say she never uses her age as an excuse. She does have trouble with cadences over 90 rpm both in technique as well as the fact that they push her heart rate very high even at low power output. For this reason, when we do pedaling drills faster than that, she knows to do them in short increments (< 30–45 seconds) and/or to simply ride at her own personal fastest cadence with good form.

I play a wide variety of music genres in these classes, since the age range in my two groups is upper 30s to upper 70s (the latter is Sally’s husband). Many of my riders appreciate classic rock so I tend to play a lot of that, but I also throw in modern and indie rock and alternative, and a lot of downtempo and electronic for the mental focus tempo rides we do.

Sally mentioned the other day after class that she hasn’t recognized hardly any of my music (even the classic rock!) so I decided to throw in a special song just for her.

Yesterday was our final class of the current six-week series (which was preceded by an eight-week series), a fully periodized program. I begin and end each series with an FTP 20-minute field test. When doing an FTP assessment like this, it’s important to have a “hard” effort of about 5 minutes to prime the body’s energy delivery systems, followed by 6–8 minutes of relatively easy effort before the actual field test begins.

During this easy segment while we were getting ready for the field test, I played “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin. Just before it started, I said, “Sally, this is for you!”

I’ll never forget her smile! She loved it, and so did the rest of the class. And you know what? It’s really awesome for cycling, because at 81 bpm, it’s perfect for an easy flat between intervals or a warm-up.

A little later during the field test, I used “Ring of Fire” by Social Distortion. I mentioned to the class that it is a punk rock cover of a Johnny Cash song, and Sally piped up and said, “I LOVE Johnny Cash!” So I think I’ll play the original next week just for her. (We’ve got a 3-week extension to this clinic until the end of April, and of course, Sally was the first to register.)

How about you? Got any classics from the ’50s that you’ve played for your special older riders?


Also, until I did a search for Bobby Darin to get this YouTube clip, I didn’t realize what a hottie he was, even by today’s standards! Am I right? Something about those high cheekbones! 😉


  1. Nice! I did a “golden oldies” last week for my Easy Rider class (30 min beginner class). They very much appreciated the songs. You need to play Mustang Sally for her!! I also had Some Kind of Wonderful, 409, Grapevine, Treat her like a lady, that’s all I can remember right now.

  2. I have a CD called “Grandson of Frat Rock” that I will pull a song or two out every once in a while. One of my favorites for fast intervals is Ray Charles “What’d I Say”.

  3. I have a participant in his 80s that has Parkinsons and in the past 5 years has had both knees replaced. He comes to class with song suggestions every so often. I’m a product of the 70s so I tend to play songs from my era a little more than others. Bruce came in last Saturday asking for “UptownFunk” with Bruno Mars! He will also request during a class anything by Pitbull. (I know it’s not an oldie, but wanted to let you all know the older generation does have some style)
    He’s such an inspiration to all the other riders. We have a 2 hour challenge series that runs every Saturday from November through March. This year Bruce and his daughter Debbie were the ONLY participants with 100% participation for all 22 classes.

  4. I think that a Broadway-themed playlist would appeal to that age group, and it could be a lot of fun.

  5. I’m always on the lookout for older music because of my diverse group of people. Most songs I use for breaks or transitions…Green Onions, Devil With A Blue Dress On, & Diana remix. I’ve used ‘What’d I Say’ as a flat with small resistance changes up & down while challenging the members to keep their cadence. ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ long version (7:00) is a big favorite with my group…126 BPM, seated climb with small adds ea min until 4th min, taper down a couple times to race @ abt 5:30 to the end…good final song before cooldown.

  6. Love this! I have had requests from my older riders for Yakety Yak by the Coasters and anything by Chuck Berry…I used Rock and Roll Music…both high energy flats…so fun!

  7. I’ve has great feedback from using My Way by Feank Sinatra! I use it as a progressive climb. As his intensity increases, so does our effort. Ridin high in April shit down in May. We ride/live our way and love it

  8. Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash 105 bp – this song never fails to bring smiling faces and almost everyone sings along.

  9. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher is also a great song by Bobby Darin. There are so many great classics, no matter the rider’s age. Johnny Cash originals are great — try I’ve Been Everywhere. Also, Jerry’ Reed’s Eastbound and Down. Makes me sound like a Country fan, but I’ll also be the first to play Dropkick Murphys’ State of Massachusetts, so….

    1. Author

      I didn’t realize he sang that song! I’ll check it out. I love me some Johnny Cash too! My husband plays it a lot on Pandora so it’s playing in our house a lot too. =)

      Sounds like you offer a wide range of genres….that’s the way it should be!

  10. LOVE Mack the Knife! Thanks! I play lots of old songs — but usually for resets…recently a rider requested “Grazing In the Grass” 2:54 The Friends of Distinction Might do a flat for it — 70/80 RPM adding RES as we go.” Christine Quinn

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