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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Cycling Without Age

This is a story of human connection, community inclusiveness and active citizenship. During my research, my heart was so touched, that I started crying tears of amazement and joy. I rang a good friend to tell him all about it. Patrick texted back the next day to say that he was going to join Cycling Without Age too. The Have a Go Day held in Perth in November was where I first saw this group. Read more about the day here.

Older people are often invisible and unheard. They may often stop doing the things they love due to physical and mental health issues. How wonderful it would be if they could be seen, listened to and valued for their input. How great if they were a part of the community and could join in, rather than sit back and simply watch life pass by.

Ole Kassow lives in Copenhagen, Demark. In 2012 he cycled to work every day, and as he rode along he often spotted 97yo Torken, a nursing home resident, sitting on a park bench with his walking frame next to him. Torken was watching the world go by, an observer not a participant.

Ole did some research and discovered that the older generation had cycled most of their youth, before cars became the preferred mode of transport. There has been a resurgence in recent years of people riding bicycles, especially with the availability of electronic bikes. However, for a lot of older people they are not able to ride bicycles anymore. Wondering what he could do to help, Ole rented a rickshaw and turned up at a nursing home. He offered a ride to some residents. Gertrude and her nurse jumped at the chance and loved the ride. Ole said he felt an almost magical bond with Gertrude.

The next day the manager of the nursing home rang him. All the other residents wanted a ride too. Cycling Without Age was born. Riding with the elderly gave Ole an insight he never knew into his own city. The extraordinary stories they told of their lives as the trips progressed was amazing.

The concept of Cycling Without Age is taking elderly people out for bike rides in specially built trishaw bikes piloted by volunteers. People with physical and mental health issues and their carers also take rides. Grandparents and their grandchildren have taken rides together. The bike rides are free of charge and only require a reservation beforehand. This is a non-profit organisation.

Older people often become invisible, hidden away from the world. By being out with the wind in the hair, seeing new sights and remembering old ones, hearing birds and people and smelling the flowers can lift their spirits. Even back home after the ride they are on a high. Some people sing and most smile along and chat. Blind people enjoy the rides as they can also feel the sense of movement.

Simple bike rides can have a profound impact on the quality of life. The risk of depression increases as you age. These bike rides bring isolated people back into the community. Some of the comments of passengers have been:

· “I feel alive again”

· “My children won’t believe I went for a ride”

· “Life can be beautiful, even when you are older”

· “I no longer feel alone”

· “It gave me back my trust in the local community”

· “I feel the world can see me again. I have felt unseen for years”

By 2020, this initiative has expanded into 50 countries, serving over 1.5 million people worldwide. The purpose of Cycling Without Age is: "to realise the dream of creating a world in which the easy access to active citizenship creates happiness among our elderly citizens and gives them an opportunity to remain an active part of the local community." – Wikipedia

I had the great opportunity to interview two of over one hundred Perth volunteers of Cycling without Age, Tim and Karen. Their aim is to have the trishaws available in Perth 7 days a week, from 9am to noon. Various locations they operate from are: Point Walter, South Beach Fremantle, Lake Monger, Sorrento, Canning, Rockingham, York, Deep Water Point and Cottesloe. They are ever expanding. Passengers love the physical experience of being outdoors, chatting away, and being the centre of attention. People wave to them and they wave back. Being noticed makes you feel special. This valued and appreciated feeling ripples out. Even observers smile and pass on the feel good stories of what they have seen.

Each electric trishaw costs around $16,000. A chapter raises the money for their trishaw and then it gets sent flat packed from Copenhagen, Denmark to a central point in chapter’s country. Here the trishaw is assembled and then shipped to its final destination. Some trishaws are funded through grants and donations. Some have been made possible by a will bequest from a previous passenger or their family. The person enjoyed the rides so much they wanted to make it possible for more people to have access to them. These bikes have the donors name written on them.

Almost every passenger has their photo taken on the bike. “I want my family and friends to see me ride on a bike again,” they often say. One elderly lady with dementia forgot that she had been on the bike until she saw a photo of herself on it. Families often tell the pilots, “You have no idea the positive impact this has on the whole family.”

Karen became involved in the organisation after seeing a video on youtube. She formed a committee in Perth and they started up with a private donation.

Lots of storytelling happens between pilot and passenger. Karen said her most memorable ride was just after her father had died, even before the funeral. She was a pilot at Deep Water Point and kept her appointment as she was rostered on. Bob, the passenger, was a man from the country and had just lost his wife of 65 years from a similar experience. The two talked on the ride about love, loss and life. It was a shared connection.

Tim’s most memorable experience was at the annual Have a go day in Perth. A large elderly man was carrying a lot of the sample bags he had received during the day. In his 90s, he had driven himself to the event. Having a ride he chatted away with Tim and told him of the days when he had been a movie actor and comedian. The stories kept coming out. Tim said that incognito people have amazing lives. They do not always get the chance to tell their stories.

The bikes have a maximum speed when carrying passengers of 10kph and are designed for the comfort of the passenger. A slow steady ride is perfect.

If you cannot be a volunteer rider there are other ways you can be involved such as: administration, marketing, photography, social media etc. Loneliness and a sense of isolation from the community are not just for the aged. By volunteering you can be immensely rewarded.

Volunteering can help you:

- Gain Confidence

- Gain a sense of achievement

- Learn new skills

- Make a difference

- Meet people you wouldn't ordinarily meet

- Be a part of a community

- Find a place where you belong

Cycling Without Age is one of those organisations that allows everyone involved a new freedom. Thank you Ole for the seed that you planted in 2012.

To all the volunteers, fundraisers, admin staff, riders and bystanders who wave and smile - Thank you. You all make a huge difference!

Happy Travels!

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