The role of the bicycle as a simple, economical and clean mode of transport is championed every year by the United Nations world bicycle day, marked June 3.
In his message for the day, UN Chief Antonio Guterres said Biking “was good for one’s health – physical and mental – and good for our one and only planet. Bikes are popular and practical, helping us not only at school, stores and work, but for a more sustainable future of exercise and provide transportation.”
As we get older, our eyes, feet, and general physical condition begin to limit our ability to ride a bicycle. Elderly individuals, often reluctantly, stop cycling for fear of being injured, giving up the freedom and enjoyment of cycling. So how can we help older people get back on their bikes despite their limited mobility?
ride a life changing bike
Like many Danes, Ole Kaso commutes to work by bicycle. Passing a nursing home, he saw an elderly gentleman who was walking beside him, watching people leave. His name was Thorkild, and Mr. Kaso wondered how much people with reduced mobility miss the freedom they get from cycling?
They decided to rent a rickshaw and go to the nursing home in the hopes of offering a ride to the residents. His first passenger was Gertrude, who asked to be driven to the Langellini area of Copenhagen. It was a special place for him; She moved to Greenland after World War II and it was here that Greenland ships docked. He memorized all the details over the course of an hour, and they formed a bond. The experience was enriching for both the rider and the passenger. The next day, the manager of the nursing home called and asked what she had done, before quickly adding that all the other residents had to ride as well.
Mr. Kaso came in contact with Dorthe Pedersen, a civil society consultant in the city of Copenhagen, who was impressed by the idea and together they bought five rickshaws.
Equipped with his new rickshaw, he gathered volunteer riders and took the 10 residents out for a ride from the nursing home. By word of mouth alone, 30 new volunteers had signed up by the next day. Very soon other cities in Denmark wanted to participate and it has been growing ever since. Today the movement has spread to 50 countries around the world with over 2,500 chapters.
“The bicycle is an equalizer, it’s a great tool to build relationships across generations, across social boundaries, across countries,” says Mr. Kaso.
In its aims, Cycling Without Age has been keen to challenge ageism, discrimination based on a person’s age. It does this by creating connections between generations, between pilots and passengers, care home workers, and family members.
“Relationships are so important that they should be enshrined as a human right, the right to have relationships. Then we won’t be building cities and communities that keep people from building relationships.”
Relationships help build trust, create happiness, and improve quality of life. They are the key to preserving the stories of older generations that would otherwise be forgotten. Volunteer riders connect with their passengers, they listen to their stories and in turn they share those stories with their friends and family, ensuring that they endure over time.
The movement has shown how riding a simple bike can have a profound impact on the lives of older people with limited mobility. The nursing home’s response speaks to residents who have told neighbors over the years about their cycling adventures and rides as a result of the rides lifting the spirits in care-homes. For visually impaired people it has been about feeling, smelling and sounding the wind in their hair.
The members of Cycling Without Age believe that life in a nursing home should be a place of joy and constant mobility, and that they are all welcome to invite an elderly neighbor, or a complete stranger, on a journey through cities and landscapes. Encourage and, by doing so, help build a better life.
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