Turning The Loss Of Cycling Ability Into A Gain

Elderly People Riding In A Bicycle Powered Rickshaw

Photo Credit: Cykling uden alder

Life starts with almost unlimited and unknown potential. A newborn is a mystery in that he or she might be anyone, might do anything and might even make a difference in the world we live in.

But, the farther along life progresses, the smaller the amount of potential gets. And, in fact, after middle age, losses begin to accrue.

Among those losses, is the loss of the physical traits one needs to ride a bicycle. Vision, hearing, muscle strength, balance and reflexes all decline with age.

By age 70, most cyclists give up cycling for fear of crashing, and being unable to recover from a crash. Injuries heal much more slowly in the elderly.

Perhaps due to the fact that cyclists are more observant, due to the need to be aware of everything in their surroundings, one cyclist noticed a need among fellow cyclist — or more accurately, former cyclists.

One such cyclist, Ole Kassow of Denmark, noticed an elderly man who was a former cyclist and felt sorry that the man had had to give up bicycling. He thought the older man would like to get back on a bike, but he wasn’t sure how he could go about making this happen.

In 2012, he decided to start a movement called Cycling Without Age. Its purpose was to help the elderly get back on bikes.

In order to overcome the physical challenges this posed, he decided to make this happen through the use of rickshaws. After renting a rickshaw, he started offering rides to residents of nearby nursing homes.

According to the organization’s website, Kassow took the following steps:

“He then got in touch with a civil society consultant, Dorthe Pedersen, at the municipality of Copenhagen, who was intrigued by the idea and together they bought the first 5 rickshaws and launched Cycling Without Age, which has now spread to all corners of Denmark and Norway.

Volunteers sign up for bike rides with the elderly through a simple booking system as often or as rarely as they want to. It’s all driven by the volunteers’ own motivation. At present (December 2014) more than 40 municipalities in Denmark offer Cycling Without Age from well over 150 rickshaws – and the numbers are still growing. More than 600 volunteers ensure that the elderly get out of their nursing homes, out on the bikes to enjoy the fresh air and the community around them. They give them the right to wind in their hair.

We are working on spreading the movement to other countries, and as soon they are onboard, they will be listed here, for volunteers to sign up. Stay tuned.”

Who, other than a cyclist, would not only value and consider the physical activity needs of the elderly, but would also look for ways to meet those needs? And, who else would set up an organization designed to meet those needs?

Sometimes it seems as if cyclists, who have a bad reputation in countries like the U.S., are actually more compassionate and community-minded than their motor vehicle driving counterparts. They appear to care more about others, and even seem to value individuals who tend to lose value in modern societies where youth is prized above all.

Of course, the Cycling Without Age movement started in Denmark where the culture is decidedly different from American culture. Perhaps they respect the elderly more than we do here. And consider their needs to be of importance.

In the U.S., elderly people often live in poverty. Some go hungry, others go without needed medication. We discard our elderly as “useless” since they can no longer produce the things Americans value. This is what a purely materialistic view gets us. When someone is no longer able to work and drive profits, they are forgotten.

With an aging population, the U.S. will be forced to rethink its position on the elderly and their role in society. A society is only as good as the way it treats it most vulnerable members. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, children and the disabled.

We can either take the position that only those who play a role in driving profits have value, or we can take the position that every member of a society has value and that it is the responsibility of the able bodied and the young to look out for those who are weaker than they are.

Age should not hinder one’s ability to enjoy things like the feel of wind in one’s hair or the sense of motion through space. Age should not mean loss of movement. It should not condemn one to a sedentary existence.

If younger people take an interest in the elderly and their situation, they can help to fill a need. By doing so, they gain things themselves.

Pedaling a rickshaw for the benefit of an elderly passenger provides exercise which improves their health. And interacting with the elderly can give them a glimpse into a world which existed before they were born. Hearing about the experiences of the elders can give younger people a sense of continuity — a sense of where they came from and what transpired before the present.

It will be interesting to see whether the Cycling Without Age movement is even tried in the U.S. It requires an acceptance of slow cycling, since rickshaws would be moving much more slowly than the average bicycle. This would necessitate patience on the part of cyclists, walkers and inline skaters, even if the rickshaws were confined to bike paths. Bike paths are shared, and including slower moving vehicles would require cooperation.

Cooperation is in short supply in the U.S. But maybe cyclists can start a new trend by considering the needs of others, and by valuing cooperation among all people to meet those needs.

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One Response to Turning The Loss Of Cycling Ability Into A Gain

  1. Mark says:

    I am 68 years old and have ridden since my mid – twenties. Cycling for me has been a group social experience but now is solitary. I gave up riding a road bike about the time cycling became a solitary pursuit; I happily ride recumbents now. Lucky for me I live in suburban Lakeville MN and trails are everywhere. If you are ever in the Twin Cities in the summer try the Cannon Valley Trail. It is a paved 20 mile trail alongside a neat river and cliffs. Further south is the Root River Trail, much longer with similar geography.
    My mental health has improved because of riding. Depression can still return but now I know there is a temporary fix nearby.

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