Bicycles make a big difference at any age

The Duet Bike converts a wheelchair into a great way to get some air and stimulation. From MNN, April 2015.

84-year-old Franco Modonese goes for a ride. (Photo: Chris Bruntlett)

Riding a bike is fun and exhilarating. Many seniors in good health can do it well into old age, but some of us, through advanced age or injury, can’t do it anymore and miss that joy. In Germany, many people use “Rollfiets,” special wheelchairs that connect to 14-speed bike frames. It’s a  clever design: the wheelchair can be used conventionally or tilted back so that the front wheels are off the ground, with the larger wheels becoming part of the tricycle.  

These have come to America as the Duet and are used, as a Portland, Maine group describes it, to “provide free outdoor biking fun for people with disabilities who cannot ride a bike on their own.” 

Essentially, it’s about simple pleasures: being outdoors, breathing fresh air, having the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, and seeing the world go by. Family and friends will be able to ride along and share the experience. Our program is all about connecting people with the community and lifting spirits.   

In Vancouver, Canada, bicycle activist Chris Bruntlett describes how Duet bikes are being used in a senior care facility to give people with limited mobility “a new way to get outside and experience the world around them.” The resident decides where they want to go, whether shopping downtown or to Vancouver’s glorious Stanley Park. Chris writes in the Vancouver Courier:

As you can imagine, the sensory experience of getting back on a bicycle is both natural and exhilarating — even for passengers seated in their wheelchair in front of the person pedalling. Research has shown fresh air and natural stimulants help reduce feelings of aggression and depression that can be experienced when living in a care home. Getting outside can also improve daytime alertness and improved sleep at night.

A comfy ride in Copenhagen (Photo: Cycling Without Age)

There’s actually a worldwide movement, Cycling Without Age, devoted to helping the elderly get back on bikes. Of course it started in Copenhagen, but it has spread across Denmark and to 18 other bike-friendly countries in Europe. (And of course, they don’t wear helmets.) Most of their bikes have electric motor assists. The group notes that the conversation between the cyclist and the passenger is important, and it’s hard to do when you’re pushing hard. The group also shows other bikes that can be used for people who are not necessarily confined to wheelchairs, like this gorgeous Christiana taxi bike. There is even an American bike coming down the road, the Yendra Bootlegger Pedicab.

This is a truly wonderful idea for keeping people who can no longer ride engaged and out there in the fresh air. Our cities are for everyone, and now, so are our bikes. 

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