I want to share what I’ve learned about a wonderful program called Cycling Without Age that provides opportunities for elderly to experience their city from the viewpoint of a bicycle. I have heard that there are efforts underway to get a chapter started in Stevens Point, possibly as soon as this summer.
But before I convey what Cycling Without Age is about and the potential to bring it to our city, I want to start with my reaction to a Copenhagenize blog post I read about two-and-a-half years ago.
That post told of one day in late 2012 when Ole Kassow, who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, borrowed a pedicab – a sturdy tricycle with an open air passenger compartment at its front that is common in Copenhagen – rode it over to a care home for the elderly in his community, and asked if any of the residents wanted to go for a ride.
The response was overwhelming. It was so popular that within months the care home invested in a fleet of pedicabs, Kassow found volunteers to pilot them, and more residents of the care home were able to experience the joy of riding around their city more frequently.
Such a simple idea with a profound impact.
When I read this story, my immediate reaction was to ponder how to replicate this in Stevens Point. Wouldn’t it be great to show up at the Edgewater or the Lincoln Center and offer pedicab rides on the Green Circle Trail along the Wisconsin River through Pfiffner and Bukolt Parks? What a thrill this would be for seniors, especially those with limited mobility!
This would be an outstanding opportunity to enable elderly to experience the parks, neighborhoods, and other features of the city they’ve lived in for decades from the viewpoint and slow speed of a bicycle. In addition, these rides offer community-building opportuities as they create connections between the volunteer pedicab pilots and these senior passengers.
Among the sea of good ideas, this one ranks close to the top.
I quickly identified logistics to deal with: how to obtain a pedicab, how to afford one (they are not cheap), where to store it (they are not small), how to maintain it. Then there are other issues that are difficult to ignore, such as liability. With enough determination, these could all be addressed. Unfortunately, I was involved with too many other efforts, Poky Pedaling Stevens Point among them, to put significant focus into such a project. So I let the idea go, but I never forgot it.
Fast forward to about a month ago. I was at a meeting where a friend with whom I’ve had a few conversations about bicycling came up to me and asked if I had heard of something called Cycling Without Age. That name did not ring a bell, so she started describing a program where elderly are cycled around a city in a pedicab. Within seconds, I got all excited as I realized she was talking about Kassow’s efforts in Copenhagen that I’d read about years before. I immediately started telling her about that background and my latent interest in bringing a program like this to Stevens Point.
It turns out that in the years since I read that blog post, Kassow had formalized his idea into a program called Cycling Without Age that had been replicated in cities around the world. Furthermore, Oshkosh had become one of the first few cities in the United States to start a Cycling Without Age chapter, giving its first rides this past summer. I had no idea about any of this.
My friend works with elderly, and she had heard of the Oshkosh program through her professional contacts. She had spoken with someone who had helped get the Oshkosh chapter off the ground, a planner with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission named Ben Krumenauer. Based on the success in Oshkosh, my friend told me she wants to get a chapter started in Stevens Point. Through her professional connections, she thinks this summer is a feasible timeframe to launch Cycling Without Age in Stevens Point.
Imagine my astonishment to learn that someone is ready to replicate a program from Copenhagen that I read about years ago and wanted to replicate myself but lacked resources for taking action. And now my friend was telling me about her plans for action in case I might want to get involved. Wow.
She told me that Krumenauer was going to be at the Wisconsin Bike Summit in Appleton in early November. I was planning on going (and indeed went – read my recap here), so I looked forward to an opportunity to talk with Krumenauer about Cycling Without Age.
Krumenauer didn’t present at the Bike Summit, but I did find him in attendance and had a brief opportunity to chat with him between sessions. He told me that their first year was highly successful with a great deal of positive feedback. The program is hosted by the Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh (LHO), which describes itself as a family of health care and residential service organizations serving over 800 older adults annually. LHO purchased three pedicabs, also called rickshaws or trishaws, and have put them to good use training volunteer pilots who in turn have been giving rides to those using LHO services.
The pedicabs are built by Christiania Bikes, an iconic and highly respected Danish manufacturer of cargo bikes. Those used as part of the Cycling Without Age program have low-power battery assistance. A pilot definitely supplies most of the bicycling effort. The battery assist helps with inclines, headwinds, and other situations when moving several hundred pounds of payload (pilot plus two passengers plus the pedicab itself) becomes cumbersome. With battery assist, someone with average strength can pilot these loaded pedicabs with reasonable effort.
Krumenauer told me that there are several cities in the United States, Stevens Point among them, who have shown interest in starting Cycling Without Age chapters. To meet this demand, a shipment of 24 Christiania pedicabs has been arranged for, and about half of them are still unspoken for. They cost approximately $6000 each, which includes shipping expense from Denmark to the United States and onward to the purchaser’s destination.
I asked Krumenauer about any logistical issues he encountered. He said that these pedicabs were extremely sturdy and as easy to maintain as any other bicycle. Having a host organization was very helpful in arranging for permanent storage of the pedicabs at the facility serving those receiving rides. Generally, all has gone extremely smoothly in getting this popular program off the ground in Oshkosh. I was greatly encouraged by this conversation with Krumenauer.
Will Cycling Without Age be coming to Stevens Point soon? I certainly hope so. I don’t have any specific information about efforts underway to introduce a chapter here. If I do learn of such progress, I will definitely share that information in a future PPSP post.
For now, I mainly want to raise awareness of this superb program. I also want to plant the seed that Poky Pedalers may have an opportunity to volunteer as Cycling Without Age pilots if a Stevens Point chapter does get going this summer.
In case you need more inspiration, here is a first-person account from BikePortland when he had the opportunity to observe Cycling Without Age in action on a visit to Copenhagen a few years ago.
I hope you share my excitement at the prospect of being a part of such a wonderful program.