Free Wheeling

5 November 2019 | North East England

Cycling Without Age

How amazing cycling volunteers help older folk experience the joys of the open road

When 90-year-old Vic is out riding on a bike, he says it’s like ‘living again’.

The Newcastle pensioner lives alone, and barely sees anyone during the week. But his new hobby has brought renewed joy and meaning to his day-to-day life.

Vic is not actually powering the bike. He is the passenger of a three-wheel cycle called a ‘trishaw’ driven by a volunteer working for a brilliant charity that helps elderly people enjoy being outside. The aim is for them to ‘feel the wind in their hair’ once again. 

“It feels great, there is nothing in front of you and you seem to be like a free bird just flying along,” says Vic. “I live alone so it is nice to do something like this, otherwise I would just be going into North Shields in my electrical buggy, going to the shop and then home again. But this is exciting - it’s living again.”

The innovative scheme is called Cycling Without Age and began in Copenhagen in 2012 offering rides to elderly people and those with limited mobility. It now has 1,100 projects in 40 countries and an estimated 50,000 people have been on rides. The scheme has been proven to reduce loneliness, social isolation and improve well-being.

Medical student Fraser Johnston won the TSB Community Partner Award at Pride of Britain in 2017, for his role in setting up Cycling Without Age in Scotland.

He took care home residents out on bike rides on his specially built trishaw, giving those usually cooped up inside, the chance to enjoy the fresh air once more.

After he won his award, people all over the country were inspired to follow his lead, including Katie Wilkinson and Lesley Heseltine in Newcastle. 

Katie saw a documentary called Amazing Humans which told Fraser’s story in 2017. It struck a chord and she decided it was something she would love to see the scheme set up in Newcastle.

Lesley became involved soon after. “I just had a lightbulb moment,” she says. “I had never done any sort of volunteering before but this just felt right.”

It took them both more than 18 months to raise the funds to buy their first trishaw. Now they are aiming for a second vehicle and have amassed more than five volunteers to help them.

Lesley says: “What is lovely is that when you are out, your heads are so close together and you can just chat. You can share the experience and talk about anything and everything. It is also an amazing way for all of us to see the city.”

For most passengers, it is the first time in decades that they have been out on a bike or any kind of physical activity. But it’s not all hard work for the volunteers - they do have an electrical power assist when the going gets tough!

Lesley says: “We do it because it feels good to give back. Our volunteers are all ordinary people from the community Some are retired, some are working full time, but all want to give back.