The transformative effect of cycling with neighbours across all ages

“We need to understand that we are together in this, and I think Cycling Without Age can actually bring that across.”
~ Dorthe Pedersen, co-founder of Cycling Without Age

Transcript of interview with Dorthe Pedersen

The Sustainable Hour on 94.7 The Pulse on 26 April 2017

Dorthe Pedersen: “I’ve been in Australia about seven month, and I’ve been sort-of pushing for new chapters of this global movement, Cycling Without Age, where we bring rickshaw bicycles into aged care facilities in order for people in the community to come and take the elderly out for a spin and them keep them part of what’s going on and connected with people living around them.

And obviously, there’s a spark in Geelong: Hopefully we’re going to see a Geelong chapter of Cycling Without Age as well. So today I’m here to introduce it and to get everyone to learn more about Cycling Without Age this afternoon.”

Mik Aidt: “So, just give us a brief explanation: What is the good idea? And why is it catching on as much as it as it has? – I understand it is in all sorts of countries, isn’t it?”

Dorthe: “Yes. So Cycling Without Age started four years ago in Copenhagen, and it has just spread like wildfire, to be quite honest: 30 countries! We have just registered country number 30, where people, individuals in the communities, are interested in bringing this social innovation to their local area, and to the elderly, of course.

I think the reason why it’s catching on is that all of us are going down same path. So we are all identifying with not wanting to ever be cooped up within the same four walls and be hidden away in a care facility and not feeling connected to people living around us.

l spoke to this elderly lady recently in an aged care home – this was in Sandringham, which is not too far away – and she said to me: ‘You just got to stay curious. We might be old but we still have a cyst of life.”

And I think it’s just such an important learning point – that even if you got difficulties late in life, you still want to stay connected and interact with other people – and this is what the bicycle is going to be at tool for.”

Mik: “I think why we see it as such a great thing in The Sustainable Hour is because you are using the bicycle. You are taking it out [on the street] and showing it with pride, and turning the bicycle into something different. Something about getting people together, which – in a sense – is exactly what cycling is all about.

I experience that with my children. When I go on the bicycle, we are able to stop and talk with people we meet. Right there, on the pavement. Or we are speaking with one another – things are happening that makes you feel connected to your local neighbourhood.”

Rusty: “Mik, can I remind you of that fateful day when you and I actually met. It was over your bucket bike. We wouldn’t have had that conversation. I wouldn’t be here…”

Mik: “And you know what? I wouldn’t even be sitting here in this radio studio if it wasn’t because of my trike – the cargo bicycle that I ride around with sometimes in town – because that was the reason I got into a conversation with a radio station manager, and I told him, ‘Well, I’m from Denmark and yeah, I used to do radio when I was in Denmark…’ [and he replied:] ‘Do you really, maybe you’d want to come over to our radio? That conversation, which ended up with that we now have The Sustainable Hour running here for three and a half years, started with the fact that I was CYCLING through the city.”

Dorthe: “That just goes to prove that the bicycle connects people, and bring us all together.”

Tony: “Dorthe, how did this start, this whole phenomenon, this world phenomenon, really, that you have started – how did it all start?”

Dorthe: “This is what I would really like to pass on to everyone in Geelong. It started out of good neighbourship and generosity. That’s really how it started. It was a gentleman in Copenhagen who looked at his neighbouring care facility, and he though ‘Hey, what is going to happen when I get old like that and I can’t get out on the bikepath by myself, if I can’t be pedelling, if my legs are not as strong as I want them to be, as my mind is set for them to be, so he bought a rickshaw, and went across… went in to the neighbour and said: ‘Would anyone like to come out for a bike ride?’ – and that was the very start of Cycling Without Age four years ago.”

Tony: “So you saw the buzz that people got out of that?”

Dorthe: “Absolutely! It became contagious straight away, in the coffee room. So when one person had been out, the other ones would be going, ‘Oh yes, we want to go out!’ This young man – and you know, meeting everybody and going to favourite places, or nice cafes, or whatever they like to visit when they go out.

I took a gentleman out one time and we were driving along a waterfront at a beautiful harbour where lots of development had been happening, and all of a sudden he says to me: ‘Please just go very slowly, because it’s been a while since I’ve seen the water.’ So the value of just visually reconnecting with your surroundings. It just sparks your whole identity and your memory again – and it sparks conversation, even for those whom we might not think are able to have a conversation anymore.”

Tony: “I can really really reinforce that. I saw them when [Cycling Without Age] was launched at Sandringham. And just watching these people come back, and there were ladies in their nineties, and they said: ‘I haven’t had as much fun for years.’ It was like… just… I don’t know, like, I’m going goosebumpy here now, remembering it. It is just amazing! The thing about being curious and they are not just people at the end of their days. Just getting them out is just so important!”

Rusty: “It also helps spark conversation, because you’ve got room for two [passengers] so it’s a good way that the facility can mix and match people that may just be in opposite wings of the aged care homes…”

Mik: “Here is what my thinking is: If this really grew here in Geelong and we had more aged care facilities picking it up and we started to see more of these rickshaws with these smiling, curious elders being taken around by young volunteers, and so on, that would be a signal straight into Council, straight to the planners: ‘You’ve got to tidy up these street! We need some better road safety in the city!’

It’s appalling how it looks at the moment. It is shameful, really, and this is a way to make it even more obvious that SOMEthing needs to be done. We need to have bike paths so that they can get safely down to the river. There is a beautiful bike path along with the river, but how to get down there…?”

Rusty: “The interconnectivity is a problem in this town, and Dorthe is going up to Newcastle. I’ve already explained to her it is even worse there. And we come back with the same answer. But as you are aware I went to the key stakeholders road safety meeting – that’s one of the reasons I was there – I was there for broader reasons, but certainly, yeah… I’m seen for some reason or other as ‘the bike person’. I don’t know why because I’m there for a much broader review of road safety.”

Mik: “Well I would tell why. If I came to your backyard and saw… How many bikes do have there? I mean, a hundred or so?”

Rusty: “You are always wrong, Mik! You’re always wrong.”

Tony: “He’s got 200.”

Dorthe: “Obviously being a first visitor to Geelong, I’m not here to judge your connectivity on the roads, and bicycle paths and so forth, but what I can encourage you with is that we’ve got chapters around the world in similar countries to Australia, say in the US, in New Zealand, in Canada, where they might have a similar bicycle infrastructure or the lack of it. And I know that bicycle user groups there are actually using this initiative, Cycling Without Age, to lobby and advocate with the authorities, because they want to show that they need connected bike path in order to bring out all generations safely.

So it’s not just for the lycra guys racing on the weekends, but it’s actually for everyone in the community to enjoy the outdoors and being together.”

Tony: “Tell us about the pilot. That entrigues me. I’m really keen to be one of the pilots when we get one in Geelong. Tell our listeners about that…”

Dorthe: “Yes, so the pilot obviously is the person who who who is pedalling and doing the hard work. However, they are electric assisted bicycles, so I would always claim that anyone at any age can be piloting. Our youngest pilot was 12 when he started. The oldest one was 87 when he started. And we got the whole range of men and women in between that. So it’s all about of signing up to volunteer and do this together with your elderly neighbours.”

Mik: “Dorthe, maybe you should just tell people… If they want to get engaged – and I’m thinking in particular, of course, people who work with aged care facilities, or who are leaders and who think that what you’ve been talking about sounds really interesting. Can people just show up today without having enrolled or RSVP’d?”

Dorthe: “Definitely! Be you an aged care professional, manager, leader – be you a relative to someone who’s in aged care – be you just a community member who is a keen cyclist or who is engaged and involved in the community and who would like to see, actually, a more sustainable community, because it’s not only environmental sustainability. If you don’t realise that you are connected to other people and look at social sustainability, you might not even bother to care about the environment either.

So we need to understand that we are together in this, and I think Cycling Without Age can actually bring that across!

So, please, everyone, feel welcome to turn up at 1 pm at Diversitat’s aged care support. They have got a facility there and will be presenting Cycling Without Age – the story behind it, the values in it and definitely the effects that are mutual to passengers and pilots and even the professionals who work around this.”

The Sustainable Hour no 166

» This interview was a part of The Sustainable Hour on 26 April 2017

» Cycling Without Age Australia:

» Five-minute documentary: ‘Finn’

A cycling documentary about a group of elderly people cycling nearly 250 miles from Denmark to Norway.

» 28-minute documentary: ‘The Grey Escape’

» ABC News | Radio Canberra – 30 November 2016:
Cycling Without Age: Danish trishaw movement launches in Australia to benefit the elderly

» Aged Care Guide – 13 December 2016:
Cycling Without Age lands in Australia
“A Danish initiative to help older people get back on their bicycles and feel the wind in their hair again has landed in Australia.”