You’re never too old to get back in the saddle and ride
“You just have to take the first step,” says Betty-Ann Hutchin. “You don’t have to go out and ride miles on the roads straight away. I just started in the park. But I’d say to people, just take that first step. Make a start.”
At the age of 73, Betty-Ann is now a Bikeability cycling instructor, a British Cycling coach and ride leader for HSBC Breeze women only rides, and also runs the local ‘Wheel Do It!’ social cycling group with her husband Paul.But ten years ago, she couldn’t even ride a bike.“We moved around a lot when I was a child, and we had no money to afford a bike, so I never learned,” she said.
But on her retirement, at the age of 64, she decided to learn to ride a bike for the first time with local cycle trainers Pedal Ready, and never looked back.“I’d say to older people don’t think about where you are, think about the person you’d like to be, and say ‘I can do this’.”
Age Better in Sheffield are aiming to encourage more Sheffielders aged over 50 to take advantage of local resources to help them get around on foot or by bike, and this month launched campaigns to help more older people to cycle and walk more often.“People tell us that the lack of accessible cycle lanes, the traffic and the hills are all barriers to cycling,” said Imogen Parker from South Yorkshire Housing Association, who run Age Better in Sheffield.
“But when people feel more confident, particularly after taking part in the free courses offered by Pedal Ready, that confidence helps alleviate some of those barriers.”Bluebell Evans has talked to older Sheffielders as part of Age Better’s Better Journeys project, and says a vicious circle where the lack of accessible cycle lanes in Sheffield deters confidence for older people to start cycling then leads to less cycling by older people, and less apparent demand for cycling.But the demand is there, she says, particularly now.“There’s a big risk that social isolation among the older generation is shooting up as a result of Covid, often because people who usually get about on buses are worried about using public transport,” she said.
“But if we do start to get more low traffic neighbourhoods and accessible cycle lanes, I think that will lead to more people of all ages walking and cycling.”
This week Bluebell is launching the Better Journeys ‘walking buddy’ scheme where people over 50 can ask for a ‘buddy’ to walk with them to a destination, or just for company around a local park or green space.
Volunteers and participants can sign up for the scheme at: 0114 5539555 or [email protected] Lockdown has had physical as well as emotional effects on many older people, said Bluebell.“It’s rare people will say they’re lonely, but they will say ‘I’m just not getting out and speaking to people’ and that might be over a whole week or more.
"And not getting out can also affect people’s joints, which may make them unsteady when they do get out for a walk.”Imogen says younger people, like herself, should be mindful of how older people feel when out and about. “When I’m out for a walk or a run I make sure I get nowhere near older people,” she said.
“I think it’s good they’re getting out, and want to make sure they still feel they can come out, so I also think it’s good to smile and nod to help that feeling of community.
" You may need to be physically distant, but you don’t need to be emotionally distant.”Bluebell added that older people have told her that cycling helps them regain feelings of freedom and happiness they remember from their childhood, at at time of worry and anxiety under Covid.“Cycling is good for people of all ages,” she said, “and the more people who feel able to cycle, the more people will cycle.”Just give it a try, said Betty-Ann Hutchin.“When I retired I thought that was the end. But it was actually the beginning.” For more information about the campaign visit https://www.agebettersheff.co.uk/what-we-do/campaigns/coming-pedal-ready-or-not-2/