New Sheffield cycling project helps over 50s rediscover the cycling experiences of their youth
Firth Park on three wheels on a sunny Tuesday: “Pure Joy!” said one cycle passenger.
“It reminds me of gallivanting on my bike as a boy,” said another.Firth Park is a ‘nice clean park’ said Bluebell Evans, but it has a fair few inclines. So piloting a tricycle on a 1km circuit up and down the park’s undulating paths, carrying two additional passengers, appeared quite a task to most onlookers during the Better Journeys / Cycling Without Age free cycling event last week.“When we got back after the first lap, we’d ask: ‘Would you like to go again?’ And they’d often say: ‘Oh no, you must be exhausted pushing us two around,’” said Bluebell. “So I’d say: ‘No, it’s fine, it’s got a battery, remember!’”Sheffield’s Cycling without Age project to give cycle rides to older people who struggle to cycle on their own has been so successful since its start in 2019 that organisers now have two electric assisted tricycles (named Ginger and Rhubarb), thanks to a government e-cycling grant won by Sheffield Council and Sheffield City Region.Cycling without Age volunteers regularly take care home residents out for rides round their local green spaces, and after lockdown rules eased in the spring, Bluebell and colleague Harriet Wingfield from the Better Journeys project loaned e-trike Rhubarb to offer rides to people in Firth Park.The first session in May was a bit wet (but keen riders still took part under their rain ponchos), while last week’s sunny weather meant locals and park visitors could rediscover the cycling experiences of their youth.Bluebell said: “It’s a great opportunity for the older generation who used to cycle but are no longer able to get the same experience, the wind in their hair and travelling through the breeze.”36 people took part over the six days of the project, with Bluebell and Harriet clocking up 34 kilometres (21 miles) in total. Rhubarb’s battery meant that uphill pedalling was assisted by a motor.So the scene of a relaxed young tricycle pilot gliding around the park chatting amicably with her two smiling passengers caught people’s attention, with many onlookers enquiring about e-bikes and trikes for their own use.“Trikes like Rhubarb are expensive, but I think seeing us opened people’s eyes to different forms of transport,” said Bluebell, adding that she met one woman during the event who’d learned to ride a bike with local training organisation Pedal Ready before buying a two wheeled e-bike for herself to get about.Age Better in Sheffield’s Better Journeys project aims to encourage Sheffielders aged over 50 to take advantage of local resources to help them get around on foot or by bike.Bluebell says there’s a vicious circle where the lack of accessible cycle lanes deters confidence for older people to ride more often, which appears to show less demand for cycling. But the rise of e-bikes means there’s actually a growing demand.Active Travel Project Director at Sheffield City Region Pete Zanzottera enjoyed a ride on Rhubarb during last week’s event.“We know e-bikes keep older riders going after they may have otherwise stopped riding, extend the range of trips, and give a chance to those who wouldn’t otherwise ride a bike,” he said.“We also know that many people with impairment have been disproportionately affected by the lockdowns, they were first to isolate and the last to be able to come out. So it was a joy to see so many people able to complete a lap of the park in the warm summer sunshine, something that they wouldn’t have been able to do without the Cycling without Age bike.”One woman who’d lived in Firth Park for years discovered a corner of the park she’d never visited before, said Bluebell, who added that many older people are feeling unsettled as lockdown lifts, and are often struggling with mobility problems after being confined to their homes for so long.“It was a joyful experience,” she said. “There was a real sense of returning and going in the right direction.”* More free Rhubarb-riding days in Firth Park for any Sheffielders aged over 50 are this Monday and Tuesday (21/22 June): contact 0114 5539555 or [email protected]