Cycling project helps seniors feel “wind in their hair” again

Photo: Zdeněk Kolín

A new project is helping Czech seniors enjoy the experience of cycling again – even if they are largely immobile. Within Cycling Without Age, volunteers pilot electric tricycles with the elderly sitting in front, helping them to not just to get out and about but also to make fresh connections. I discussed the project with Roman Meliška, who has introduced the originally Danish concept to this country.

“How it works is simple. Volunteers, an electric trishaw and seniors – you don’t need anything else.

“You have an electric tricycle. You have volunteers willing to invest a bit of their time and then the elderly, who are happy to increase their radius and get further than they normally can.”

Could you please describe this electric trishaw? From what I can see it looks a bit like a cross between a bicycle at the back and a wheelchair at the front. Is that correct?

Photo: Zdeněk Sluka

“Technically it’s a bicycle. It’s allowed and it fits on bicycle paths everywhere. You can ride it on the streets as well.

“The pilots, as we call ourselves, sit on the bicycle and, in front of you, you have a sort of a bench with covering.

“It’s like close to the North Sea you have these baskets on the beach – that might be a visual comparison one might feel was appropriate.

“Three wheels, very stable, very comfortable.

“It also enables continuous chat between the pilot and the passenger, which is a core of the entire project.

“It’s not about getting the elderly out and then bringing them back.

“It’s about chatting across generations, people that wouldn’t normally ever meet come into contact and build some relationship, or not – that all depends.”

Photo: Zdeněk Kolín

What has been the response of Czech seniors who have been trying this trishaw riding for the first time?

“Oh, it’s always cool [laughs]. When I did the first training for volunteers we passed by the nursing home where we agreed to do the pilot programme with the trishaw.

“You could see surprise in their eyes and people were asking, What is this?

“We said, This is coming for you actually. And they said, No, no, no.

“Then we came back 10 days later and offered the first ride and they said, OK, maybe I’ll try.

“And then you explain slowly, without rushing, and they take a ride and it’s like, we have a saying in Czech: ‘You have a rohlík [bread roll] from your mouth’, which means the corners of your mouth are pretty close to your ears.”

So they’re grinning from ear to ear?

“[Laughs] Exactly. That’s what happens, yes.”

Cycling Without Age is currently only in Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic, but Roman Meliška says the organisers are very much open to working with volunteers in other parts of the country. Contact: kolemnakole@gmail.com