Why you should take a senior on a bike ride
Copenhagener Ole Kassow launched a program to bring older Danes on bicycle outings. Now volunteer pilots in 29 countries are taking their passengers on the road.
It all started with a friendly wave. In 2012, Copenhagen native Ole Kassow’s daily cycling commute took him past a nursing home. Every morning, the management consultant would see impeccably dressed 97-year-old Thorkild, who’d greet him from a spot on a bench, a walker by his side. Kassow wondered about the last time the man — and the home’s other residents — had been on a bike. “Because most Copenhageners love cycling, I assumed he’d love to go back out in his community, to interact with his neighbors, and do something he’d probably always done in his life,” he says. He received permission from home staff to take a senior for a ride in a rental trishaw — a cargo tricycle with a low passenger compartment that goes in front of the cyclist. This ride eventually led Kassow to create the nonprofit Cycling Without Age, an initiative that now includes more than 250 chapters in 29 countries (TEDxCopenhagenSalon Talk: Cycling without age).
Initial rides led to stories and smiles. After Kassow took one of the nursing home residents out on a trishaw, he received a phone call the next day asking if he’d do it again. Trips with nursing home residents quickly became part of his life — and something he looked forward to. “It gave them a newfound mobility, and it gave me an amazing new insight into my city,” he says. On one ride, Thorkild pointed to a set of old army barracks by Rosenborg Castle and shouted to Kassow, “I used to live there.” It turned out that Thorkild had been a royal guard in 1938.
The seniors returned from the trishaw rides happy, talkative and sociable — shaken out of their everyday routines, the staff told Kassow. Inspired, he wrote to city officials, asking them to fund a trishaw for the nursing home. The city offered more: five trishaws for five nursing homes. Kassow was so thrilled that he organized a mini-parade with friends and family to show off the fleet. “All of a sudden, we had 30 volunteers signing up [to pilot the bikes],” he said. By October 2013, Kassow received his first request from outside Denmark — Oslo, Norway — to start a Cycling Without Age chapter.
The goal of Kassow and his team: to break down the barriers to mobility and activity that so many senior citizens face. A chapter in New Brunswick, Canada, takes seniors on nature rides near the Appalachian Mountains; in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the police and fire department serve as cyclists; in Iceland, the trishaws are equipped with spiked tires for navigating icy surfaces. And in Denmark alone, there are now nearly 4,000 volunteer “pilots.”