Why do people in later life give up cycling? Get involved with Cycle BOOM research project

Issue date: 27 May 2015

Dr Heather Jones with one of the Cycle Boom partcipants

In some parts of the UK cycling is booming. Nevertheless people aged 65+ make only 1 per cent of all journeys by bike compared with 9 per cent in Germany.

Researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society at UWE Bristol are studying the practice, experience and impact of cycling past the age of fifty in a project called Cycle BOOM.

All participants are over the age of fifty and either still ride a bike or have done so at some point during their adult life. The study is concerned with all forms of cycling; cycling for sport and exercise, travel and everyday transport. A researcher from the team interviews participants to get their cycling life story which includes their past and present cycling experiences and future expectations for cycling. Those participants who still use a bike are accompanied by the researcher on a ride which they video with a camera that is mounted on the handle bars. After the ride they watch back the video together and discuss the ride.

From the interviews, Cycle BOOM aims to uncover the factors which discourage and encourage cycling in later life and identify how the physical environment and things like bikes and equipment can be better designed to help them continue or reconnect with cycling.

UWE Bristol's Dr Kiron Chatterjee explains, “Bristol registered a 94 per cent increase in the numbers of people cycling to work between 2001 and 2011, this was from just over 8,000 to nearly 16,000 people riding. Whilst cycling in Bristol may be on the increase, the proportion of all journeys undertaken by bike at a national level was unchanged at 2 per cent; and people cycling are disproportionately young and middle aged, white males.

“When you look specifically at age, only 1 per cent of all journeys made by those aged over 65 are currently cycled. This is much lower than Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany where it is 23, 15 and 9 per cent respectively. In comparison it looks like the UK offers a far less hospitable setting for cycling in later life.

“We know that as well as the positive benefits to our physical and mental wellbeing, if sustained, physical activity has a positive influence on long term health and the process of ageing. Cycling also has the potential, as an active form of leisure and travel, to help individuals maintain independence and connections with their community.

“What deters people from cycling throughout the life course could be down to factors such as the physical effort and risk of injury. It tends to be assumed that the capacity and inclination to cycle declines as people grow older and this has led us to design and build physical environments that are unsympathetic to the experience of cycling when you are older.”

UWE Bristol's Dr Heather Jones who has been conducting the interviews and rides with participants in Bristol commented, “We've captured some fascinating accounts from our participants on their experiences of cycling through their lives. Those who have continued to cycle make a range of different journeys by bike – travelling for volunteering, to care for family members, to be socially connected with friends and community and travelling to work.

“The interviews are revealing lots about the changes people have made in their cycling as they've got older. For instance a few had got a power-assisted bicycle and others have found a wing mirror attached to their handlebars has given them more confidence when riding their bike. In many interviews we hear about how they have altered some of the routes they take and the times at which they go out on their bikes. Of course some feel that little has changed in the way they cycle and emphasise that they still feel comfortable and confident on the roads.”

This year Cycle BOOM is particularly looking for more participants who are no longer cycling but did so earlier in adult life, or don't cycle very often. Heather explained “To be able to say something useful about cycling for the over 50s we need to look at the experiences of those who really haven't cycled very much as they've gone through middle and later adulthood and this includes those who no longer cycle. This could be related to retirement, illness, physical restrictions, loss of interest, confidence or not wanting to cycle alone.

“From the experiences we capture we will develop recommendations on how to enable people to continue, reconnect or begin cycling in their later years. Measures might include improving the physical environment for cycling, promoting suitable types of bike and equipment and providing the opportunities and support to get on a bike and keep pedalling.”

This year the UWE researchers are specifically looking for people over 50 from the Yate and Chipping Sodbury area to take part, to understand the opportunities and constraints older adults face for cycling in towns of this size. Some people are also needed from inner parts of Bristol. You can register your interest to participate on their website www.cycleboom.org or contact the Cycle BOOM team on 01865 482752 or at admin@cycleboom.org

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