Blogs | Learning | Transport

Two wheels good: in support of cycling

In this blog we give an update on our work exploring opportunities for cycling in Sheffield for older adults.

By Victoria Penman · September 28, 2019

As we come toward the end of CycleSeptember, it seems a good time to share the findings of a recent piece of work carried out by Age Better in Sheffield. One of our core partners, inspired by her own experience of life with an ebike, suggested that Age Better in Sheffield should explore the possibility of cycling as a route to reducing loneliness and isolation.

We carried out desk-based research, reviewing over 40 articles. While there is currently a dearth of evidence linking cycling to loneliness and isolation, there was anecdotal evidence that people felt that cycling could help to alleviate loneliness and isolation.

Following the desk-based research, we conducted extensive local research (which identified 21 Sheffield cycling groups – catering for cyclists of all levels and abilities, although none specifically targeted at people over 50 and more catering to experienced cyclists). We spoke to existing groups and activity organisers and strategic influencers including the Council, Pedal Ready, MoveMore, and surveyed over 100 people (94/105 of these were already active cyclists).

We found that people are most likely to cycle and use active travel to get to and from shops, often locally. 85 of the 105 surveyed cite health benefits as a benefit of active travel/cycling. In terms of barriers, the story is a familiar one. People told us about concerns with road conditions, traffic levels and inconsiderate drivers; lack of cycle paths; the inevitable hills and, finally, social acceptance.

The idea most put forward for how active travel or cycling might reduce social isolation and loneliness was groups for people to ride with.

The Core Partnership considered the next steps. One of the things that we have learned over the course of Age Better in Sheffield is that new projects, delivered by professional organisations, generally take much longer to set up and get running than community-led groups and then require ongoing staffing and funding to continue. We have a project which supports and provides funding for people to start up their own community groups or activities (Start Up), but they have no experience in working with people to set up cycling groups, particularly for less experienced cyclists where training or equipment may be required.

Our Core Partnership reached a decision that, particularly given that Age Better in Sheffield has less than two years left to run, and that there are already a number of organisations and groups active in this area, our best course of action was not to commission at this time. We are, however, positive about the benefits that cycling can bring. We will offer our support to the organisations in Sheffield that already have the expertise in this area.

British Cycling is the first stop for finding out about existing groups, clubs and rides (some ‘pop up’ rides in parks include loaning equipment and giving support to less experienced riders in Hillsborough and Concord parks).  They also work with communities and people who want to set up regular or occasional rides and clubs, providing training and equipment, support with marketing and everything needed to get someone to the point where they are comfortable leading a bike ride.  You can find out more about how they help people set up cycling groups and rides on their website and on their Facebook page Let’s Ride Yorkshire.

Age is no barrier for seasoned cyclists (or for beginners), with many cycling in generalist clubs and groups well into their 60s and beyond. We know of plenty of cyclists aged over 50 who are part of Sheffield District CTC (a leisure cycling group which has rides from beginner to hard with a focus on socialising and rides planned around café and cake) and other groups!

Although there are plenty of welcoming groups out there, we sometimes hear people say that they think their cycling days are behind them or they are aren’t confident to join a ‘proper’ cycling group. Other Sheffield groups and initiatives which might be particularly of interest to people who have found their mobility has declined or want a bit of training include:

Pedalready – provide training and loan bikes and ebikes.

Sheffield Cycling 4 All – regular cycling sessions in Hillsborough Park using adapted trikes for people who can’t use a two wheeled bike.

Cycling Without Ageis a group of volunteer cyclists taking elderly care home residents out in a cycle tri-shaw (named “Rhubarb”) to ‘feel the wind in their hair’.