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Cycling Without Age - The right to wind in your hair

68 municipalities in Denmark and 27 other countries

Cycling Without Age (CWA) connects people across generations through bicycle rides. The association encourages community involvement and active citizenship by providing a platform through which volunteers can offer a ride to older people who live in care centres. Both the volunteer cycle pilots and the older generation experience improved physical and mental well-being through involvement in the association. It is growing rapidly, with 450 bicycle rickshaws across 65 Danish municipalities currently promoting the older generation’s right to wind in their hair. 

Strengthening community spirit through bicycle rides with elderly

Interaction between elderly people living in nursing homes and other members of the community is often limited. By offering elderly people rides in bicycle rickshaws, CWA is addressing this – creating new bonds within the community and having many positive side effects for young and old. This new approach addresses demographic challenges and supports long-term social cohesion by generating interaction between people in the community who otherwise would not meet.

Inspiring active citizenship by example

It all started when the founder of the initiative decided to rent a bicycle rickshaw to give an older man at a nursing home a bicycle ride. After repeating this, and noticing that others were also interested in providing rides, the initiative has expanded exponentially.

There are 5 key principles guiding this work:

  1. It starts with the simple act of generosity. Giving time to the old people showing gratitude for their generation and all of their lessons learned through life. 
  2. There are a lot of stories to be shared through storytelling from our elders, but also from us. 
  3. They want to listen to us too and through this bridge we form relationships.
  4. We take our time, and the act of cycling slowly helps us take in the experience and appreciate it.
  5. Without age is the principle of how life does not end at a given age, but instead we can embrace what each generation has to offer through something as simple as cycling.

Improved physical and mental well-being

Both volunteers and elderly people experience improved well-being by taking part in the CWA trips. There have also been many examples of improved social cohesion as volunteers discover the value of spending time with elders in the community – some even describe feeling like they got a bonus set of grandparents.

Reaching a broad audience

Sharing stories about these acts of generosity and their positive side effects has inspired others around the world to active citizens in their own communities. Two key milestones for the initiative were:

  1. A seven minute presentation for all representatives (1600 people) at the annual meeting for municipalities organised by Kommunernes Landsforening that lead to substantial growth of CWA within Denmark.  
  2. A TED Talk recorded in Copenhagen which resulted in CWA scaling-up internationally – communities are now offering elderly people bicycle rides in more than 27 countries!

Resources required

 Support from Copenhagen Municipality was essential in the initial phase. Further resources were then required to develop the model for other municipalities to join and also to engage more volunteer cycle pilots. The growth of the association has been supported by the board, who have helped set the direction. Financial backing has also allowed for the establishment of a team of paid staff members who dedicate themselves 100 percent to coordinating everyone involved. Another important resource has been the media attention that has inspired many people to become involved in the initiative. This coverage has increased awareness about the association, relieving the need to invest resources in other types of outreach.

Key learnings for municipalities

Keep a look out for activities that promote active citizenship and support them to take place at a small scale in the community. This allows initiatives to be implemented with a broader scope and thus supports involvement and development of social capital locally.

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Page last updated September 2016.