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Findings of Cycle BOOM report presented in London and Manchester this week

A three-year study has concluded that the UK lags behind other European countries when it comes to using cycling to help older people’s health, wellbeing and independence.

As part of the study, named Cycle BOOM and led by researchers at Oxford Brookes University, some 240 over-50s took part in an eight-week trial aimed at discovering their experience of cycling and how it affected their physical and mental wellbeing, with the oldest participant aged 83.

The participants, residents of in Oxford, Bristol, Reading or Cardiff, were a mixture of current cyclists, non-cyclists and lapsed riders looking to get back into the saddle.

According to researchers, the eight-week trial showed that cycling could have a positive effect on older people’s mental and physical health, but inadequate infrastructure as well as fear of danger on the roads are barriers that need to be overcome.

They add that while cycling accounts for 23 per cent of all journeys by over-60s in the Netherlands, and 15 per cent and 9 per cent respectively in Denmark and Germany, in the United Kingdom the figure is just 1 per cent.

The study’s recommendations were presented at conferences in London and Manchester earlier this week, was led by Dr Tim Jones, Reader at the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University, who said that urban planners needed to take the needs of older people into account to encourage them to cycle.

“Our research has demonstrated that older people who currently cycle, or who have tried cycling, recognise the positive benefits it can make to their health and wellbeing,” he said.

“However, they find infrastructure in the UK generally unsupportive of their needs, and the small minority that do cycle, who we classify as resilient riders’ use various coping strategies to deal with declining capabilities and road danger.

“This includes timing their rides to avoid peak periods, riding away from motor traffic, adapting cycles, and even riding on the pavement.

“While the issues highlighted are relevant to all cyclists, they are more acutely felt in an ageing cohort as capabilities change and previously easy activities become more difficult.

“The way our towns and cities are designed, as well as cycle technology, needs to consider the diverging capabilities of different users, if cycling is to be embedded in the lives of an increasingly older population.”

The study also involved researchers from Cardiff University, the University of the West of England and the University of Reading, and was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under the UK Research Council’s Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme.

Outlining some of the recommendations his team had made, Dr Jones added: “Our study reinforces the need for cities to plough ahead and create a dedicated infrastructure for cycling along major roads, implement slower speed zones and support the growing market of electric bikes.

“Interventions targeted at promoting older cycling will, not only support healthy ageing, but it will also support younger cycling and help address the pressing issue of low levels of fitness and growing levels of obesity amongst the nation’s younger population.”

The summary report, which includes case studies of individual participants as well as examining issues specific to each city where the research was carried out, is available to download from the Cycle BOOM website, where other material available includes video interviews with participants.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.