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Academic at Oxford Brookes to lead three-year project which starts next month

A three-year study led by an academic from Oxford Brookes University will investigate how older people can be encouraged and supported to cycle into their old age, helping them retain their health, fitness and independence.

While cycling accounts for 23 per cent of all journeys for people aged 65 and older in the Netherlands, 15 per cent in Denmark and 9 per cent in Germany, it represents only 1 per cent of such journeys in the UK.

Starting in October, the £1.4 million research project will investigate how the built environment and technology including e-bikes could be adapted for the needs of older people.

It is thought that the major barriers are fear of injury and the physically demanding aspect of the activity – which could be overcome by improving infrastructure and developing assistive technology.

Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Planning at Oxford Brookes, is leading the research, which will follow people approaching later life (50-59) and those aged over 60 in Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Cardiff.

Participants will be interviewed about their cycling history, and observed as they make familiar journeys by bike. There will also be a study of those given new electric bikes to measure whether their use improves health and independence.

The result of this will be the development of a short documentary video and toolkit for policy makers and practitioners advising on how the built environment and technology could be designed to support and encourage cycling amongst current and future older generations.

Dr Jones said: “It is a common misconception that older people don’t cycle or have no desire to do so. But having the option to ride a bicycle is a fantastic way of maintaining independence and community connections and in so doing potentially benefiting physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“The aim of this research is to better understand how built environment and technological design is shaping the willingness and ability of older people to cycle, their experiences of the built environment and ultimately how this affects wellbeing.”

Dr Emma Street, Lecturer in Real Estate and Planning, Henley Business School, University of Reading commented: “Reading’s involvement in the programme along with our partners will provide a boost to the older residents wanting to benefit from travelling by bike.

“A planned website will host an interactive toolkit based on older peoples' perception of how the towns and technologies could be designed to support and promote cycling amongst current and future older generations.

“We will be continually updating the website with video clips and news and findings as they come in and invite residents to contribute with their own experiences.”

A University of Sydney pilot study earlier this year found that older people (aged 49 -79) who had cycled in the preceding month performed significantly better on measures of decision time and response time than those who had not, and those who cycled at least an hour a week showed significant improvements in balance and single-leg standing, making them less at risk of falls.

Cycling is a non weight-bearing exercise that is less stressful on the joints than walking or running, and long-term studies have shown that it reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and life-threatening obesity.

In a recent study from the Netherlands, it was found that the risk of traumatic injuries (on average 5-9 days of life lost to these) was far outweighed by the benefits of increased physical activity (3-14 months of life gained).

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.

13 comments

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David Barron [10 posts] 2 years ago
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Apparently, I'm 'approaching later life'  17

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NickK123 [93 posts] 2 years ago
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Will give 'approaching later life' a thought whilst I do my 60+ miles on the Wiggle Steeple Chase this Saturday, hopefully hitting my regular 15+ mph ave!

Nick (Aged 57 and 3/4)

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Krazyfrenchkanuck [12 posts] 2 years ago
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How older people can be encouraged and supported to cycle into their old age ?

Stop the three-year study led by an academic from Oxford Brookes University.

Take the the £1.4 million budget and create "cycling" financial incentives aimed at older people.

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gazza_d [459 posts] 2 years ago
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I also appear to be knocking on the door of "later life". Thanks guys.

solution is infrastructure. only way to get a substantial number of new people riding bikes is to make it feel safe, which is separating bikes from motor vehicles.

UK's tried training & being nice etc for 40 odd years since the rise of the car started, and there's generally 1 or 2% cycle. NL, Denmark, Germany have put in safe infra & lots do cycle.

Why is it gonna take 3 years to work this out?

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Dave42W [49 posts] 2 years ago
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I work with lots of people in this age category. The key is nothing to do with physically demanding. It is almost entirely about Subjective Safety. See http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2008/09/three-types-of-safety.html

Especially at the top end of this age group falls are a big concern, healing takes much longer and a broken bone can easily result in a permanent loss of freedom. Mixing with fast moving traffic is very scary and so people stop riding.

At the upper end of this age group a huge number used to cycle, they have fond memories of it but they are frightened of the huge increases in traffic since they used to cycle.

The answer is high quality segregated Dutch infrastructure (not cheap copies that are not properly thought through or connected).

Last year I conducted the funeral of a lovely man who had a debilitating lung disease for years. He rode his bike only 1 week before he died, it gave him better mobility than his mobility scooter and it kept his legs and lungs working. I am convinced he had a better quality of life and more independence than most but he was restricted to where he could get to using quiet residential roads and the limited local infrastructure - there was no way he was going to ride on a busy road (on that last ride he was down to 1st gear on his elderly mountain bike to climb the "hill" to home which is a barely discernable slope).
The Dutch are embracing e-bikes in large numbers but only because safe infrastructure has been sorted first.

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JonD [400 posts] 2 years ago
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Krazyfrenchkanuck wrote:

How older people can be encouraged and supported to cycle into their old age ?

Stop the three-year study led by an academic from Oxford Brookes University.

Take the the £1.4 million budget and create "cycling" financial incentives aimed at older people.

Research allows you to work out where efforts may be best directed - otherwise you're flying blind and way well p*ss away other funds/effort unnecessarily

In any case: you have no idea who's funding the research, so it may not be possible to use it in any other manner; 1.4m would be spread so thin that it would probably make little difference.

Oh, and whilst e-bikes may not be for everyone, an elderly guy near me cycled pretty much until he passed away, in his very late 90s. One/some of his recumbent trikes were fittest with electric assist - probably for the few nastier climbs nearby - but most time I saw him he'd be pedalling away.

TBH most of the riders I see other locally than the surrey lycra crowd (of which I guess I'm one, even on a 'bent) are at the upper age range. Come to think of it, I'm 50 too  7

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JonD [400 posts] 2 years ago
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Dave42W wrote:

Especially at the top end of this age group falls are a big concern, healing takes much longer and a broken bone can easily result in a permanent loss of freedom. Mixing with fast moving traffic is very scary and so people stop riding.

My aunt gave up cycling in her early 80's, I think mainly because of balance - at the time I wondered if a trike (upright variety) might have been an option. The extra weight, if too much, could have been offset by electric assist if it were around then (this was about 20 yrs ago)

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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LOL! 3 years to work out what i can tell them in less than a minute?

Build cycle paths, done.

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mrmo [2070 posts] 2 years ago
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longer term, get people to ride bikes from as early an age as possible.

Getting people to change there ways is not easy, not about safety or exersion, purely about habit.

People are creatures of habit.

to get a change, carrot and stick, give the network where it is safe and pleasant to cycle and then make the car option less atractive.

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Portex [12 posts] 2 years ago
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It's definately get 'em young. If you've been on two wheels (petrol, electric and legs) for most of your adult life as I have (now 70), then traffic does not hold the imagined horrors that someone starting out say in their 60s would suffer. The health advantages that cycling offers is massive - low impact exercise, heart rate up, blood pressure down, fat burnt off - I've proven beyond doubt that a bike ride of say 30 miles a couple of times a week has far more effect on lowering blood pressure than all the pills my doctor tries to convince me to take. The electric bike went as it wasn't providing the real exercise I needed.

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antonio [1122 posts] 2 years ago
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If some of these clever dicks ever attended time trial events they would be absolutely speechless at the ages of the veterans ( vets often being more than half the field) competing. Having these facts to present in their research will go a long way in ramming home the benefits of cycling into old age. A lesson on how not to be intimidated by riding in traffic, great for self confidence, great for self reliance. The vets are to be greatly admired and it's time they were held up as inspirational subjects.

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Kapelmuur [317 posts] 2 years ago
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It seems to me that the main thrust of the study is older people using bikes as a means of transport, not for pleasure or fitness.

I started cycling at the age of 64 because I've always participated in sport and enjoy endurance based activities - my running days having been ended by knee problems. I'd guess that most older riders have a similar background.

I fear that getting older people who are not sport orientated to take up cycling for transport is doomed regardless of infrastructure, we have free bus passes.

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harman_mogul [224 posts] 2 years ago
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Nice work if you can get it.