"In cities around the world where you wouldn't think that it is possible to ride a rickshaw with elderly people, we find that you can do it and it actually puts a human face on cycling"
They were laughing, singing, and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote in Denmark as they rode with the wind in their hair through the streets of Copenhagen. Inger, at 101, shared her memories of events that had happened since that historic piece of legislation had passed with her “pilot,” the founder of Cycling Without Age, Ole Kassow. Little did they know that this bike ride between strangers would develop into a long-lasting relationship when Ole asked her the simple question “where did you grow up?”
Inger, one of nine siblings, had been born outside of Copenhagen and detailed how two of her brothers had immigrated to America when she was just a child. She shared that she had seen them a few times since they had immigrated to a small town, Racine, Wisconsin, but that she had lost contact with them and her family in the U.S. over sixty years ago.
It just so happened that a couple of months after their joyful ride together, Ole was to go to Wisconsin to set up a chapter of Cycling Without Age, when he remembered Inger’s story. After resources had been pooled, it was discovered that five of her nieces lived in the area and two of them showed up at the inauguration of Cycling Without Age in small-town Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Afterwards, Inger’s nieces, who had been completely unaware that they had an aunt who was alive and kicking in Denmark, invited Ole over for cake and coffee. Since then, Ole has been involved in writing and translating letters back and forth between them. Ole finds it amazing that through Cycling Without Age “suddenly you reconnect families and that the bicycle was instrumental in suddenly re-establishing family relations.”
© Cycling Without Age
This story and the relationship that grew out of their bicycle ride together stands as a testament to the five guiding principles that have shaped Cycling Without Age; generosity, slowness, storytelling, relationships, without age. Now with global chapters from Singapore to Oslo to Los Angeles, Cycling Without Age started as a small initiative in Copenhagen in 2012 after Ole went to an elderly home and asked if anyone wanted to go out for a ride. He knew he was onto something after the positive feedback started overflowing from the smiles to the reports from employees at the elderly home that those who had gone out on a ride hadn’t talked this much in ages. They were regaining their mobility and (re)establishing connections with their city, fellow rider, and their volunteer pilot. With these positive results, Ole wrote a letter to the City of Copenhagen in the hopes that funds could be arranged to secure a permanent rickshaw for the elderly home. Luckily, the letter found Dorthe Pedersen, and five bikes were subsequently purchased and placed at five different nursing homes. The movement snowballed from there after photos kept popping up on social media and Ole gave a talk at a conference for politicians and social servants involved in elderly care. In fact, the bike manufacturer could not keep up with the demand for these bikes.
Growing Cycling Without Age outside of Denmark, there were no major requirements except that participating chapters follow the core principles of the organisation and participate in knowledge creation and sharing. He explains that the network created by experiences of people involved with Cycling Without Age is “like building Wikipedia where a lot of people have specific information, but nobody has all of the answers. Some people have some of the answers and when you put it all together you get the big picture.” This has led people to engage in knowledge co-creation and sharing, using online as well as offline platforms.
One of the main challenges that has come up in other cities has to do with the actual cycling itself. Ole described that outside of Denmark and the Netherlands, cycling can be a bit daunting, especially when you are responsible for two elderly people and you aren’t used to riding a bike everyday. He has found that “in cities around the world where you wouldn’t think that it is possible to ride a rickshaw with elderly people, we find that you can do it and it actually puts a human face on cycling.” In this way, he sees the initiative as a tool that can help normalize cycling in other cities and countries where riding a bike isn’t an everyday form or transportation and that Cycling Without Age can help to change the image of what a cyclist looks like.
By creating video tutorials and hosting clinics, Cycling Without Age helps new “pilots” overcome their fear of riding a rickshaw in an urban environment. This has helped immensely and has allowed people to cycle in cities all over the world from Santiago to London to San Francisco.
A self-identified social entrepreneur, Ole believes that “there is definitely a need for social entrepreneurs in cities.” He prescribes: “you don’t have to be a full time entrepreneur. All you need to do is to be engaged in something. You need to be prepared to do a bit of work and a bit of networking to come up with new solutions and involve other people in presenting that. My experience with city planners and politicians is that they will listen if your arguments are strong enough. I think there are too many people that accept the fact that others will make the decisions, but I think few too cities are the ones that allow the citizens to come forward and present solutions. It also takes the citizens to realise that and do something about it. We need more people to be active in that.”
Ole’s social entrepreneurship has created a successful initiative that bridges social issues related to mobility, social cohesion and aging populations. Cycling Without Age combats issues of loneliness and limited mobility, bringing happiness to different cities around the world.