Madeleine Séguin hadn’t ridden a bike in 80 years.
The 94-year-old says the last time she peddled a bicycle she was a teenager.
So imagine the thrill when she was among the first in Ottawa to try Cycling Without Age - a new program designed to put seniors back on the bike paths.
“It’s wonderful,” she beamed after rolling up and down a bike path near her home at Bruyère Village in the city’s east end.
Bruyère Continuing Care unveiled the bike on Wednesday, in partnership with a local resident, Gary Bradshaw, who brought the concept home after seeing it in action in Europe. “Living in the east end and being a neighbour to Bruyère, and on the bike path, (I was) thinking this is going to be a no-brainer," says Bradshaw.
Cycling Without Age enlists volunteer “pilots” to give seniors bike rides in a special rickshaw-style bike. One or two passengers sit up front while the pilot peddles from behind. The almost $10-thousand bikes feature everything from a protective canopy to seatbelts to disc brakes and an electric motor for added boost. "It's the easiest thing to drive. Easier than a car by far," says 19-year-old pilot Arianna Knoefel.
The idea started in Copenhagen in 2014 and has spread to over 200 chapters around the world. Bruyère’s bike is one of just a few in Canada, and the first at any health facility in Ontario.
The goal is to give people with mobility issues the chance to enjoy the freedom of cycling and, perhaps more importantly, a social outing. “It’s amazing how it will help the people to get out of their room, you know, and go and see nature and enjoy it,” says Séguin. “The whole idea of getting out on the bike and reconnecting with the community is huge,” adds Karen Lemaire, director of Therapeutic Support Services at Bruyère.
Bruyère Continuing Care is treating the first bike as a pilot project and will review it in the fall. The hope is that, with the help of donations, they’ll be able to add more bikes around the city in the coming years.