Study to support cycling in older age

Wednesday, 04 September 2013

Tim Jones newspage image

A new three-year research project starting in October 2013 will investigate ways in which people can be encouraged and helped to cycle in older age.

Whilst 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 all journeys in the UK.

Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, will be leading a team of researchers in the £1.4m study focused on whether cycling could play a more significant contribution to the mobility, health and wellbeing of an ageing UK population.

The research starts from the premise that there is currently a general absence in understanding on how the built environment and technology could be designed to support older people’s cycling needs and experiences.

As people age, cycling becomes more physically challenging, forcing many to stop. And many simply lack the desire to cycle because of risks associated with an unsupportive environment and fear of personal injury.

Projects to improve cycle infrastructure, coupled with the growth in availability of assistive technologies such as electric bicycles ('e-bikes'), could have a significant role in creating opportunities for older people to return to cycling or prevent them from giving up.

A novel mix of innovative methods will be used with people approaching later life (aged 50-59) and in later life (60+) across the Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Cardiff areas.

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

Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Planning

As well as analysis of trends in cycling amongst older people and UK and EU policy analysis and case study visits, the study will conduct biographic ‘cycling life-history’ interviews and mobile interviews and observations with participants as they make a regular journey by cycle to capture and measure their experience. There will also be an experimental trial of new electric bike users to measure how the growth of this assistive technology may affect independence and wellbeing.

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..

Tim 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.”

The project is titled Promoting Independent Cycling for Enhancing Later Life Experience and Social Synergy through Design (PrICELESS Design) and is in collaboration with academics at University of Reading, University of West of England and Cardiff University.

This is as part of a joint research council programme Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW), which involves three of the UK’s research councils, led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

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.”

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