Recent research at Oxford Brookes University has demonstrated the benefits of cycling for the wellbeing of older
generations, and will help shape policy on sustainable travel and exercise, which have also become key considerations in the reshaping of society and urban areas post-lockdown.
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 were 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 conducted biographic ‘cycling life-history’ interviews and mobile interviews and observations with participants as they made a regular journey by cycle to capture and measure their experience. There was also 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 was 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.
It was 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)