(First published in the May 31, 2018 issue of City Pages)
A program that pairs bike ‘pilots’ with seniors just launched in Stevens Point and could soon pop up in more Wisconsin cities thanks to a grant.
Cycling Without Age Stevens Point organizer Tori Jennings, center, leads a trishaw demo ride in Stevens Point. The program, which helps give elderly and disabled riders the experience of riding a bike, launched last week.
Something special happens when people take their first rides on the trishaw machines of the Cycling Without Age program. Organizers say even the most skeptical of critics quickly change their mindset from, “Why would we do this?” to “How do we make this happen?”
That’s been the response to the test rides of the Cycling Without Ages Stevens Point chapter, which just launched in Stevens Point. The program started in Copenhagen, Denmark and has spread worldwide, including several locations in Wisconsin. It trains “pilots” to give rides around town to people who are elderly and disabled on specially made trishaws — a bicycle-like vehicle with passenger seats in front.
Stevens Point’s version of the program is somewhat unique in the state, says chapter founder Tori Jennings, a city council member and bicycle enthusiast. Whereas many of the Cycling Without Ages programs focus on one nursing home, Stevens Point will have trishaws at three locations: the Portage County Health Care Center, the ADRC (Aging and Disabilities Resource Center), and Copper Leaf Senior Living on the north side of Stevens Point. The ADRC, which also serves as a senior center in Stevens Point, opens up the Cycling Without Age program to seniors across the city and beyond. They will also host events in the community to reach a broader audience.
So far, organizers have trained 20 local pilots; nearly 90 people have expressed interest in becoming a pilot volunteer for the program, Jennings says. Pilots attend classroom training and then participate in an hour training session on the trishaws themselves, Jennings says.
The program is slated to kick off this week, but it already has hosted a demonstration day and pilots have given test rides, Jennings says. One woman Jennings gave a ride to had been active in running and cycling until cancer left her wheelchair bound. The Cycling Without Ages experience put a smile on her face as it was the first time she’d been out on the trails since she became ill. Another man who rarely spoke raved about his ride on the trishaw.
It’s not just the thrill of the ride, it’s also the social aspect that delights riders, Jennings says. “The health consequences of loneliness are significant,” Jennings says. “When you get someone in a trishaw, they become the center of attention. People look at them and they feel special.”
Jennings is partnering with Dr. Annie Wetter at the UW-Stevens Point Department of Health Promotion to conduct research on the effects of the program to combat loneliness.
Wisconsin has one of the top number of active Cycling Without Ages chapters in the country, and there is now a grant available to Wisconsin certified nursing homes through a federal Civil Money Penalty grant. The grant pays for half, or $4,500, of the cost of a trishaw, which are manufactured in Denmark where the program originated. According to Cycling Without Age’s website, the organization aims to have a trishaw in every nursing home in Wisconsin.