In 2021, I trained to be a pilot, and in 2022 I put my pilot’s training to good use—without even leaving the ground!
To explain, a pilot is a volunteer cyclist with a program called Cycling Without Age.
Cycling Without Age was started in Copenhagen in 2012 by Ole Kassow, who wanted to help older people and others with limited mobility remain active members of society by becoming passengers on special bikes called trishaws. His belief is that “everyone has the right to wind in their hair.”
The trishaws look a bit like rickshaws, except passengers sit in the front seat protected from the sun by a canopy. The pilot sits in the back. The trishaw has several gears and a battery pack, which provides power assistance for the pilot. This specialized vehicle costs several thousand dollars.
Cycling Without Age is now found in 42 countries, including Canada.
Thanks to the hard work of Nancy Gray and Jill Axisa, we are fortunate to have a branch of this organization serving Hamilton and Burlington, which started offering rides in 2021.
The local program has developed relationships with community centres, retirement homes and long-term care settings. Many organizations provide financial and other assistance, including a strong affiliation with New Hope Community Bikes, a registered charity. There is no cost for passengers to go for a ride on the trishaw.
Last year, I took out passengers from early June until early November, including from Shalom Village. For most rides, two people were taken out together.
Our route would take us down Macklin Street North to Cootes Paradise. We would turn onto the waterfront trail, where a good part of the ride took place.
The passengers were invariably enthralled with the journey. Not only did they enjoy the scenery, but the ride also evoked memories of things they had seen and done during their lifetime. We often enjoyed conversations and many passengers taught me new things.
On our route, walkers on the path would often wave and smile, or even offer comments like “looks like fun” or “can I join you guys?”
Another location where I picked up passengers was the Idlewyld Manor, a long-term care facility on the West Mountain. Here, most passengers were accompanied by a staff member. These rides travelled through a quiet, tree lined neighbourhood. The passengers’ enjoyment was obvious. Community members would often wave as we rode along.
These locations are only two examples of many where passengers are picked up in Hamilton and Burlington. Occasionally, family members, friends and members of the public are also offered rides on the trishaw.
Cycling Without Age provides many benefits. Passengers get to go out on a bike and explore the world. Facilities are pleased to see their residents becoming more active and engaged in community life. Local citizens become more knowledgeable about their neighbours, who may have previously been less visible. Volunteers gain an opportunity to become physically active, make connections with various people and bring joy to others.
It is one of the most exciting and interesting volunteer positions I have ever experienced. I highly recommend that you consider becoming a Cycling Without Age volunteer pilot.
For more information, visit https://cyclingwithoutage.ca/hamilton-burlington/
For a brief video with the program’s founder, see https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/438226/ole-kassow