What can we learn from the cycling experiences of older people?

We are excited to share the first report of the ENTOURAGE research project. It is developed in a collaboration between the Bicicleta Club de Catalunya (BACC), Universitat Rovira Virgili (URV) and the researcher Wilbert den Hoed, who have studied cycling mobility among people over 60 years old in Barcelona. We repost a translation of the original blog of the BACC here.

Blog e informe en español 🇪🇸

The recent discourse around urban change and new urban futures in Barcelona is largely centring on the young generation. Although this is a great milestone, we seem to forget one fact: the urban population is ageing and the population over 60 is already much larger than the younger population. Out of every 100 people in Barcelona, 16 are young (<19 years old) while 27 are over 60.

This article is not about questioning this focus on childhood; the need for this age range to be included is clear and the efforts of the current generation to pass on the bicycle as a tool for change for the new generations are evident. What we are looking for is to broaden the spectrum to also include people who have been systematically excluded from the productive gaze of urban environments: the older adults.

It is for this reason the Bicicleta Club de Catalunya (BACC) wanted to collaborate with a study on this subject. We set out to understand more about this age group and at the same time to employ our network of supporters and members, people who for years have believed in the BACC’s work, inviting them to be protagonists and participants in this research. 

Crossing Plaça Catalunya by bicycle. Source: ENTOURAGE project

ENTOURAGE is a project of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), headed by the researcher Wilbert den Hoed, which seeks to explore the age-friendliness of mobility in European cities, Barcelona among them. It investigates the use of the bicycle and the role that this has had in the different stages of life, for example:

  • The bicycle in later life and the connection with childhood;
  • The bicycle as a generator of social activity;
  • The bicycle as a challenge; and
  • Cycling as an opportunity.

These factors are crucial to understand the ‘age-friendliness’ of a city like Barcelona when it comes to moving around by bike, and even more so when linked to urban developments that have coincided with cycling promotion such as the construction of cycle lanes and the implementation of the public bicycle system (BICING).

We had the opportunity to share our insights with some of the 37 participants who took part in the study. During an entertaining face-to-face meeting we got to know each other as we cycled around the city, and reflected on their perceptions and experiences of the cyclability, friendliness and coexistence on the streets of Barcelona.

We know that cycling numbers are growing, but also that in many cities it’s majority users are still mostly young and middle-aged men. To think about equity is to seek to include all those people who, although they are not in the majority, also use the bicycle as a means of transport and as a vehicle that has been part of their lives in the city.

Different studies show that older age groups tend to be those who use the bicycle the least and, although older people are not the only ones with less access to the bicycle as a means of transport, it is often presented as a vehicle that is not very age-inclusive. In Barcelona, for example, in 2021, only 0.6% of people over 64 years of age used the bicycle frequently, compared to 8% of the general population. Even so, 21% of Barcelona’s population is over 65, so it is imperative to include this group in planning urban futures, including those related to cycling.

We thus propose to open a conversation about the way we will move in the future and the desire to continue cycling irrespective of age. What we are seeing in our research is a snapshot of the passage of time: past generations who cycle today as older people did not have the same access to cycling that our generation has, whereas the children who cycle to school today may form a greater critical mass when they decide to continue cycling as adults and in later life. This generational picture makes it clear that we need to be able to maintain cycling mobility throughout life. When thinking about the city we want and how we want to move in it, it is paramount to put the less-heard voices at the centre of urban planning and to include the necessities of a finite human life cycle that we may have forgotten that existed.

Our responsibility in this case is to listen to those who have experience, to learn from their needs, successes or failures, and encounters. What facilitates them to transmit cycling as everyday form of transport and to ultimately maintain self-dependent mobility is an asset to all age groups. Above all, this understanding allows us to emulate how cycling does not demand the maximum of our physical and cognitive abilities; on the contrary, it shows us how to access new opportunities for mobility, health and leisure at any age.

Greeting friends when cycling from work to home with participant Rosa (60). Source: ENTOURAGE project

Report: an age-friendly cycling city (in Spanish)

We share this study together with an opportunity for debate about the mobility of the present and the future. We hope that our approach will be replicated and applied in decisions and policies around future cities, not least because inclusion and equity for all age groups should be part of their shared priorities.

Click here for more information about the ’60+ cyclists meeting’.

More updates will follow. Can’t wait? Get in touch via our Contact Page.

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