Last week my parents came to visit me in Oxford. They are both in their 70s and had not ridden a bike for years but were excited by the idea of trying an electric bike. I have written about their experience for anyone who may be interested in trying an ebike for getting back into cycling.
After my mum established that I wasn't joking about going for a cycle ride, we spoke through her initial concerns. These were about the weight of the bike, followed by the idea of the power assistance running away with her, and lastly that she did not want to be anywhere near traffic.
Firstly, I took my parents to a calm open space where they could see other park users at all times and went through the basic controls. The electric bikes do weigh more and this is only really an issue at stand still when there is the ability to topple over, which my mum did do on her first stop, enjoying a roll around on the grass. I helped her up and we spoke through how to stop safely, using the brakes gently and finding the ground with your feet. When the bikes are going, there was no complaint about the weight due to the battery assistance. The bikes offer varying levels of assistance which gently come in to help you as you pedal, meaning no jolty starts and stops. As soon as I showed my dad the turbo button he was off like a dog after a tennis ball, tongue hanging out and all, while mum shouted 'show off' and insisted on letting other people in the park know that she doesn't normally ride bikes, but today she is.
We rode out on a leafy cycle route, away from any roads and then along the canal path. The main learning points here were that they must avoid other path users, much to my dads disappointment, by staying left and looking into the space where they want to go.
Then we were off, away from all the people and buildings and they were loving it! Looking around, chatting away, noticing the autumn colours in the trees, seeing all the kids come out from school with their funny hair styles. Their favorite bit was seeing the swans and their cygnets with my mum giving David Attenborough style commentary. I was hit with a nostalgic feeling of being taken to feed the ducks when I was a kid, but this time I had facilitated the experience for my parents. It seemed a big deal for them to see the swans that I often see, but it made me ponder. A simple interaction with wildlife. Letting us humans know we aren't the only occupiers of this world, a point easily ignored in urban landscapes.
They were chatting away over dinner very proud to tell my girlfriend Christie what they had learnt and achieved, my mum showing through her jeans where her bruises will be! The next day I cycled my dad into the city on the road to get a hair cut at my barbers, no problems. The whole ebike experience really was like turning my 70 year old parents into 7 year olds.. Hopefully that doesn't make me the 70 year old..
Getting back on your bike
If you would like to try an ebike or get assistance in learning about getting back on your bike, I am a cycle leader and would be happy to help. Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, alternatively our friends at Wheels for All run a weekly Friday morning session from 9.30 - 11.30 at Horspath Athletics track, Oxford.
To read more about the research on well being benefits of ebikes for older generations, click here.
Co-CAFE is led by Tim Jones (Reader in Urban Mobility) with Ben Spencer (Research Fellow) and Tom Shopland (Co-CAFE project administrator) based in the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University.