by Megan Schmidt
Diane Silcott never learned how to ride a bike.
Silcott grew up on 16th street in Denver — a bustling corridor long before it was designated a pedestrian mall in the 1980s. Her parents worried that she’d get hurt. As the years passed, Silcott never got around to learning.
Silcott, 78, now lives at the Residences at Creekside in Lakewood, a Metro West Housing Solutions (MWHS) senior community. She recently experienced what it’s like to explore her neighborhood by bike on a summer morning — sun shining, flowers in bloom and the wind in her hair.
“I loved going out into the fresh air and seeing new areas in the community,” she said. “You can go places with the trishaw that a car can’t.”
The trishaw Silcott is referring to is a three-wheeled, pedal-powered bicycle with electric assistance that allows two passengers to sit in front while a volunteer cyclist — called a pilot — pedals behind them.
What makes the trishaw unique is that it gives passengers a similar experience to riding a bike — facing forward with an unobstructed view.
The right to feel the wind in one’s hair is the philosophy of Cycling Without Age, a movement to get seniors back on bikes and out in the community again, regardless of their physical abilities. It began six years ago in Copenhagen — arguably the cycling capital of the world. Since then, it has spread to 40 countries worldwide. Now, it’s in Lakewood.
Gary Harty, founder of the Lakewood Bicycle Advisory Team, learned about the program while watching a TEDx Talk by Ole Kassow, the Cycling Without Age founder. What particularly moved Harty was hearing about the experience of Sigrid, 90, who joined an ambitious trek from Copenhagen to Germany with 10 trishaws and 20 senior passengers. During the trip, Sigrid stood up during dinner and told her travel companions that she hadn’t been on a vacation in 15 years and that it was the best trip of her life.
MWHS became the third organization in Lakewood to sponsor a trishaw, following Eaton Terrace and the City of Lakewood. Lakewood is home to one of 50 Cycling Without Age chapters in the country.
“I had a lot of fears — that we'd run into issues fundraising or that the community wouldn’t want to touch this with a 10 foot pole, but I feel so lucky that two senior communities — Creekside and Eaton Terrace — wanted to work with us,” Harty said.
Since beginning the Lakewood Cycling Without Age chapter in January 2017, Harty says 215 passengers have been taken out on 146 outings. Several ride slots are offered two mornings a week at Creekside — and the program's popularity is catching on.
“People, as they age, still want to do things like this. Many of us have a lot of excitement left. It’s a chance to get out in the world and thrive. The trishaw gives us an opportunity to really have a relationship with the outdoors and connect with the community,” said June Dahlstrom, 88, a Creekside resident.
Dahlstrom was the first resident to ride the trishaw. Although Dahlstrom never considered herself a long-distance cyclist, she fondly recalls riding bikes through wooded trails in Michigan with her husband. Physical limitations after an accident 13 years ago prevents her from biking, she said.
“Programs like Cycling Without Age are crucial to people in reduced circumstances — whether it be financial or health. It’s so wonderful to have the opportunity to do something different and new. And it’s social — you can be out where the other people are,” Dahlstrom said.
Although the passengers don’t pedal themselves — they get many of the benefits of cycling.
Being outdoors, sharing stories with the pilot, and interacting with the community can have a transformative on the passengers and the seniors’ apartment community, Harty said.
Harty and MWHS hope the trishaw can help seniors view aging in a more positive way.
“We have a group of seniors with medical issues that can rarely leave the property because they don’t have a means of transportation.” said Kirsten Cuthill, the resident services coordinator at Creekside. “The Cycling Without Age program gives them the opportunity to not only explore their community but also feel part of it. This an amazing benefit for them and they are so happy and excited when they return from a ride.”
“Many people came up and thanked me because they were so excited about the idea of having a trishaw at Creekside. It made them feel special,” she said. “We have had such a strong start to the program and I am eager to see how it continues to grow as more residents sign up to take a ride.”
Harty frequently says pilots get more out of the rides than the passengers do. His wife Judy Harty, a pilot in the program, agrees.
“I love hearing the stories and history of the area from the people that grew up around here,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to know I added a bright spot to someone’s day.”
While operating the trishaw is a workout — the electric assistance keeps the pedaling from getting too strenuous, Harty said.
As the program catches on, growth is the next phase of the Lakewood Chapter of Cycling Without Age. Almost anyone can volunteer to become a pilot. Each pilot must complete a training session before taking passengers out on the trishaw. The training covers bike safety, approved routes and how to ride the trishaw, which handles differently than a regular bike. Pilots are also trained on fostering conversations and storytelling — which is a key part to making the experience meaningful.
For Dahlstrom—she’s happy to get a chance to feel like a kid again.
“No matter what age you are that little boy or girl is still inside of you — the excitement and curiosity. It might dim due to the circumstances of life, but it is always in you,” she said.
I joined Creekside resident Rubel Benevidez, 76, and pilot Gary Harty for a ride through Lakewood and Edgewater on a June morning. I learned that Benevidez is from Albuquerque but has called the Denver area home for 60 years—he relocated here after graduating high school. He enjoyed a career as a printer before retiring—which gives him more time to enjoy his hobbies of walking around Sloan’s Lake and golfing. He used to enjoy hiking, but he is recovering from heart surgery. He also likes going to concerts. A recent favorite was seeing Arrival From Sweden: The Music of Abba at Red Rocks last year. We make a stop at Aviation Park where we learn about the history of the site—the Broadmoor Country Club and later the Aviation Country Club stood here. He says he likes going out for rides on the trishaw because he finds them relaxing and peaceful. “What makes it even better is that I don’t have to do any of the work,” he joked. The red and black trishaw is an attention-getter. We were greeted by a few passersby and reciprocated many waves as we rode at a leisurely pace.
How to Support Cycling Without Age
Consider becoming a volunteer pilot. The Lakewood chapter of Cycling Without Age wants to expand its volunteer pool. The program can work with any schedule or availability—even if it’s giving just one ride per month. Contact: Gary Harty, firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 929-5477 for more information.
Megan Schmidt is a staff writer for Metro West Housing Solutions. Contact her at email@example.com.