The motto of the Cycling Without Age Ireland initiative, launched in 2017, is ‘The Right to Wind in Your Hair’.
Founder and trishaw pilot Clara Clark, from Blackrock in Co Dublin, says the project reaps significant benefits for people’s mental wellbeing.
Clara first heard of the Cycling Without Age initiative through an Irish Times article in 2016. A year later she was pedalling people around in a trishaw – a bicycle with a sidecar.
She told Changing Ireland: “The idea was to take people who can’t walk or cycle for themselves for free, slow, cycling spins, piloted by volunteers. There’s a lot of people in care homes, and all kinds of places, who don’t get outdoors. They’re not getting out in the fresh air, and seeing things, feeling that sensation – the wind in your hair.
“I Googled it and I spoke to the founder, Ole Kassow; he set it up in Copenhagen in 2012,” she said. It is not a local transport initiative. “They’re not going to the bank or the shops. They’re just sitting on a trishaw, having this experience of cycling. Many older people will have been cyclists in their youth. Suddenly they’re back on a bike and they’re moving, they’re seeing things, and it’s the most freedom-giving sensation for people who physically aren’t able to do that for themselves. When I saw it, I said ‘I want that in Ireland’.”
After Clara and her husband Charles Mullan purchased their first trishaw, Clara decided to launch the first Irish Cycling Without Age initiative in the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin in 2017. The event caught the attention of radio stations and media outlets, and Clara suddenly found herself in the spotlight.
“The phone and the email started hopping with people asking: ‘Where do I get one? How does it all work?’ And I suddenly had a job. I’m not paid for it, but I run it like a business.” The first 35 trishaws were located in care homes, which so far had been the pattern in most of the 50 countries where Cycling Without Age operated.
A second model, featuring community or local authority-run trishaw schemes, developed here after Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council approached Clara in 2020 seeking a trishaw for their new coastal mobility route. This led to the establishment of The Bike Hub in Dun Laoghaire, a separate social enterprise subsidised by the Local Sports Partnership.
Clara continued: “So suddenly we had a whole other model out of the nursing homes. And then other local authorities started popping up and started to order trishaws. “The other thing we discovered with The Bike Hub is that it’s not just for older people. It’s for kids with autism, kids with Down Syndrome, blind people, young people with intellectual disabilities. So we now say they are for all ages and abilities.”
From that first trishaw in 2017, the initiative has grown to 63 trishaws and counting. Cycling Without Age Ireland trishaws are now available in counties Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare Wexford, Waterford, Sligo, Leitrim, Clare, Louth, Kerry, Cork, Westmeath, Kilkenny, and Galway.
The vehicles don’t come cheap. A trishaw costs between €11,000 and €12,000 (including a spare battery). Clara is still at the helm, managing the website, marketing, pilot training and more, all on a voluntary basis. She charges a fee to carry out pilot training, just to cover her costs.
Meanwhile, The Bike Hub has created an online booking system for the trishaws, which they can sell to local authorities or other organisations. They then charge a fee for managing it.
Clara advises any care homes, local authorities or community organisations who may be interested in setting up a Cycling Without Age scheme to contact her directly. “I can tell them which trishaw to get, where to get it, what they need like an extra battery and a blanket, where and how it needs to be stored and insured. And I can come and do the pilot training there.”
She says the feedback from passengers has been “amazing”. “At a Dublin community hospital I talked to a couple of ladies who had been out (on a trishaw), both in their 80s, both in wheelchairs. ‘Freedom, we get out of here!’ one of them said, and that’s the response that we get all the time.
“Passengers are just blown away, and they can’t believe it’s free. We’re adding value to their lives, basically. We’re adding a bit of fun and craic to their lives.
“I’ve been doing this for six years, and that’s what gives me a buzz every single time. And I know from talking to the pilots that they get as much from it as they give.
“One thing I have noticed is that when you take out people with dementia, they start to notice things. They start to connect and ask questions in a way that they don’t when they’re sitting in a chair. They even start to speak, they start to smile, they start to relax,” revealed Clara.
Cycling Without Age Ireland has won a number of awards, including a Dun Laoghaire Local Sports Partnership Award, a Digital Towns Local Digital Hero award, a Nursing Homes Ireland volunteer award, and a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Academy award. To find out more about Cycling Without Age Ireland, see: cyclingwithoutage.ie