Lauren Lypchuk knows she’s onto something.
The Vernon physician, along with her husband, entomologist Ward Strong, is starting a program called Cycling Without Age, where volunteer pilots will guide a specially made bicycle, complete with two-person carriage in front, around the city for seniors and less-abled bodies to enjoy a free bike ride.
Lypchuk got the idea watching a video clip called Amazing Humans, where the BBC did a three-minute feature on a 20-year-old medical student named Fraser, who was starting the Cycling Without Age program in Scotland.
“I saw what it was doing for the community, and seniors in the community, and I knew this type of program would be wonderful for Vernon and Coldstream, and it resonated with my philosophy in life,” said Lypchuk, who hopes to launch the program in the North Okanagan in June.
So she set out developing partnerships and relationships in her hometown about the program, which is running in 42 countries with about 1,500 chapters worldwide, including about 20-to-25 in Canada. Lypchuk found great support from Vernon’s Schubert Centre and manager Jack Gareb, who agreed to sponsor her under the centre’s non-profit programs, and is storing the couple’s specially made electric assist bike, or trishaw, as it’s called.
The bikes are $15,200 and made only in Copenhagen, Denmark, home country of Cycling Without Age founder Ole Kassow. Lypchuk got a grant from the Community Foundation of North Okanagan, and private donations, to buy her first bike. She’s fundraising to get a second one.
She pitched the program to seven residential care facilities or seniors residences. All of them, she said, are on board.
“The reaction has been astounding,” said Lypchuk. “They’re very excited and supportive of the program. One seniors’ residence is so excited they want to start right now, and they want their own bike.”
Rides will be 30-to-90-minutes in duration, and Lypchuk points out the program is “not to speed people around the community, take them to appointments or to go grocery shopping.” It’s strictly for the pure joy of being outside on a bike.
The passengers sit in a carriage up front (holds two people), complete with seatbelts. If the weather turns bad, the bike is equipped with a beautiful, waterproof, quilted blanket, complete with sewn-in hand muffs, and there is a fold-up canopy to cover heads if precipitation starts.
“The whole idea is to take people out and to go slow,” said Lypchuk. “Enjoy the environment. We’ll stop and talk to people we might meet along the way. It’s about storytelling between the pilot and passengers, developing relationships, generational and inter-generational.
“It’s without age, that’s the whole idea behind the name. Just because we become older, it doesn’t mean we don’t have hopes and dreams and that we can’t enjoy the outdoors. Regardless of our age and abilities, the idea is to experience life. The motto behind CWA is ‘the right to wind in your hair.’”
Lypchuk and Strong are currently developing potential cycling routes for the program. They’ll use cycling paths, go through downtown Vernon, Polson Park, and the Schubert Centre has granted the couple the use of its cargo trailer to transport the bike to the Okanagan Rail Trail and start a ride from there.
The pair have 21 people right now volunteering to be pilots (and going through the training) or to assist in some way with the program. Rides will be free of charge. The entire program, said Lypchuk, is and always will be volunteer-based.
Proof that Lypchuk hit on a great idea came from a family friend.
“We took her out for a test ride. She was so excited,” said Lypchuk. “The happiness and smile on her face was infectious. I’ve never seen her happier in the last few years. And that’s the response we get. When we take someone for a ride, it’s just pure joy. Maybe it’s the ride experience, or that they used to cycle and can’t do it anymore, or maybe it’s that they’ve never been on a bike.
“They’re experiencing being out in nature, out in the community, in a way that’s new and refreshing, and away from the four walls people tend to reside in as they get older.”
Cycling Without Age hopes to run seven days a week and year-round. Program and activity directors at a number of seniors homes will help sign passengers up for a ride. You can also sign up for a ride or sign up to be a volunteer at the Schubert Centre, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteers will have to undergo a criminal record check.
“What I see for Cycling Without Age is we all have hopes and dreams and that doesn’t end because we turn 75,” said Lypchuk. “We continue to want to enjoy life, be engaged in the community. This program is an opportunity to do that. It will bring people together, and allow people to be active in a way they never dreamt of.”