Guest blog by Susi at Velojoy
My Mom and I recently traveled to Europe to celebrate her 80th birthday. It was strictly mother-daughter time, just the two of us, on a wonderful 10-day excursion that kicked off in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen is the cycling capital of the world, so of course I wanted to be able to share that with my Mom as a part of our travel adventure. And my Mom was up for it. The hitch was that, while she walks with vigor, she no longer trusts her sense of balance on a bicycle. Fair enough.
Exploring Copenhagen by cargo bike, using the city’s extensive network of protected bike lanes, was the answer. But a box bike, which was all I could find through the rental companies I contacted, wouldn’t do. The solution came by way of fellow New York City cycling blogger Doug Gordon, who publishes Brooklyn Spoke. On a trip to Copenhagen, Doug had learned of a remarkable organization called Cycling Without Age.
Founded by Copenhagen resident Ole Kassow in 2012, the not-for-profit organization pairs elderly citizens with volunteers who take them on rides in comfortable passenger cargo bikes called trishaws. The goal of Cycling Without Age, which has chapters around the world, is to re-connect seniors with limited mobility with the joys of bicycling on outings that offer fresh air, scenery and conversation.
Becoming a Cargo Bike Pilot
I contacted Ole in Copenhagen in advance of our trip. He was amazingly generous in arranging for my Mom and me to use a trishaw for a day of sightseeing. But first, I had to learn how to pilot the bike, so I met with Ole early one morning for instruction. Think of the trishaw as a reverse pedicab, with the passenger seated in the front and the cyclist pedaling in the back.
The most challenging aspect of handling – and it’s not a big deal once you get the hang of it – is steering, because the width of the handlebar is exaggerated. The trick, Ole pointed out, is to move one hand to the center when executing a turn. For example, for a right turn, I placed my right hand to the far right and moved my left hand to the center of the bar. The trishaw is equipped with electric assist, which gives a helpful boost to the pilot’s pedal stroke on inclines, and lots of amenities for the passengers — a rain hood, a blanket that folds out from the foot of the bike for warmth and seat belts.
After circumnavigating the parking lot a few times to practice those wide turns, I rolled into the bike lanes with Ole kindly shepherding me with his own bicycle. I was surprised at the relative lightness and maneuverability of the trishaw on the street.
Still, while focusing on pedaling and following the rules of the bike lanes, which Copenhageners take seriously, a steady narrative streamed through my mind on this maiden voyage: slow down using rear brake, shift hands to proper turning position, signal turn, slow down on turn, accelerate after turn, keep to the right of the bike lane. For their part, the Danish bike lane regulars around me were remarkably tolerant of a cargo bike newbie.
And so we arrived without incident at my hotel, where this chariot would await its passenger.
My Mom Meets Her Chariot
I have to say here, that my Mom had some reservations when she first heard about the cargo bike idea — but not the ones you might expect. It was not fear of riding in traffic that gave my Mom pause. She may live in Central Illinois, where there’s not much in the way of bike lanes, but she grew up in Hamburg, Germany, where they are plentiful. She recognizes bicycling as a familiar form of urban transportation – a notion reinforced all around us from the moment we emerged from the Norreport train station in Copenhagen. The hesitancy, it turned out, centered on dignity. Specifically, would it make my Mom, a vibrant, person, appear somehow diminished for her daughter to be pedaling her around town?
But, my Mom seemed quite enchanted by the trishaw on first encounter, later referring to it as an “elegant conveyance.” After gingerly seating herself on the bench, her sense of fun and adventure kicked in. Soon we were rolling out of the cobbled courtyard and into the bike lane in front of our hotel. The shared experience that I had envisioned was underway.
You can read the rest of Susi’s story on the VeloJoy blog