Rickshaw trips for OAPs in York prove you're never too old for a bike ride

CYCLING is a simple pleasure most of us take for granted.

Being outdoors, feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair as you pedal along has to be one of the best feelings in the world.

Then there's the thrill of hurtling down hill – freewheeling.

Most of us learned to ride a bike as a child – and the joy of cycling taps into those early memories, of being carefree, playful, and simply having fun.

These feelings are being revived for older citizens in York thanks to a new project, York Cycling Without Age, that offers free bike rides to OAPs, many with mobility problems, in a state-of-the-art electric-powered rickshaw, named Trixie.

The pilot scheme is being run by local organisation York Bike Belles, which has put together a team of 41 volunteer "pedallers" to power Trixie, offering rides to senior citizens across nine local care homes and independent living schemes in York.

Local businessman Dan Croxen-John is one of the volunteer pedallers as well as a financial backer of the project. His company AWA digital paid to put Trixie on the road.

Helping the elderly is close to Dan's heart. He said: "I was very close to my grandmother. I was in Italy in my 20s when my grandfather died. My grandmother would write to me and tell me she was very lonely. It pulled at my heartstrings." Back in the UK, Dan became a befriender with the charity Age UK. But he wanted to do more. He saw a report about a man taking out older people on a bike in Copenhagen and thought it was a good idea – and set about copying the scheme in York.

For the past few weeks Dan along with other volunteers organised through Bike Belles have been taking OAPs for rickshaw rides across the city.

On Friday mornings, they set off from Lamel Beeches care home on Heslington Road – giving residents a trip down to the Ouse.

I turned up at 10am sharp to follow Dan and Trixie's rickshaw riverside adventure. First in the passenger seat was Joyce Clark – a 92-year-old resident of Lamel Beeches and a regular on these weekly outings.

Accompanying her in the two-seater carriage was care home staffer Vicky Rennison. Great care was taken to help Joyce into the seat of Trixie. Firstly, Dan removed part of the foot plate and Vicky positioned Joyce's wheelchair and walking frame so she could manoeuvre herself into position. Once seated comfortably and seatbelt secured, Joyce was given a hat, gloves and scarf and wrapped in two warm blankets. It was a beautiful sunny, autumn day, but there was a chill in the air.

Joyce was not complaining. In fact, all she did was smile. As Dan steered the trike out of the driveway and down Heslington Road, I followed on my bike.

Although the trike is electric-powered, Dan still had to pedal to operate it. York is a pretty flat city, but the route down to the Ouse had two inclines – both on the way back – which demanded some effort on his part.

But to begin, it was an easy, gentle descent down Heslington Road. Dan carefully steered Trixie into the middle of the road to avoid the speed bumps. Pedestrians smiled and waved as we passed by. Joyce helped out with hand signals as we weaved through the streets leading to the river.

Once on New Walk, it was a straight road, with the only hazard being a dog which ran out in front of Dan. He quickly applied the brakes, then safely continued.

At the Pikeing Well, Dan deftly conducted a U-turn and pulled to a stop at the viewing platform on to the Ouse. It was the perfect place to stop and take in the view. There were some swans on the river and the canopy of trees was bursting with the colours of autumn. Bright golds and rusty reds dazzled in the November sun – and appeared all the more striking against a perfect blue, cloudless sky.

I asked Joyce for her verdict. "It's my freedom," she said, still smiling and soaking it all in.

On our return, Dan had to put some effort in to assist Trixie up the hills at Blue Bridge Lane and Heslington Road.

Back at Lamel Beeches, two more residents were getting ready for their trip. One was May Hutton, aged 96, and eager for another outing on the trike. She recalled her last rickshaw ride warmly. "It felt wonderful to be outside in the fresh air and to see the city which I've not seen for so long. I loved going down by the river and looking at the trees which are just gorgeous."

Vicky from Lamel Beeches said the rides were hugely beneficial to residents. "They are getting out in the fresh air and seeing things they haven't seen for a while. For May, who is from York, going down to the river brings back memories. Joyce enjoys seeing all the different colours of the leaves and berries on the trees."

Sheridan Piggott, chair and curator of York Bike Belles, which brought the project to York, said: "We have been overwhelmed by the support from the community. No fewer than 41 local volunteers have expressed an interest in helping out and we are linking with nine local care homes and independent living schemes for the pilot autumn programme. If you see us all cycling around York on Trixie, do give us a wave."

Sheridan said the project was looking for new sponsors to keep it going after spring next year. "We want to make this brilliant and compassionate initiative a permanent feature of York community life."

If you would like to donate to or sponsor the project next year, please email yorkbikebelles@gmail.com.

For further information visit: yorkbikebelles.community.