Cycling Without Age delivers powerful experiences to Silvera residents

8 December 2023

It’s the Season of Giving, and we’re profiling a few Friends of Silvera — the organizations and individuals who so generously support residents with their time, energy and skills. Become a Friend of Silvera or donate today!

A breeze on their face, streetscapes rolling past, discovering their neighbourhood. These are some of the experiences Silvera residents have when they go for a ride in a trishaw bike.

Piloted by volunteers from Cycling Without Age or a trained member of Silvera’s Life, Learning and Leisure team, the bikes serve as an important way for Silvera residents to gain the benefits of biking, getting outdoors, and into their community.

Jane Hu is the executive director of Cycling Without Age Canada, a volunteer role she has wholeheartedly embraced, bringing bicycles to seniors who may no longer be able to ride bikes themselves.

“I rode bikes as a kid and became a mountain biker for a while, but I’m not a hard-core cyclist,” says Jane. “My advocacy work is about enriching the lives of seniors – it’s less about the bikes and more about the people.”

In 2019 Silvera received two trishaw bikes from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Nadine Maillot, Silvera’s Senior Manager of Stakeholder & Donor Relations, reached out to the local Cycling Without Age chapter to find volunteer pilots who could take residents for rides.

“As we age, we can feel disoriented, disconnected, or vulnerable,” says Jane. “The bikes allow seniors another way to learn about the neighbourhood they’re in and to feel more comfortable about their surroundings.”

The project at Silvera started during the pandemic and was a way for residents to get outside during a time when they had been largely confined indoors. Today, the bikes are operated by a combination of volunteers and employees, giving them a connection with residents through a rich, shared experience.

Silvera and CWA Canada are now piloting a project using bikes residents can pedal themselves.

“Silvera told us they love our program but have some residents who are still physically able to pedal and don’t have the balance or stability to ride a regular bike,” says Jane. “We did some research for them, and then Silvera purchased a three-wheel adult bike and a few recumbent bikes that residents can ride with some support.”

The partnership between CWA and Silvera is a true collaboration, says Jane. “Gayle [Ellis, Silvera’s learning and leisure program advisor] pushes us to be innovative, more inclusive and have more fun. She gives us a challenge and we work together to satisfy a need.”

Jane makes her living as an executive coach. In 2016 she was providing coaching and mentorship to a physiotherapist in Banff who introduced Jane to the Cycling Without Age chapter in Canmore. Jane began driving out to Canmore once a week to volunteer pilot trishaw bikes.

“I was helping to build out the foundational parts of CWA International, and then launched CWA Canada to bring the program nationally in 2019. We now have chapters in nine provinces and one territory, plus two First Nations.”

Jane is involved in the organization because of the human connection. She recalls taking a senior couple out on a bike ride who were living apart as the husband had dementia and was in care. “Sometimes he would know who his wife was, and sometimes he wouldn’t. During one ride he reached over and grabbed her hand and hugged and kissed her and talked about how they used to ride across Canada on their motorbikes.”

The simplicity of the cycling experience can be extremely powerful. “We can change the trajectory of people’s lives, give them moments of joy in a way that you can’t do within four walls. Sometimes people don’t remember what they did but they remember how they felt.”

Jane loves the challenge of constantly improving the CWA program. “I love that Gayle and the Silvera team are always willing to do or try anything. They are open and constantly pursuing ways to enrich the lives of seniors. It’s why I keep coming back.”

By the numbers:

  • Cycling Without Age operates in 142 communities
  • They have 180 trishaw bikes across Canada
  • There are 12 trishaw bikes in Calgary
  • The average ride is 45 minutes
  • The bikes typically operate for five months a year when the weather is warmer
  • The bikes typically go 10 km/hour