How to Keep Biking at 96 Years Old

That's a lotta cycling for a 96-year-old guy. (Photo: Snapshot from CycleOn video)

Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog points to a wonderful video of Egbert Brasjen, a 96-year-old who rides an e-bike, often 35 kilometers a day. He's part of a program, CycleOn, (doortrappen in Dutch) that promotes the use of bikes. They explain:

Cycling is an important means of transportation in the Netherlands, especially for the elderly. It keeps them healthy and contributes to social inclusion. On the other hand, accident data shows that elderly are at high risk on their bicycles.

We have discussed the risk of cycling before, but a closer examination (in Dutch) of that accident data shows the elderly are at high risk whatever they do, and that the risks from cycling are out of line with just the risk of doing anything while being old. Nonetheless, "the program motivates elderly cyclists to live a healthy life and continue taking pleasure in cycling, whilst emphasising safety measures."

Brasjen's bike with low entry
You want a bike with no bar and a low entry. (Photo: CycleOn)

Brasjen has some very good advice for older riders considering an e-bike. "You must have a ladies bike. No bar." I wish he wouldn't call it a ladies bike, but every urban rider should consider this — the Danes have considered banning top bars as being unsafe for anyone — but it's especially important for older riders.

Gazelle bik
A Gazelle goes shopping at the Home Depot. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I've been testing a bike very much like Brasjen's, a Gazelle Medeo, with the same low step-over entry. I'm so used to swinging my leg over the rear that I have had to force myself to step in, but am finding it much easier. I'm also finding that I'm riding way further than I ever used to, and in fact went to Home Depot by bike for the first time. (Fortunately I was buying LED bulbs, not 2x4's). He's absolutely right, this is the kind of bike you want when you get older.

Brasjen may be an extreme example, but he's not alone, and e-bikes are a revolution for older riders. Ellie Anzilotti writes in Fast Company about their curative properties, quoting Dr. Jay Alberts, a researcher and physician at the Cleveland Clinic:

"I think we’ve demonstrated that this type of exercise is medicine," Alberts says, and emphasized that while his research focuses specifically on people with diseases like Parkinson's, the benefits extend to older people in general: Active transportation like cycling can prevent the onset of diabetes and heart disease, and keep people's joints healthier for longer.

Egbert Brasjen is my new hero and role model, and I hope to be riding my Dutch e-bike when I'm 96. I hope also that all of North America gets the kind of safe riding infrastructure that he has available, so that everyone can do this.