Program connects cyclists and seniors with James Bay neighbourhood

Program connects cyclists and seniors with James Bay neighbourhood

By Andrew Patrick

Carson Sage is passionate about the power of bikes and what they can do for people.

The chapter co-founder of Victoria’s Cycling Without Age lights up when you ask him why he and his neighbours decided to buy a custom cargo bike to cruise through the streets of James Bay with seniors from Beckley Farms Lodge care facility as part of the program.

 “For me, volunteerism is a central part of my life. I think that volunteerism has huge potential, as well as bicycles, to change the world and bring a higher quality of life for everyone,” Sage explains.

Starting in Copenhagen in 2012, Cycling Without Age pairs volunteer pedlars with people of varying mobility levels – often the elderly or those living with a disability – to help create community connections, combat social isolation and just have some plain old fun.

As rider and passenger travel through the urban landscape, they get to know each other and the neighbourhood around them in new ways.

“The bike is a focal point for a new-found sense of community. It’s so rewarding bringing generations together,” Sage says.

Sage and two of his neighbours founded the first chapter of Cycling Without Age in B.C. in October of 2016. In a short period of time, they have raised enough money to buy three cargo bikes – or, more properly, three electric-assisted trishaws – each one fitting two passengers side-by-side.  

The group is also expanding to include residents of Nigel House near Uptown Mall.

One of the riders from Beckley Farms Lodge in James Bay is Jill Simpson, who has offered to show us what the program is all about. She is a regular user of the Cycling Without Age program and says she enjoys the no-hassle feeling that comes when she’s out for a ride, taking in the sights and fresh air out in the neighbourhood.

“When I go out on this, I feel like I’ve really been out,” she says. “You know, if you just drive from point A to point B in a car, it’s not the same.”

Together with Sage as our pilot, we travel from Beckley Farms to Ogden Point to James Bay Market and back, all in the comfort of the trishaw. Along the way we stop to smell blooming lilacs and fresh-cut grass, identify wild Californian poppies and rogue irises, taste borage from a neighborhood garden, sift through yard-sale knick-knacks and buy sweets at the James Bay Market.

As a passenger in the bucket seat, it’s hard not to take it all in at a slower pace. Simpson tells stories of her time living in different parts of Victoria, about jobs she’s held over the years as a dental hygienist, restaurateur, lumber salesperson and grocery-store fishmonger, among others. 

It all feels very therapeutic. This ‘therapy’ has only been available for residents at Beckley Farm Lodge. That, however, is soon to change, as Cycling Without Age is set to expand to Cook Street Village Activity Centre this summer, which will mean others in the community not connected to a care home can participate.

Simpson is enthusiastic about the potential of expansion.

“I’ve already told so many people about Cook Street because that’s not just for people like myself that can’t walk,” she says. “That’s for anybody over there and I think that’s wonderful.”

As more people hear about Cycling Without Age, the program continues to grow. Across B.C., new chapters are opening in Nelson, with interest in communities including Delta, West Vancouver and Vernon.

Ideally, Sage would like to see the program expand even further in Greater Victoria, but ultimately that depends on raising enough money for new trishaws. So far, finding interested volunteers hasn’t been much trouble. Finding $20,000 for the trishaw, equipment, shipping and liability insurance, however, can be another thing entirely.

Sometimes that comes in one generous donation, as was the case in Nelson, where a single philanthropist gave a cheque for the entire sum. But more often it requires raising funds in small amounts, one dollar at a time.

Sage is not deterred, however, and has good reason to feel optimistic.

 “My vision for Victoria, as long as we track down more funding, is to bring it to every community centre or care facility so that everyone gets to go out on bike rides.”

His ultimate goal?

“More bike rides and more people benefitting from it. A simple ride on a bicycle can change the world.”

Poem: A Park Meadow

Then and Now: The Beacon Drive-In