They say one never forgets how to ride a bike—and if the freewheeling folks taking part in Silver Spokes are any indication, it’s 100 percent true.
A joint effort between the City of Cleveland’s Department of Aging and Bike Cleveland, the Silver Spokes program is now in its second year. Via a series of free hands-on cycling events and social rides, seniors get the chance to re-learn the rules of the road, try out “age-friendly” bikes, and get energized around Cleveland’s cycling community.
“I remember [one of the participants] at our event in Collinwood who walked using a cane, but then got on a recumbent bike and rode around the rec center,” shares Mary McNamara, director of the Department of Aging. “Afterward, I asked him how it felt, and he responded that he hadn’t felt that free with his body in a long time. I was so moved by how happy he was.”
The recumbent bike is one of four bikes in an age-friendly fleet that was purchased via an AARP Community Challenge Grant by Bike Cleveland. Other bikes include an easy-to-mount townie bike, an electric bike that can easily handle inclines, and an adult tricycle. “Our work is really about making biking accessible for people of all ages, from 8 to 80,” says Jacob Van Sickle, executive director of Bike Cleveland.
The content of the 90-minute classes is twofold—helping participants not only feel safer riding bikes, but also sharing the road with cyclists as a driver. The first half consists of an educational lecture and safety demo, while the second half allows participants to try out the bikes in the parking lot.
“Less than 20 percent of seniors we surveyed [when creating the Age-Friendly Action Plan] had been part of a driver education refresher program,” says McNamara. “For some, it had been 50 years or more since learning how to drive—in that time, we’ve changed how we ride bikes. People told us that learning about safe driving and safe biking would help make Cleveland more of an age-friendly city.”
72-year-old Grace Hanson is one of those seniors who hadn't biked in decades before attending a recent Silver Spokes event at Estabrook Rec Center. The Old Brooklyn resident says that she avoided biking for many years due to a medication that put her at risk of losing her balance, but trying out the age-friendly bikes gave her a new perspective. Hanson also learned a lot about best practices for modern bike riding—specifically that people no longer ride on sidewalks or against traffic.
"I learned that bikes are now considered cars," says Hanson. "I really enjoyed the event and thought it was so much fun."
McNamara says the Silver Spokes initiative also helps further the Vision Zero plan around safer streets and Sustainable Cleveland’s focus on sustainable transportation. “I thinks Silver Spokes fits in many areas—sustainability, aging, city planning, family resources, and rec centers,” says McNamara. “It’s all connected. How can you infuse change in your community that makes it more livable?”
Currently, Silver Spokes is in the midst of a three-class session, with the last class taking place tomorrow, May 29, at League Park. (Perfect timing, as May is both Older Americans Month and National Bike Month.)
According to McNamara, there will also be two Silver Spokes group rides in June—a new component for Silver Spokes in Year Two. The first is on Thursday, June 6, at Gunning Rec Center (more info here), and the second is on Thursday, June 13, at Zelma George Rec Center. “We’ll have health screenings, bike safety checks, refreshments, and more,” says McNamara.
The growth is also spreading outward into Greater Cleveland, as Bike Cleveland has also planned Silver Spokes events in Solon and Mayfield Heights for later this year. According to McNamara, other cities in other states have also reached out about patterning similar programs after Silver Spokes.
"Imitation is the highest form of flattery—other cities are now asking if they can do a Silver Spokes," she says. "If other communities use their bikes to do something similar, this can become a real movement."
The next Silver Spokes event takes place tomorrow, May 29, at League Park (6601 Lexington Ave.) from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Find out more here.
This story is part of a dedicated series titled "People, Planet, Progress: A Decade of Sustainable Cleveland" in partnership with Sustainable Cleveland.