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Bike-Sharing Gets Older Adults Cycling

For many people in more and more places, hopping on a bicycle is a great way to get around and get fit

"One day a line of bikes appeared on the sidewalk near my home, and that changed my life," recalls Phyllis Roden (pictured), an administrative assistant at a Minneapolis law firm. That's when Roden, who is in her 60s, became a regular user of Minneapolis-St. Paul's Nice Ride bike-share system, which allows anyone to rent a bicycle with the swipe of a credit card. Roden can easily ride hop from a bike near her home, work or shopping areas and then return the bicycle at any of 200 stations in the city.

Minneapolis resident Phyllis Rodan poses next to a Nice Ride bike-share bicycle encased in fake ice

Photo courtesy Phyllis Rodan (pictured)

In 2012, the Twin Cities ensconced one of its Nice Ride rental bicycles in 5,000 lbs of ice and let it melt in honor of spring's arrival and the return of green bikes to the streets.

Even though she owns her own bicycle, Roden finds that bike-share encourages her to ride more often. "I like the flexibility," she explains. "I can ride to a restaurant or grocery store and then if I eat a big dinner or buy a lot of groceries, just take the bus home."

These days she's less concerned about eating too much, having lost 10 pounds the first year after discovering bike-share. "Biking is so good for physical and mental health. I can de-stress on my way home from the office."

Tapping into Nice Ride's database use, Roden discovered that she's taken nearly 2,000 trips around town over the past seven years covering more than 4,000 miles in over 550 hours. That's a pretty good return on investment for her $75 annual membership fee (of which her employer pays $40). But anyone can buy a $6 day pass at Nice Ride stations to immediately gain access to a bicycle. All trips under 30 minutes are free. For longer trips, riders can return the bike to a station and rent it again, or pay a $3 fee for every additional half-hour.

Ginger Horton of New York City calculates that some days she'll take as many as six bike trips to meet friends, do volunteer work and go out in the evening. "I get all my exercise that way. I don’t think I'll ever set foot in a gym again."

Halfway across the country, Ginger Holton, also 60-something, a retired financial product manager in Manhattan, tells much the same story. "I couldn’t believe the flexibility it added to my life. All the things I do, Citi Bike takes me," she says.

Besides volunteering with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Central Park Conservancy, Holton is part of Citi Bike's Bike Angel program, which means she rides and transfers bicycles from stations where demand is low during certain times of the day to ones where the bikes are most needed.

New York City traffic doesn’t intimidate her because, she says, "I've learned where to ride. Fifth Avenue is scary. So I go on the quiet side streets or the bike paths along the river, or on the protected bike lanes on busy streets." (On certain city streets bicyclists and motorists are physically separated from one another.)

The Advantages of Bike-Sharing

Many bike-share users are not typical bicyclists. Some don't own a bike and even those who do find bike-shares handy for certain trips — someone who commutes by car or transit, for instance, appreciates a bike for riding to lunch, errands or nearby meetings. Many train and bus commuters use bike-shares for the "last mile" ride to and from their home or workplace.

Women made up a majority of bike share riders in a study of casual users by Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia. This sharply contrasts with U.S. Department of Transportation data showing only about a quarter of bike commuters nationally are female.

Most bike-share systems don’t track the ages of its users, but Capital Bikeshare says it knows that 24 percent of its riders are age 45 or over.

Minneapolis resident Phyllis Rodan poses next to a Nice Ride bike-share bicycle

Photo courtesy Phyllis Roden

In the seven years Phyllis Roden, pictured in 2018, has been riding bicycles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Nice Ride program, she's taken nearly 2,000 trips around town covering more than 4,000 miles.

The benefits of bike-sharing for older adults and people of all ages include:

Not having to own, maintain or repair a bike

"They have a great repair system," says Robert Pierazek, who is in his mid-50s and uses the BLUEbikes (formerly Hubway) system in Boston. "If you have a problem with a bike, you push a button [at the dock in the station] and no one else can rent it. They send you an email asking what the problem is so they can fix it.'

Not having to store a bikes at home

There's no need to carry a bike up from the basement, down from upstairs, or lift it onto bike racks on cars or buses. Although Phyllis Roden loves her road bike, she often finds it more convenient to hop on bikeshare than to get her own bike out of the garage.

Not having to own a car

Easy access to a bike helps many households get by with one fewer car. (AAA calculates that owning and operating an auto averages $8,500 a year.) For some folks, it's a chance to ditch cars altogether. Allan Feldt, a Realtor in Chicago uses the city's Divvy bike-share to show houses, buy groceries, go swimming, visit his daughter, even to pick up a rental car for out-of-town trips. "Divvy has made a difference in the budget. It gets me everywhere I want to go without the hassle of owning a car," says Feldt, who is in his 60s. "I feel like I am more in control of my life and my time."

Not having to ride roundtrip

"If it's storming in the morning, I can take public transportation to work and ride the bike home," says Pierazek. In New York, Holton notes, "I can ride Citi Bike to Lincoln Center to meet friends, and then either walk, bike or take the bus home."

The experience that turned Phyllis Roden into an avid bike-share user — bikes for rent right in front of her home — may happen soon to millions more Americans.

Jay Walljasper is a Minnesota-based writer, consultant and speaker about how to create stronger, happier communities for everyone.

Article published May 2018

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