Dr Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow in Urban Mobility, Oxford Brookes University

AS with the rest of the UK, Oxfordshire will experience an increasingly ageing population in the coming years.

One of the biggest challenges we face as a society is finding ways to support active lifestyles which improve life-long health and wellbeing.

A three-year study I am leading at Oxford Brookes University is investigating how the design of cities can be improved to encourage increased activity in later life.

The cycle BOOM project will provide a greater understanding of cycling among our older population and support moves to encourage more people to get on their bike.

Cycling offers great potential for maintaining active lifestyles. It can provide benefits including improvements to the cardiovascular system, as well as helping with muscle and bone health and reducing risk and severity of falls.

Bikes can also help people to remain mobile, increase their range of activities and offer greater travel flexibility.

However, as people age, cycling does become more physically challenging, and fear of injury and concerns about safety forces many to give it up.

This may explain why only one per cent of all journeys of people aged over 65 and older in the UK are by cycle compared to 23 per cent in The Netherlands, 15 per cent in Denmark and nine per cent in Germany.

Despite this, many in the UK maintain the desire and capacity to cycle and would do so if our towns and cities provided a more supportive environment.

Further developments in technology such as the growth in the availability of electric bicycles (‘e-bikes’) may also provide an ageing population with enhanced opportunities to continue to cycle.

However, there is a general lack of discussion on the design of cities which could support older people’s cycling needs.

The cycle BOOM project seeks to address this. We will work with around 250 older people from across the Oxford, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff areas to understand how the design of places and technologies shape engagement with cycling and how this impacts wellbeing.

Methods will include cycling life history interviews and also mobile interviews with participants while they make a regular journey by cycle using video, GPS and a special bio-harness to represent emotional and physiological response when riding through different environments. We will also run electric bike trials at Oxford and Reading to investigate the impacts of e-bike use on independent mobility and wellbeing.

Finally, a fact-finding mission will be conducted to cities across Europe that are actively developing better environments for cycling and specifically supporting older riders.

The result of this will be a toolkit providing specific solutions to create age-friendly places for cycling and a documentary film targeted at policy makers. You can follow the progress of the project and potentially get involved by visiting cycleboom.org or by emailing admin@cycleboom.org

The £1.4m three-year cycle BOOM project started in October and is funded under the UK Research Council’s Life-Long Health and Wellbeing programme. Other institutions involved are the University of Reading, Cardiff University and the University of West of England (Bristol). Project partners include Raleigh UK, Film Oxford, Sustrans, Age UK and the Department of Transport.