Ride with a cause

By Kimberly Yap

Mention trishaws and most of us Singaporeans think of the ones that ferry tourists through Chinatown, Clarke Quay and Little India.

However, these three-wheeled vehicles are also part of a service for senior citizens on our sunny island now. A programme brought in from Denmark by Ms Pernille Vedersø Busson, Cycling Without Age sees volunteers taking senior citizens for joyrides in customised trishaws that are equipped with some electric power to assist with the propulsion. The concept so intrigued my colleague Jeslyn and me that I volunteered to be a trishaw rider while Jeslyn agreed to play photographer. 

Training session
It was a bright and early Friday morning when Jeslyn and I met Pernille at the park connector near Martin Road. A sharp ring of a bicycle bell made us turn to see Pernille cycling towards us in a trishaw that had an eye-catching red hood. I immediately wondered if I had made a right decision... as the trishaw looked a lot larger than it did in pictures!

Pernille explained that the trishaw rides do more than get seniors to step out of their homes to enjoy the sun and fresh air. The free rides are also meant to help foster conversations and bonding between rider and passenger. Currently operating with one trishaw, she works with family service centres and senior centres such as St Luke’s Eldercare and the response from seniors and members of the public has been good. In fact, Pernille is in discussions with two organisations to help bring in two more trishaws to Singapore. After all, the hybrid trishaws don’t come cheap, costing about $9,257 each.

Pernille shared that the Cycling Without Age trishaw has the following special features:

• Low-access floor so seniors can board easily
• A seat for up to two passengers that is not too wide, hence encouraging conversation
• Rider’s seat that is close enough for the rider to lean in and speak to the passengers
• Passengers’ seat belt
• A retractable hood to shelter passengers from rain and the strong sun
• A removable and rechargeable battery that helps power the trishaw
• An electric option that the rider can choose to activate by pedalling and adjusting a dial on the handlebars; this controls the battery’s power level (thus making it easier to cycle uphill)

After going through the mechanics of the vehicle, Pernille taught me how to use it. It did appear a little challenging initially and took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of it after testing it along the park connector.

The challenge
Noticing that I was getting more confident on the trishaw, Jeslyn issued me a challenge: Get three seniors (total strangers, by the way, not people I knew) to hop on and enjoy the wind in their hair. The twist?  I had to do it in an hour. I’m always up for a good challenge so... challenge accepted!

Wondering if I breezed through the challenge? Check out the video below!

Mission accomplished! My final passenger, 73-year-old Chua Kok Sing (in yellow polo T-shirt), said: “It was fun; I even got to enjoy the company of a beautiful lady (Pernille)!”

Memorable and fun as it was, my experience wasn’t without its bumps. For example, there were moments where we were going up slopes and I ended up pedalling harder than I should while trying to use the battery too. A concerned passerby even helped push the trishaw up the slope! The trick, Pernille explained, was to start the battery to gain momentum as we approached the slope instead of starting it when I was already on the slope. Also, quite a number of seniors declined to get on board – they seemed shy and a little wary of the offer from a total stranger – and I did have some doubts about being able to complete the challenge. Thankfully, I did... but it was a lot of hard work and, yes, sweat!

I had a wonderful and eye-opening experience, and I’m glad that I had managed to spread some joy and cheer to my passengers. They thanked me for the free ride and said they appreciated the thought behind the initiative. I was amazed at how the trishaw helped bring strangers together and can see how it builds friendships.

I hope that in time to come, more Singaporeans will get to experience Cycling Without Age, be it as a volunteer rider or passenger. Spending quality time together, spreading joy, making a new friend or two and getting some exercise… what’s not to love?

Kimberly is a member of the Corporate Communications team at MOH Holdings.

To learn more about the Cycling Without Age movement in Singapore, visit http://cyclingwithoutage.sg/

Article published on: 12/1/2017