Whatever the weather, the hustle and bustle around the downtown Lynchburg LOVE sign is always lively and warm.
It’s a scene that Dr. Jimmy Roux fits into pretty naturally, chatting with passers-by at a table set up for Cycling Without Age. The nonprofit provides free rides for older people or those who have issues riding a bike on their own.
The Lynchburg chapter, which Roux founded early last year, is active from late March through December, when it gets a bit too cold for most passengers even with the furry blanket that’s provided. You can regularly see the trishaw — a specialty bike with the “driver” situated behind the passenger seats — along the James River Heritage Trail and on Percival’s Island downtown, though it travels to other spots for riding sessions.
Drivers take it slow, getting to know their passengers along the rides, which can go from short 15-minute jaunts to three- or four-mile moseys across Percival’s to the Amherst County riverbank.
Thus far, the rides have been a hit.
Cycling Without Age’s original founder, Ole Kassow, developed the concept and the trishaw in Denmark in 2012, wanting to bring the benefits of his morning bike commute to older people for whom it was no longer accessible. Since then, more than 2,000 chapters have formed across the globe.
Often a commuter to work himself, Roux, a professor of communication studies and director of the Master of Arts in Nonprofit Leadership Studies program, stumbled across the national nonprofit and Kassow’s TED talk last year. He and his wife decided to bring it to Lynchburg. They filled out forms, gathered a board, and raised enough money to buy “Voyager,” the first trishaw of what he hopes will eventually become a small fleet.
Especially amid the pandemic, a breezy trip with a friendly driver on a nice day has been just the ticket for some.
“It’s just a fun enjoyable thing for everybody, and I think we’re all ready for something positive, so I think our timing is good,” he said.
Through a strong social media presence (assisted by a Lynchburg student), word of mouth, and return clientele, the program’s popularity has grown and the chapter now has 25 volunteers. Many of those volunteers and several board members are part of the University of Lynchburg family.
Dr. Mike Coco, associate dean of the school of sciences and math professor, said getting involved in the nonprofit’s board was a natural fit, having known Roux through the University and a shared passion for biking.
It took a bit to adapt to driving the trishaw, with its motor-assisted setup and slower maneuvering, but Coco said it’s been rewarding to bring riders back to a corner of the trail they might not have gotten to in quite a while.
“You see older people literally with the wind in their hair and they’re just so happy because they haven’t been on a bike in decades,” he said.
Though the nonprofit itself isn’t officially tied to the University of Lynchburg, Coco is one of many in the University family who are involved as volunteers or board members. Roux’s enthusiasm and energy have been a key driver in bringing people with a heart for service to the table, he said, and it hasn’t slowed down.
“He’s great with connecting people, and this is one of those things where that’s a really important skill to get donors or make connections to set up rides,” Coco said.
The nonprofit has linked up with Lynchburg Parks & Recreation and Westminster Canterbury to better reach older residents for regular rides. When Paula Kepel, recreation specialist at the Templeton Senior Center, found out about the program, she knew it was a good fit for the people she works with.
“I knew I wanted to do something with them. And of course, it seems like a natural partnership … but I didn’t know what it would look like,” she said.
So they coordinated to bring the trishaw out at Glow Ride last fall, decked out with lights to introduce people to it. Now, the Templeton staff includes the Cycling Without Age rides in their programming, promoting and scheduling monthly events.
Whether it be for a special occasion or a quick, refreshing pick-me-up, Roux said the rides are just one simple way he and the nonprofit’s volunteers can brighten someone’s day.
“People who might feel isolated know they can go and enjoy the outdoors, having fun and getting out into the community,” he said.