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    We need to change the nation’s attitude to mobility issues in older people

    We need to change the nation’s attitude to mobility issues in older people
    15th July 2020 Nazia White

    My body needs exercise

    To understand what led me down this path, you need to picture me as a person:-

    Age 72, overweight, only 5 foot tall, having had two knee replacements (left and right) and now (summer 2019) needing another operation sometime in the future to replace my old left knee replacement, which was failing. Walking exercise was difficult due to lower back pain.

    Because of my weight I had high blood pressure and was gradually edging into the pre-diabetic zone. I desperately needed to find some way to exercise that didn’t hurt me, and which I could do every day. The other thing you need to know is that I am almost a novice bike rider. I have always had a fear of falling off, either into a ditch, or falling off under the wheels of a passing car.

    From mid-2018 I pondered for months whether cycling would suit me, as a good alternative to walking exercise, to get fit, lose weight, avoid diabetes, and strengthen my leg muscles and ligaments. A well-meaning friend suggested a motorised scooter, but I needed EXERCISE!

    I needed the security of three wheels

    I visited local cycle shops, sat on various machines but I never found a cycle stockist who had a small frame for me to try. In addition, my metal knees (although perfectly fine for all normal daily tasks) would not bend enough to permit me to rotate the pedals fully. The stockists all recommended short cranks, but as a novice cyclist I was put off at the thought of ordering a small frame, and having the cranks tailored to fit me, only to find it was not a good “fit”, or that I was too frightened to use it on the road.

    I realised at this point that balancing on two wheels frightened me. I needed the security of three wheels.

    I began to look online; I had seen an ad for an electric trike from a company called Viking, but once again I was deterred by worries that it would not fit me, and my knees might not turn the pedals. I then found a company called Van Raam in The Netherlands, and I seriously considered taking a trip there to try out their products, but my fears got the better of me, and I was worried about the practical difficulties of after-sales service.

    Then I found Tomcat, with their three wheels, electric assist, etc. EUREKA! I was a little put off by the emphasis on physical disability, but I thought “if anyone can make a trike to fit me, they can”.

    AND they were reasonably local, so I could make a trip to sit on one of their machines to see if it would be a good fit, and to see whether I could turn the pedals round.

    The Silver Bullet trike is made for me

    Tomcat staff were very welcoming, and made me feel that they understood the importance of the trike fitting my short stature, and we discussed the pros and cons of having shorter cranks on the pedals, so my knees could rotate them properly. Bob took a series of measurements, which no-one else had done. He was able to assure me that the trike would fit me.

    I was able to actually sit on a trike and try it out on the car park in front of the building. I immediately realised that this was the right product. The Silver Bullet is perfect for me:-

    • It has three wheels – so I have the security of being well balanced.

    • It has electric assist, which I need as there are lots of hills where I live. But – Oh, the joy of whizzing down the reverse slope of the hill!

    • It is lower to the ground, so mounting and dismounting are easy.

    • The seat swivels for ease of getting on and off.

    • There is a shopping basket on the back, which is very useful.

    • The seat is like a padded chair, supportive and very comfortable.

    • It breaks down into pieces and the wheels are very easily removed, so you can put it in the boot of your car. I am not very strong, but I can manage it without trouble.

    • It has striking good looks. As I was passing through a local village I heard a man say to his son “that’s a really cool-looking bike, isn’t it”.

    How It Has Changed My Life

    When I took delivery of the trike in November 2019, I tried it out a few times rather nervously, only going to the end of the road and back. Then I had to stop using it as my knee was found to be worse than originally thought, and I had big surgery in January 2020. It takes a while to recover, so I did not use the trike again until mid-May.

    When I did get back on the saddle – what a revelation! I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would use the trike to go for proper bike rides – I thought I would go as far as my local shop and back.

    The first couple of times I only went about 2 miles, but as my confidence grew, so the rides lengthened. After two weeks I was doing 10 miles a day, 5 days a week, encouraged by my husband, who was initially extremely sceptical. In six weeks I have cycled about 350 miles – the distance from Worcester to Edinburgh!

    Physically it is re-shaping me, I feel very alive, very energised; I know my blood pressure has gone down, and am certain that my pre-diabetic score has improved (although that has not been tested due to not wanting to visit the GP during lockdown). Swollen ankles? Not anymore!

    Benefits which I did not expect are the sheer joy and pleasure in getting out along the country lanes, facing the challenges of the slopes and hills and conquering them (with the help of the electric assist). I have always been a reasonably confident, optimistic person, but the use of the bike has enhanced my mood and my enjoyment of life. It has given me the motivation to reduce my weight at the same time as getting fit, and every day I enjoy the challenge of deciding to go a little further, to explore a new route along the country lanes, and to record my progress. It’s exciting, and has definitely given me a new lease of life!

    I wish I had found this trike 15 years ago.

    Some Downsides
    • The price of the trike, but then you can’t put a price on health.

    • The fact that the gears and pedal assist controls are down by your leg where you can only operate them by touch, not by sight. When I am bowling along, uphill and down dale, it would be much better to have the controls on the handlebars where you can see them.
    *Unfortunately, due to the two-piece frame the controls currently are only offered on the right or left hand side of the trike. We’re working on a new innovation that may make it possible to have the controls on the handlebars 🙂 

    • I wish it went faster, as all the riders on two wheels pass me!
    * Legally the electric motor on the trike is limited to 15mph, but I bet you can keep up with two wheelers downhill 😉

    • It is quite heavy, manageable but heavy.
    *The Tomcat Bullet range weighs 23kg for a standard trike – we’re pleased to say that it is one of the lightest adult trikes on the market 🙂 

    Advice to Others

    Please don’t let your doubts and fears prevent you from making a life-affirming decision. If I can take up cycling at my age, with my limitations, then you can, as long as you get the right product, the one that fits you and helps you along. Three wheels and electric assist are definitely the answer for me, and I hope they would open a whole new world to you, too. You can’t put a price on your health, and if you don’t have your health then you’re in trouble.

    In the UK, when you are “of a certain age” the expectation seems to be that if you have mobility problems, you should let a motorised scooter carry you along – but that only makes you less mobile. If you are able to turn the pedals of a tricycle, then I thoroughly recommend it as a way to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Give it a try!

    Other thoughts

    On the continent, particularly in Holland where the country is flat, people are much more conscious of health and fitness.

    When people get older, or they have a mobility issue they look for ways in which they can still keep fit and exercise, i.e. using a bike or trike. By contrast, in the UK, in every brochure and catalogue aimed at older people (and I get lots through my letterbox) the expectation seems to be that older people or people with mobility issues will resort to using four wheeled motorised transport of the scooter type.

    These are a good solution for certain people, but they don’t help you maintain your physical health and mobility. I don’t see ANY promotion of Silver Bullet-type products anywhere.

    We need to change the nation’s attitude to mobility issues in older people.

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