Cycle BOOM: helping shape cities to accommodate older cycling needs

By: Tim Jones, Oxford Brookes University

The cycle BOOM study is using a wide range of approaches and data to produce a rich and integrated understanding of older people’s cycling. Particular attention is being given to the physical, social and technological circumstances in which older cycling is situated and the significance of cycling for older people’s health and wellbeing.

It is our belief that a mixed-method approach can produce much more insightful and robust research findings than can be generated from studies that utilise only a single approach. We recognise the varying strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research and how the strengths of one approach can overcome the weakness of the other.

“The complexity of our research problems calls for answers beyond simple numbers in a quantitative sense or words in a qualitative sense. A combination of both forms of data provides the most complete analysis of problems. Researchers situate numbers in the contexts and words of participants, and they frame the words of participants with numbers, trends, and statistical results. Both forms of data are necessary today.” Creswell & Plano Clark (2011) Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research.

It is in this spirit that cycle BOOM utilizes a suite of methods across four case study sites.

Life history interview (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes)

Life history interview (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Biographic (‘cycling life-history’) interviews are helping us to understand the role of past experiences of cycling and the influence of life events such as family and social relationships, employment and wider social, economic, environmental and technological change. We are generating rich narratives and setting cycling episodes in the context of life changes.

Mobile observation and video (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Mobile observation and video (photo: Bob Pomfret, Media Unit, Oxford Brookes University)

Building on this rich contextual information, we are also utilizing mobile mini-ethnographic observations and video recording riders accomplishing routine journeys by cycle. Using the video footage as a prompt for post-ride interviews, we are attempting to ‘get-close to’, and make sense of, older people’s everyday experience of cycling and its effect on wellbeing. Using novel technologies we are also trying to represent how interaction in specific spaces and at specific times affects wellbeing by linking a variety of psychosocial and physiological measures with the geo-located narratives that unfold during post-ride interviews.

Cycling and Wellbeing study (photo: Raleigh UK)

Cycling and Wellbeing study (photo: Raleigh UK)

A cohort of new and returning cycle users in Oxford and Reading are taking part in a unique eight (8) week cycling and wellbeing study This is documenting and measuring how (re-)engagement with both conventional and electric cycling (using state of the art Raleigh e-bikes) affects health and general wellbeing.

In addition we are examining existing sources of data on older cycling trends and experience from national datasets and previous cycling studies. A series of cycling stakeholder interviews in each of our four case study areas is helping us to understand how cycling is unfolding in those areas and reveal the level of attention given to older cycling. International field visits to Germany and Spain were conducted earlier this year so we could learn from places where older cycling is actively being promoted as part of a more democratic landscape for cycling.

We hope that by using mixed-methods and harnessing multiple sources of data we will be able to provide a detailed understanding of older cycling and wellbeing in relation to physical design of the environment and new technology as well as the social circumstances under which cycling prevails. The challenge is true integration of the different approaches.

The cycle BOOM project team is keen to translate findings into practical measures that have a positive impact on society. We are already in the process of producing a documentary video highlighting older cycling experience. We are also producing an urban design audit toolkit specifically targeted at planners and urban designers to enable them to develop more sensitive and sensuous landscapes where older cycling can flourish.

The cycle BOOM team is not satisfied with just describing and interpreting the world. As ‘critical researchers’ we seek to provide a compelling evidence base on ways that cycling can be promoted among current and future older generations and to effect change through multiple channels.

“For several decades, social science researchers, especially those from qualitative paradigmatic viewpoints, and those from anthropology and human geography, have called for an understanding of the nature of and appreciation for the subjectivity of the principal investigator as vital and needed processes for self-reflection and a determination of ‘self’ within social constructs under investigation (Behar, 1994; Kirschner, 1987; Rose, 1997). Dr. Robin Thorne’s “dissertationscholar blogspot”

As far as our own positionality is concerned, I and members of the cycle BOOM team readily acknowledge our vested interest in the outcomes of our research. Take a look at our profile page and you will see that cycling was, and still is, a significant part of our lives. But we remain unashamed in our personal desire to shape cities to accommodate older cycling needs. We are not academic automata. We too have values and also want better cycling futures. The cycle BOOM study is also our own personal cycling mobility pension plan and that of our children and our children’s children.

This posting originally appeared in September 2014 in the cycle BOOM blog.