Cycle Forward pilot programme for people with arthritis

06 May 2019

Greg Fromont says the Cycle Forward programme is changing the lives of people with arthritis.

Greg Fromont says the Cycle Forward programme is changing the lives of people with arthritis.
PHOTO / Lewis Gardner


A group of eight people, some of whom hadn't been on a bike for decades, have unexpectedly become staunch cheerleaders for Whanganui's shared pathways.

They're participants in Cycle Forward, a national pilot programme for people with arthritis being trialled in Whanganui.

It was launched this year by Arthritis New Zealand and Whanganui District Council and the first six-week course began in mid-March. The programme has funding from ACC for three years.

Let's Go Whanganui cycle skills co-ordinator Greg Fromont said for some of the people in the first group of eight, Cycle Forward had been life-changing. Another group of four had started the programme.

The programme begins with participants trying out stationary bikes and they progress to riding in a group on the shared pathways.

"At the start we asked them to do some simple tests - 30 seconds getting up and down from seated and a six minute walk," Fromont said.

"We tested them again [after six weeks] to see if the programme has helped them do more, like be able to walk to the dairy. We also recorded information such as 'have I been more active' ".

Fromont said that after only six weeks, the change in the group members' mobility and confidence has been amazing.

Group member Jill says before she joined the group, it had been 45 years since she had been on a bike.

"Now I've purchased an e-bike and I'm going out riding it on my own. Before this group, I would never have got on a bike again.

"I have people there who can help me if I need it. It's given us confidence to go into a bike shop and say 'this is what I need'.

"I used to do a lot of walking and I can't do that any more. Cycling has increased my balance. I joined the group because I didn't want to lose any more mobility."

Colleen bought a bike a couple of years ago but lacked the confidence to ride it.

"This group has pushed me along to cycle a bit further and do a bit more. It has really helped my walking."

Cycle Forward participant Ann Blackwell (right), with husband Dean Blackwell, has more confidence to ride her e-bike after completing the programme.
Cycle Forward participant Ann Blackwell (right), with husband Dean Blackwell, has more confidence to ride her e-bike after completing the programme. PHOTO / Lewis Gardner


Ann, known in the group as "the wonder one", has chronic fatigue and autoimmune issues as well as arthritis. She had an e-bike but was too scared to go out on it.

"It's good to have someone encourage you. They have helped me getting my confidence. I was so terrified of falling off. They're happy to work at your level.

"My stamina has increased. I'm more steady on my feet now. I hope the group will continue to meet on a regular basis."

Ann Blackwell completes a walking test at Cycle Forward, while Pernille Lunn Erstad records her results.
Ann Blackwell completes a walking test at Cycle Forward, while Pernille Lunn Erstad records her results.  PHOTO / Lewis Gardner


Joan has always ridden a bike but in recent times her enthusiasm had dwindled.

"I'd think it was too windy. This has encouraged me to go out, windy or not.

"The instructors have been marvellous, encouraging us."

The others agree that the instructors "have been gold" and they wished the course was longer than six weeks.

They are also grateful they can cycle off-road on the shared pathways.

"The cycleways are wonderful," Ann said.

"We don't have the confidence to ride on the road. I want to thank the council for doing this and hope they will continue with more. To people with health problems, it's the best thing for them."

The group is also conscious that riding a bike, rather than driving a vehicle, is good for the environment and cost efficient.

They intend to keep riding together as a group following completion of the course.

The Cycle Forward programme instructors are part-timers who are engaged through the Let's Go Whanganui contract awarded to the Whanganui Multisport Club to deliver cycle skills programmes.

Thousands of local students have done cycle skills training through Let's Go Whanganui.

Fromont said the contract was providing opportunities for the club's members to learn new skills such as managing events and teaching groups of people.

Arthritis New Zealand educator Lori Davis (left) and Whanganui District Council active transport facilitator Norman Gruebsch worked on the launch of the Cycle Forward programme.
Arthritis New Zealand educator Lori Davis (left) and Whanganui District Council active transport facilitator Norman Gruebsch worked on the launch of the Cycle Forward programme. Photo / Supplied


By Sue Dudman
Whanganui Chronicle 6/5/19