Inclusive cycling with adaptive bikes

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For people looking for inclusive ways to cycle, adaptive bikes can vary from adult trikes, to motorised recumbents, to handcycles, to tandems, giving the user more choice when finding a cycle most suited to their need-specific requirements.

Trikes can have two wheels at the rear and one at the front (delta trikes), or the other way round with two wheels at the front and one at the rear (tadpole trikes). Tadpole trikes tend to corner more securely and are very stable, making them a good choice for visually impaired riders.

When deciding on a trike model, it’s worth remembering that stability is affected by wheel size so the smaller the wheels the more stable and manoeuvrable the trike will be to ride which is a benefit for riders who find it difficult to balance easily. Riders looking for an off-road option should consider trikes with suitable suspension, tyres, and rim diameters.

Although they are not fully electric, some trikes enable the rider to move without pedalling by using an electrically assisted walking pace setting which helps with both distance and fatigue.

Fully electric bikes can utilise a battery-powered motor giving additional power and range than a standard bike so if distance is a requirement, consideration must be given to battery size and charging time. As less force is needed to start the pedals moving and continue through the pedalling motion, the rider’s body weight remains fairly central which improves stability. Nevertheless, the additional weight of the battery and motor means that care must be taken when manoeuvring at lower speeds which matters for riders with balance issues.

A recumbent bike enables the rider to recline in the seat with feet on the pedals and legs out in front with controls to the sides of the seat. Because of its low centre of gravity, this position enables riders to look ahead whilst feeling stable and secure, offering a solution for riders with balance or back issues or riders who would rather look forward, upright.

However, the position of the rider reduces the power they can push through the pedals compared with an upright bike so an electric recumbent bike may offer a solution. As with trikes, electric recumbent bikes can be further specced for off-road riding. Also divided into tadpole (two front wheels and one rear wheel) and delta (one front wheel and two rear wheels), tadpole recumbents are a good choice for riders who require more stability and control.

Handcycles can offer a solution for riders with paralysis or less lower body strength either as a full handcycle or as a drive train attached to a wheelchair. Obviously, the cycle is powered through arm movements, as well as the hand control of gears, steering and brakes, so suitable positioning for the rider is key. In addition, riders might want to research gear ratios and wheel sizes of different models for optimal performance, manoeuvrability and comfort.

Usually, when transferring from wheelchair to handcycle, the less the difference in height, the easier the transfer will be. Likewise, the ideal seating position, comfort, upper body support, pedal height and the intended riding terrain will be different for every rider so time spent researching the differences and matching them to need will helpfully inform a rider’s choice.

Tandems can provide a cycling solution for visually impaired riders, however the established version of one rider in front, one rider behind can be augmented, for example, with side-by-side, recumbent seat, or trike rear wheel versions. Adaptive tandems enable riders to pedal out of sync and can also seat riders of different heights or who prefer different seating positions. Low step-throughs for easy on and off are worth considering, as is an adaptation for back support, or trike wheels for stability depending upon individual requirements.

Electrically assisted wheelchair tandems can accommodate either the rider and their securely attached wheelchair or have a built-in seat for the wheelchair user. Other wheelchair accessible bikes can incorporate a platform in front to which the wheelchair is attached, or a rear chair which when removed can be used independently.

It may even be that a standard bike with a few small changes such as moving the controls to one side or changing to an electronic gearing system for lightweight, single-action easy gear changes, will be suitable.

Obviously, the cost of a few small changes is vastly different to the cost of a specially adapted bike, and this may feel prohibitive. Nevertheless, there are options which may help. People who are registered disabled can claim VAT relief on specifically designed or adapted products and some charities may have grants available to help buy a bike or have cycling groups which will lend or hire.

The primary needs of a rider will inevitably inform their choice of bike. Cost must be considered, comfort is key, and the practical aspect of transporting potentially large, heavy items cannot be understated. Just as with a wheelchair accessible vehicle, having made the decision to buy an adaptive bike, obtaining specialist advice is very important so that cyclists can be sure that their adaptive bike is the best solution for their circumstances.