The Advantages of Accessible Cycling
The benefits of cycling are well known and documented: it’s fun, gives independence, and is good for physical fitness and mental well-being. It’s an activity everyone can enjoy.
Yet cycling is especially beneficial for people with disabilities. Cycling for the disabled has grown in popularity in recent years, and at Calvert Trust Exmoor we’ve been using adaptive bikes for almost 25 years.
But what are the advantages of accessible cycling? Let’s discuss how bikes have been made adaptive and the benefits of cycling for the disabled.
What is accessible cycling?
Simply put, accessible cycling is using an adaptive bike, tricycle or tandem bike to pedal – similar to standard two-wheeled bikes, but with a twist.
Accessible cycling provides a way for everyone to cycle or ride a bike in one way or another, regardless of disability.
People with disabilities can use a standard two-wheel bike or an adaptive bike depending on their individual needs.
What types of adaptive bikes are available?
Adaptive bikes suit almost all requirements. We all have our strengths, weaknesses and challenges when it comes to cycling, so often a little bit of trial and error is needed to find the perfect bike.
Low step and electric bikes
These are standard bikes with some slight changes to assist with pedalling or getting on and off the bike.
Low step bicycles have a low dipped frame, benefiting anyone who does not have the movement to get their leg over a regular frame. This makes mounting and dismounting easier for anyone with loss of fixability and mobility. Additional cranks and extensions can be added to accommodate people with impaired limbs or hands.
Electric bikes have also grown in popularity in recent years. They help disabled and older people to cover further distances with greater comfort, by reducing the physical effort required to cycle.
Tricycles also look like standard bikes but have three wheels for good stability. They are useful for people who have trouble balancing plus those with learning disabilities such as dyspraxia, as the third wheel keeps it upright and reduces the chances of tipping over.
Tricycles can be adapted as needed for individual needs and can have pedals or handcycles.
Handcycles have handles and pedals that are moved by the hands to both power and steer the bike. They can have three or four wheels to help with balance. They are popular with people who have little to no lower body mobility and those who need to increase upper body strength.
Bikes with handcycles can come in a variety of styles and designs, and handcycles can be added to other bikes like recumbents.
A recumbent bike allows the user to sit backwards in a chair, rather than leaning forward over the handles.
This cycling position provides a level of comfort, putting less strain on the rider’s back, knees, and hip joints.
Recumbents bikes can be similar to a standard 2-wheeled bike, with a large chair seat instead of a traditional saddle. But they can also be close to the ground so the user leans back with the pedals at the front and a third wheel to enhance stability.
Tandems (or side-by-side bikes)
The term ‘tandem bike’ is often portrayed as a romantic couple’s activity, but these accessible bikes are so much more.
Tandem bikes are especially good for people with visual, sensory, or emotional disabilities who may need help and guidance from another who can take over or support the steering or pedalling at any point.
Tandem bikes can have two, three or four wheels with the two riders next to each other or in a line.
These adaptive bikes have handles, saddles, and pedals at the back for one or two people to cycle and steer. Then at the front, there will usually be either a seat for a wheelchair user to transfer into or a platform for a wheelchair to ride on to.
Wheelchair bikes allow anyone with little or no mobility to experience the thrill of cycling, enjoying the ride with a friend or family member behind them.
The advantages of accessible cycling
In everyday life, people with disabilities may have limited opportunities for exercise, contributing to the recognised issues associated with prolonged wheelchair use or an inactive lifestyle.
They may also feel isolated due to lack of travel opportunities, which will affect mental health as well as physical.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we see the advantages of accessible cycling first-hand and are often amazed by how people positively react to doing it for the first time.
Luckily cycling is a fairly simple activity to pick up, so there are many advantages to it…
Focus and repetition – learning and practising
For some, the process of simply getting on and off a bike will be a challenge due to physical disabilities. Others may struggle to concentrate on the task of cycling.
Which is why people with disabilities, or those recovering from a stroke, often have to learn how to use their accessible bike.
Whether learning to ride for the first time or re-learning how to cycle on a new bike, it can be a worthwhile challenge.
The movements and concentration needed to cycle can encourage focus and using a bike can help develop new skills – which is both rewarding and motivational.
After learning how to use a specific bike, cycling becomes therapeutic and relaxing.
All the health benefits associated with general exercise are perhaps even more essential for people with disabilities.
- Gently exercises the body
- Improves physical fitness and strength
- Helps with weight loss
- Builds muscles and circulars the blood
- Delays the onset of many conditions
It is also documented that cycling:
- Provides freedom and empowerment to travel further
- Reduces social isolation
- Releases feel-good hormones for a natural buzz
- Improves mental wellbeing
Using tandem or wheelchair bikes can be more of a social activity than traditional two-wheel single bikes.
Cycling becomes even more enjoyable when done with a family member, carer or friend. Cycling together shares the physical work whilst encouraging social interactions, teamwork and trust.
Further benefits include the freedom to travel with less use of taxis or private car hire, reducing congestion and pollution.
Cycling at Calvert Trust Exmoor
Cycling is one of the most popular activities we provide. The path around Wistlandpound Reservoir is mildly challenging but rewarding for all abilities, with spectacular views of the water and surrounding woodland.
We use tricycles, handcycles, recumbents, wheelchair bikes and tandems to accommodate all disabilities and abilities. Sessions generally last two to three hours with a break, which ensures everyone gets the best of the session without it being too tiring.
Lizzie Trench – a British Paratriathlon – started cycling after a visit to Calvert Trust Exmoor
In 2012, Lizzie Tench was out cycling with her partner when she was struck by a trailer. She suffered spinal cord damage which left her paralysed from the waist down.
A few months later, when at her lowest both mentally and physically, Lizzie visited Calvert Trust Exmoor.
“My stay at Calvert Trust Exmoor was the turning point. I realised that life wasn’t over and there was still so much I could do.”
Lizzie went on to become the British Paratriathlon champion in 2016, won Silver at the ‘Worlds’ and competed for England at the Commonwealth Games.
Nick Cole – a stroke survivor – re-found his love for cycling at the centre
After suffering a severe stroke in 2009, Nick’s life changed forever.
Nick visited Calvert Trust Exmoor so he could try new activities whilst recovering, because “my stroke severely limited my mobility and I work on my recovery on a daily basis.”
He thoroughly enjoyed his cycling session which brought back proud memories of his father who was a keen cyclist, and it reminded him of his new motto to never give up.
The visit inspired Nick to start accessible cycling full time, and after trailing several types of trikes, he now uses a recumbent bike to cycle around London.
Would you or someone you know like to get into accessible cycling?
We fully encourage anyone to do adaptive cycling if possible from their own home, but if you would like to do it as an activity during a visit to Calvert Trust Exmoor, call 01598 763221 to enquire further.