Outdoor recreation is a must for any healthy person today. In recent years, cycling has become one of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation. Cycling has always been a great way to enjoy the outdoors, improve cardiovascular fitness, and socialize with friends and family. With the exception of the occasional spill, cycling is low impact and not detrimental to the body.
Until recently, not everyone had the luxury of hopping on a bike and going for a ride. Technological advances, however, have opened the door for the disabled community to enjoy cycling. With help from adaptive sports and recreation programs across the country, almost everyone can hop on a bike and feel the wind in their face.
Adaptive Cycling is really a very simple concept: modify and adapt cycles to suit an individual rider. We’re not talking about a few strange bikes for a few individuals either. Disability affects each and every one of us, and I can practically guarantee that you already know —or will soon meet—someone with a disability who could benefit from adaptive cycling equipment. The beauty of adaptive cycling, is that it is truly a multi-disability sport. No two disabilities are identical, and there are endless adaptations that can be made.
Fortunately, the last ten years of research and development have produced a variety of adaptive cycling equipment, making it possible for nearly anyone to ride. There are adapted bikes for amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, hemiplegics, sight-impaired, cerebral palsy, and so on. The list is endless. Most of the time, the modification is slight: a “standard” 2-wheeled bicycle with a retrofit brakeset (2 brakes on one lever, for instance) for an amputee, or a tandem with a blind “stoker” on the back, or a “holster” for an above knee amputee.
One of the most significant developments, has been the handcycle. Introduced about 15 years ago, handcycles enable riders with a lower-limb mobility impairment (i.e.; spinal cord, CP, MS) to propel a 3-wheeled cycle using their arms. In the last five years, handcycle development has exploded to become the most popular and widely practiced form of adaptive cycling. In addition, it is the newest and largest component of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Disabled Cycling Program. An event has been added for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, although it excludes divisions for women and mid-level injuries.
Handcycling is the great equalizer. Unlike its predecessor, the racing wheelchair, handcycle’s come in a variety of shapes and sizes, are easy to get in and out of, and have a very short learning curve for new riders. The racing wheelchair has always been intended for one purpose: racing.
This all changed with the development of the handcycle. Manufacturers began to realize that only a small percentage of the disabled community really wanted to race, but the rest still wanted to exercise. Thus, the handcycle was introduced as a strictly recreational piece of equipment, enabling it to develop in a more sensible fashion. Today, there is a mass-produced handcycle for almost everybody. Of course, racing versions weren’t far behind. Today’s cutting-edge racing handcycle’s are technological marvels ridden by elite athletes whose average speed inches closer to that of able-bodied racers every year.
Its recent inclusion in the Paralympics program means that handcycling is here to stay and that developments will continue. Invacare’s Chris Peterson, a long-time leader in the production of wheelchair sports equipment, is leading the pack in handcycle development.
“We sell more handcycles than almost anything else, and I don’t see that trend changing,” says Peterson.
This prediction is echoed elsewhere, too. Sunrise Medical’s Jim Black, who has managed the Quickie line-up of athletes and equipment for years, notes, “Handcycling is where it’s at — It’s where everything is headed. It’s just such an accessible sport, you can’t ignore it.”
Still, cycling equipment has never been cheap. Adaptive cycling equipment is no exception. Modifying a $1,500-plus bicycle for an amputee is obviously going to cost a few bucks. Buying a brand new handcycle can set you back anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500. Ouch! It’s also hard to plop down that much money without being sure of what style of bike you want. Most bike shops don’t stock handcycles or tandems, or bikes with holsters for the potential buyer to view and test ride. Fortunately, there are some other options for new riders:
Modern technology has enabled people everywhere to connect with each other. There is a plethora of information on the Web that covers various adaptive cycles and connects people who want to ride together.
For starters, try these links:
US Handcycling — This is the national governing body for handcycling in the US
Handcycling´s Yahoo Group — This is an online e-mail discussion list that includes hundreds of handcyclists with whom you can share information and learn all about handcycling.
U.S. Handcycling Federation (USHF) is a Colorado-based organization dedicated specifically to handcycling. The USHF is the leader in developing high-profile handcycling events in the U.S. For details, contact www.ushf.org, e-mail or call (303) 910-9851.
So how do you learn more? According to Joel Berman, executive director of Adaptive Adventures, attending a new rider clinic is vital.
Cycling lets the entire family enjoy the outdoors together.
“You can come to one of our clinics, try out any bike you want, meet other riders, get tips from a national team coach, and sign-up for individualized instruction and/or consultation all in one day. You can be out riding with your friends and family in no time!” Berman points out. He adds that, although not everyone can afford a new handcycle, many programs across the country are increasing their inventory of bikes.
“We have 12 handcycle’s, including five children’s models, so we can put people out on the road even if they’re not yet ready to buy a bike.” (More about Adaptive Adventures)
This adventurous trend for people with disabilities is catching-on all across the U.S. Contact Adaptive Adventures for a list of organizations in your area that may have a bike for you to test ride. E-mail us!
There are also some organizations which can help purchase a bike, utilizing grant programs. Try the Challenged Athletes Foundation which distributes over $1 million in grants each year to disabled athletes. Don’t be afraid to apply! Grants are not reserved just for elite athletes.
Sometimes, the greatest funding sources may be in your own community. Begin by checking with a rehab hospital or with a disabilities resources center.
In the meantime, if you’re looking to ride, or know someone who is, get online, get outside, or get on the phone — because your outdoor experience is just around the corner! Ride On!