Disability cycling: raising awareness

According to research, two-thirds of disabled cyclists find cycling easier than walking, and yet many disabled people are unaware that cycling is an option for them. Although disability cycling is a specialist subject, there are several actions non-experts in the industry can take to help disabled people get cycling, and experts available for advice.

Isabelle Clement is the director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a disability cycling charity. She was completely unaware she could cycle until she was in her 30s, when she discovered a hand cycle adaption for her wheelchair. With electrical assist, the adaption allows her to get around independently, saving her the inconvenience and expense of taxis.

In a recent report, titled Invisible Cyclists, the charity highlighted a lack of imagery of disabled cyclists in policy documents – an issue echoed in the cycling industry. Neil Andrews, of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “The need to promote non-standard cycles, especially through imagery etc., are definitely things that we would want to see the industry doing more of – as well as generally making the public, and disabled people in particular, aware of the variety of cycles out there.”

Who are disabled cyclists and what do they ride?
Disabled people are more likely to be inactive, suffer social isolation, and have lower incomes than able-bodied people. However, it’s important not to pre-judge anyone. In Cambridge, one in four disabled people’s commutes are by bike, while retirees with disabilities may look to do short trips, or leisure rides. In less cycle-friendly places, disabled cycling rates are unsurprisingly lower.

Most disabled people who use cycles as mobility aids do so with a regular bicycle – some with electric assist – but cycles can vary widely. These include trikes and tandem tricycles, recumbent trikes, side-by side-cycles, quadricycles, hand cycles, steer from the rear tandems, detachable wheelchair tandems, roll-on wheelchair transporters, low step over bikes and trikes and, of course, electric assist cycles.

Get Cycling is a not-for-profit community disability cycle specialist based in York. Its experts provide one-to-one cycle assessments and impartial advice, as well as offering a try-out centre at its store, and through roadshows and at special schools around the country. They also sell new and second hand cycles from 25 different manufacturers. They can advise customers on, for example, whether fixed or freewheel gears are best, on having one lever operating both brakes, on eccentric crankshafts, or adaptations like ‘pedal sandals’ to keep feet in place. They can also offer advice to the industry.

Jim McGurn, chief executive of Get Cycling CiC, says: “We tend to get probably ten phone calls a day from people wanting advice and quite often our advice isn’t to buy one of our bikes.

“If a bike shop needs advice on what bike or adaptation might be needed for a person who has come into a shop, we can offer that, but often it can take two to three hours, so it can be better to have a demo [on a few bikes]. If people need a demo, then they need to come to York.”

Another option is if a bike shop or industry member wants to bring a roadshow to their town or city, offering help such as organising an event, and finding local funding. Get Cycling could bring 15-20 different specialised bikes to an event.

“There’s usually funding available from disabled activity budgets with in the local authority, or to be sponsored by a large local business,” says McGurn.

“Some bike shops do want to be seen associated with disability but others have a very sporty image and don’t want it diluted,” he added.

“Another option is a sponsored bike ride, which also generates sales for their shop, to fund a disabled bike for a local specified disabled person, so that person can enjoy cycling, as other bike shop customers do. We also do disabled cycling holidays, that’s another thing bike shops could help fundraise for.”

Many towns and cities have local all-ability cycling groups, where people with disabilities can try out different cycles in a fun, off-road and supported environment. Bike shops could link up with these groups, by offering maintenance and servicing for those bikes, or to point potential customers to.

There’s a database of disabled cycling groups nationwide at cycling.org.uk/cycling-projects-centres, while Wheels for Wellbeing has a fleet of more than 200 inclusive cycles to try out in South London.

Inclusive cycles can be expensive, with tricycles costing up to £3,000. Funding is available from a variety of streams, from Personal Budgets – available to those eligible for community care services –– to the Cycle to Work Scheme. Wheels for Wellbeing offers advice for people looking to fundraise for an inclusive cycle online at wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk/getting-your-own-wheels. As does Get Cycling: www.getcycling.org.uk/bike-shop-york/disability-cycling-funding/

For general advice on disabled cycling visit www.getcycling.org.uk, email admin@getcycling.org.uk or call 01904 636 812.

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