Don’t let physical limitations stop you from enjoying a bike ride! Many well-established bike designs on the market today reach beyond the typical concept of the traditional upright two-wheeled bicycle. Adaptive bikes often sport three wheels and offer people of all ages with a wide variety of disabilities greater stability and function as they access bike paths, trails, and roads.
People using wheelchairs with good upper body strength most commonly use hand cycles – hand and arm powered tricycles which come in either upright touring models or sleek, low riding performance bikes. For people who cannot use their legs to propel themselves, these bikes are a wonderful way to get out of a wheelchair and experience the exercise benefits of cycling.
Those with mobility impairments, who are able to pedal with their legs, benefit from recumbent trikes for easier balance. Various designs accommodate people in an upright seated position or a more recumbent leaned back mode, with hand controls at thigh height or raised to a conventional handle bar level. A foot pedaled adult sized trike is all someone might need for an independent ride, but a recumbent three-wheeler will be far more comfortable ergonomically for many people. Three wheelers come in two styles – one wheel up front (frog) or two wheels up front (tadpole). Recumbent bikes come in two wheel styles as well for those without balance challenges.
Tandems offer the support of a companion for balance and navigation. People who are blind and ambulatory can bicycle on a conventional tandem bike with a sighted driver. Three wheeled tandems ease the challenge of balance for both riders, especially when cognitive ability or coordination limitations are factors. A well designed bike will put the rider with the disability up front with added supports such as ankle or chest harnesses and steer from the rear.
Anyone who is unable to actively use their body can also enjoy the cycling experience on a wheelchair tandem, another three-wheeled bike in which the front rider is passive, with chest and head support if needed, and the rear rider drives the bike.
Bigger people can ride more safely now and gain the benefits of exercise more comfortably thanks to recent improvement to bicycle design that allow for higher weight limits and greater stability of equipment. Step-through frame designs allow anyone who might have trouble lifting their leg over a bike to mount to have a much smoother experience on a two wheel bicycle. Recumbent styles and standard trikes are also available for better balance and comfort.
The DCR Universal Access Program will provide an array of adaptive bicycles at cycling programs on both the Norwottuck and Rail Trail in western Massachusetts and Artesani Park in Brighton (Boston). Adaptive cycling programs provide not only bikes, but instruction, assistance, and ride support as needed. Such programs are a valuable way to test ride a selection of bikes and styles if you are considering a purchase or are just a great way to access biking.
A selection of adaptive bike companies can be found in the Equipment Tab at the top of this page. Prices vary from a few hundred dollars for a basic recumbent bike or kid’s bike to several thousand for fancier performance hand cycles or therapeutic tandems.