Who doesn't love to ride a bike? As kids, we couldn't wait to get the training wheels off and be out on our own. Bikes were our first taste of freedom. They allowed us to leave our houses and go places. We found new adventures, made quick escapes and raced home in time for dinner. My bike still gives me that sense of freedom. I am out of my chair and propelling myself down the road with the wind blowing in my face. It's glorious.
For those of us in wheelchairs, we can’t just roll down to the local bike shop and pick out a new bike. It requires a little more effort to find and select a bike, but the effort will be worth it once you are out on the open road. While there are several vendors and many ways to get a handcycle, I will write about my experience and then provide links to other handcycle providers.
Here in central Texas, we are very fortunate to have Texas Regional Paralympic Sport, an organization dedicated to promoting adaptive sports throughout Texas. TRPS is led by Wendy Gumbert and Saul Mendoza and is based in Wimberley, Texas. Wendy has spent her entire career coaching and empowering challenged athletes, from novices like me all the way up to the Paralympic level athletes. She has built and developed countless adaptive sports programs, and has coached several US Paralympic national teams for both wheelchair rugby and wheelchair racing. Saul is a highly decorated wheelchair track athlete with gold and silver Olympic medals, and two gold, one silver and three bronze Paralympic medals. He has also won 100's of marathon and other distance road races throughout his career.
Saul puts me on his hand cycle to take measurements and talk about bike fit, including where the break and shifters will be located based on my abilities. My bike is coming from Top End, but they don't sell directly to the public. My order is placed through Eagle Sport Chairs. As they start to refine the components on my bike, they have questions I am not able to answer; for example, what kind of grips do I want? I have no idea what the options are or what I need given that I have no hand function. In steps Brian Johnson of IDEA to help me out. Brian is a C5/6 quadriplegic and an expert on handcycles. We discussed my abilities and function, and he sent me descriptions and pictures of the options along with recommendations based on his own experience. A few weeks later, I have my first hand cycle.
I thought I would just jump on my bike and go. Nope. I actually had to learn how to ride a bike again. When you take your legs out of the equation, you have to pedal, steer, shift, and brake all with your arms and hands. This required a lot of practice and the help of several friends. I started riding tethered to a friend with a dog leash in the event that I wasn't able to brake. Setups vary by person based on level of injury and function. My left arm is significantly stronger than my right, so my shifter is set up on the left hand and my brake is by my right elbow so I can lean on it to stop. It took a few tries, but I am now able to ride untethered, although I still do require help getting up hills.
I will never forget my first "solo" ride on my new handcycle-freedom! Since then, I have done a couple of 5K's and am now looking for longer races. If a race doesn't officially have a handcycle division, reach out to the race director to ask if you can participate on your bike. As long as it's safe for both you and the other runners, the race director will likely welcome you to the event.
I am sure there are many I am missing, but I have listed handcycling resources and providers below.
Find your freedom!
Organizations and additional information
Disabled Sports USA’s mission is to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs. You can find information about handcycling on their website:
Disable Sports USA - Handcycling
Disabled Sports USA - Cycling
Hand Bike Circuit USA Hand Bike Circuit is a resource for handcyclists seeking to post handcycle race events, find handcycle race events and read about handcycles and equipment for challenged athletes. USA Hand Bike Circuit is dedicated to creating exposure and awareness for people with disabilities to showcase athleticism on a greater platform.
Handcycle manufacturers and providers:
Top End Handcycles Design fully customized, high performance everyday wheelchairs, handcycles and sports wheelchairs.
Eagle Sports Chairs Custom manufacturer of advanced recreational and elite competitive sports wheelchairs for a variety of sports.
IDEA Mobility Designer, manufacturer and distributor of adaptive sports, recreation and independent living products.
Bike-On Wide variety of handcycle options, racing chairs and personal transport devices.
FreedomRyder On and off-road handcycles including an electric powered option.
Intrepid Cycles Handcycle manufacturer based in San Diego, California.
High Performance On and off-road handcycles, racing chairs and other sports equipment.
Lasher Sport Rugged recumbent bikes designed specifically for off road adventures.
Reactive Adaptations Custom off-road handcycles handcrafted in Colorado.
Pro Adaptive Sports Off-road handcycles designed for extreme terrain.