For some disabilities and injuries, the solution to start or keep cycling could be a straightforward adaptation of a standard bicycle.
For some disabled people a is the best solution. For others, a standard bicycle can work fine – as long as it’s altered to accommodate the rider’s needs. The same approach can serve able-bodied cyclists who want to keep riding through temporary injuries.
There’s almost no limit to the ways in which a bike can be customised to suit its owner. Here we’re looking at what you can do with off-the-shelf, cycle industry components. For bespoke adaptations, such as a handlebar-forearm support for a cyclist missing one hand but wanting to use that arm to help steer, you’ll need a custom equipment specialist such as disability charity .
Off-the-shelf parts are designed to fit standard bicycles so any competent bike mechanic should be able to fit them for you. Your local shop should be able to order most of them (don’t forget that bike parts can now be included as part or all of your Cyclescheme package.) If there’s anything they can’t get hold of directly, you can order it online and pay for them to fit it.
The adaptations suggested below are grouped by the scope of different disabilities rather than specific diagnoses.
Many bikes, particularly those made from carbon fibre, aluminium or titanium, have a rider weight limit. That’s the point at which the warranty becomes invalid rather than their breaking point. A bike with a strong steel frame is a sensible investment nevertheless. Good examples include the (£430), an ex-Royal Mail delivery bike specifically designed to be hard to break by posties, and the (£899.99), a durable off-road bike that should be plenty tough enough for the heavy cyclist who sticks to tarmac.
The key things you may need to change are the contact points and the wheels. Swap the saddle for one that’s wider and more supportive like (£50). Fit a taller stem or a stem raiser (£20-30) so you’re not leaning far forward and putting too much weight on your hands. If you regularly break spokes get new wheels with 36 or more spokes in each. A 48-hole rear hub like (£64.99) can be built into a very strong wheel indeed.
If you can’t swing a leg over a top tube, you need a bike with a low step-over. Good examples include the (from £899.99) and small-wheeled bikes like the (from £950). Another option, if you have an existing bike that’s become too difficult to mount and dismount, is to buy a new frame such as (£849.99) and swap the parts over.
To make mounting and dismounting even easier, fit a dropper seatpost like the (£139.99); this has external cable routing, which you’ll probably need. Dropper seatposts are intended for mountain biking but enable you to lower any bike’s saddle when stopping and starting, then instantly raise it for riding.
If pedalling is a problem due to stiff hips or knees, try cranks that limit the amount of knee bend required. You can do this by (from £45), so your feet spin smaller circles, or by using (from £235). Flat pedals may help with joint pains as your feet can adopt whatever position is most comfortable.
Limited hand strength/dexterity
Operating brake and gear levers can be difficult if you have problems with your hands. The most important thing is that you’re able to apply both brakes effectively. Hydraulic disc brakes provide the most power for the least lever effort. Get ones with ‘reach adjust’ if you need the levers closer to the handlebar. SRAM and Shimano both offer them.
If only one of your hands can squeeze a brake lever effectively, you can either use a double lever like so that your good hand can independently work both brakes, or else you can operate the front brake with your good hand and slow down the rear wheel with a back-pedal coaster brake. Coaster brakes don’t work with derailleur gears or chain tensioners so you’re limited to a singlespeed coaster brake hub such as (£74.99) or an internally-geared hub such as (£189.99). Either will need building into a wheel (expect to pay from £100, including rim and spokes) and will only work if the frame has forward-facing or rear-facing dropouts.
There are a number of options for gear shifting if your fingers struggle with the force required for levers. Simplest and cheapest (from £13 to £155 per shifter) is twist-grip shifting, which is available for (6, 7 and 8-speed), (8, 9, 10, 11 and 12-speed) and (6, 7 8, and 9-speed). The derailleurs need to be compatible with the shifters so you might need to change those too. If you have a drop handlebar, a twist-grip shifter can be mounted on an .
Electronic shifting is the higher-tech option. Instead of levers you’re essentially just pushing buttons, which send signals to battery-powered, motorised derailleurs. Electronic groupsets – a groupset is the whole system, not just a single shifter or derailleur – are available from , , and . They’re all expensive. Expect to spend anywhere from about £750 up to three or four times that.
Musculoskeletal pain while riding
The traditional, leaning-forward cycling position can cause or exacerbate aches and pains in the hands, shoulders, neck, and spine. The simplest solution is to sit more upright, so that your weight is on your backside and your hands are just resting on the handlebar rather than propping you up. Roadsters like the (from £629) or (£995) will give you this sit-up-and-beg riding position by default, but you can recreate it on other bikes largely by fitting a taller stem or stem raiser plus a backswept handlebar like the , which is German but available in the UK.
Since you’ll have more weight on your backside when sitting upright, you’ll want a . Different handlebar grips that reduce pressure points, such as (£36.99), can vastly improve hand comfort. For drop-bar bikes, have a similar effect.
The simplest way to cushion bumps and vibration from the road or trail is to use wider, lower-pressure tyres. If there’s space in the frame and fork, ‘balloon tyres’ like (from £30) can make a huge difference. Otherwise fit the widest tyres your bike will accommodate and .
Then there’s suspension. On a commuter bike you don’t need the long-travel suspension you see on mountain bikes. What’s important is to have shorter-travel suspension that’s supple and reactive over the small bumps and ‘chatter’ of badly surfaced roads. Suspension stems like the (£179.99) and suspension seatposts like the (£224.99) soften vibration and take the hard, painful edges off bigger hits.
Hearing difficulties make it hard to track the movements of traffic around you, especially when it’s behind or otherwise out of your field of view. Even if you have hearing aids, the ‘wind howl’ of air rushing past them when cycling can limit their usefulness.
Fit a mirror to the righthand side of the handlebar and consider a second on the lefthand side. Cycling mirrors don’t have to be large to be useful. Small ones like the (£12.99) work well on drop bars, while (about £30 in the UK) are great for flat bars.
You can get visual alerts of traffic approaching from the rear by using a handlebar-mounted phone or Garmin computer linked to a (£169.99), a rear light that’s also a rear-view radar. It can detect approaching vehicles as far as 140 metres away.
Cycling is readily possible with other disabilities like limb loss, balance problems, and limited muscle power, but we’ve . Follow the link to find out more.