The further you are from the stereotypical idea of a sports cyclist, the more cycling can transform your health, your finances, and even your social life.
Disabled cyclists enjoy the same benefits from cycling as non-disabled cyclists: improved mobility, better physical and mental health, financial savings, and wider social opportunities. Yet 84% of disabled people never cycle and only 7% cycle once a week or more, according to .
The UK’s cycling infrastructure and overall cycling environment are not inclusive enough. There are other factors too. While there is , such cycles can be expensive and hard to find – or even try out. And many people just don’t know about them so may conclude that cycling is something they can’t do.
Disabled people who do cycle give the same kind of justifications for riding as able-bodied cyclists, a survey by found. The main reasons given, in order, were: fun/leisure; exercise/stay fit; mental health; and transport. The main difference between disabled and non-disabled cyclists, aside from the visible one of adaptive bikes, is that cycling has even more to offer if you’re disabled. The Wheels for Wellbeing report notes: “The mental and physical health effects of cycling are particularly significant given the poor mental and physical health outcomes of the disabled population in general.”
Bikes boost mobility whoever uses them. A 20-minute journey on foot might take a pedestrian one mile at a brisk pace. By bike you could cover four or even five miles in that time – far enough for most journeys, given that .
For many disabled people – 64% in the Wheels for Wellbeing survey – cycling is easier than walking. In fact, 59% of respondents said that their cycle was their mobility aid, like a wheelchair would be. The scope for cycling to facilitate short journeys for disabled travellers is huge.
Cycling also has a potentially bigger role to play for disabled people in replacing cars for short journeys. Part of that is due to the fact that you’re less likely to have access to a car if you’re disabled. The found that only 62% do, compared with 85% of the general population. Some disabilities, such as epilepsy and impaired vision, can make driving impossible. Yet they need not stop you cycling; .
Physical health benefits
While anyone can benefit from the regular aerobic exercise that cycling provides, if you’re disabled the odds are that you can benefit more. Disabled people are more likely to be overweight or obese than the general population and . Unsurprisingly, given this data, disabled people are about 50% more likely to be inactive than others, .
Cycling is a particularly accessible form of exercise because, like swimming, it’s not weight bearing. Obvious benefits from cycling include cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and weight management. Less obvious ones include the fact that cycling for transport is, the British Medical Journal reported, associated with .
There is an additional benefit from exercise such as cycling for those who suffer from chronic pain: . Exercise helps block pain signals to the brain and further limits its effects by helping ease stiffness in muscles, ligaments and joints.
Mental health benefits
that “a third of disabled adults in England reported poor mental health and wellbeing compared with one in ten non-disabled adults”. So once again there’s more scope for cycling to make a difference.
The mental health benefits of cycling are significant. It . When , 91% rated cycling as “fairly or very important for their mental health” – slightly more than those who said it benefited their physical health.
Cycling . In our current economic climate, these savings can make an important difference to our finances – especially if you’re disabled. The charity that life costs you £583 per month more if you’re disabled. That’s money than many can ill afford: disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed; more than one in four (27%) working-age disabled adults live in poverty.
Against this backdrop, the higher purchase price of an adaptive bike is problem. Tricycles and e-bikes are simply more expensive than conventional bikes. There’s also less choice – and thus fewer opportunities for bargains – when it comes to ‘standard’ cycles with particular features, such as a step-through frame or controls that work with less grip strength, which a disabled cyclist might require.
There is some good news. Running costs are low even for specialised cycles, so transport savings are nevertheless achievable over the longer term. Disabled employees can benefit from the , which makes cycles costing more than £1,000 readily accessible through Cyclescheme. Saving 25% on an adaptive bike that costs, for example, £4,000, is a huge deal. So is being able to pay for that bike through instalments.
Like walking, cycling offers opportunities for everyday social interactions. You’re not shut behind a door or sealed off behind a windscreen, so it’s easy to pass the time of day with someone. The pandemic lockdowns demonstrated how important these seemingly inconsequential encounters were. We missed them.
Cycling with others, whether that’s one or two people or a larger group, is a social activity in itself. It’s a shared experience that allows conversation while you’re engaged in it, and you can punctuate the cycling with café stops and the like.
Both of these things are significant because the that the proportion of people with disabilities who feel lonely “often or always” is almost four times as high as for non-disabled people. Getting out on a bicycle or tricycle, especially with others, can help address that.
Cycleshceme can help you save 25-39% on the cost of adaptive bikes and trikes