Updated July 2019
Whatever your disability, the chances are that there will be a bicycle you can ride. More sophisticated (and lighter) special needs cycles are expensive, as they're not mass produced, but entry-level machines are available too (although bear in mind that there’s now no limit on the Cycle to Work scheme). There are lots of conventional cycles that will suit a disable rider too, with or without adaptations.
The type of bike you will need will depend, of course, on your particular disability.
If you have issues with balance, choosing a tricycle will allow you to enjoy the thrill of the road again. Visually impaired riders may find liberation in stoking a tandem piloted by a sighted partner. If you have restricted, or no use of your legs, then hand cycles come to the rescue. There are also side-by-side trikes, trikes with built-in thoracic supports, fixed-wheel trikes for those who have difficulty coordinating their pedalling action and even trikes adapted to carry a wheelchair.
Whatever the case, you can rest assured that someone will have an ingenious solution. The main thing is to discuss your needs in detail with your local bike shop or speak directly to the specialist cycle companies. In England, the Wheels for All project can offer impartial advice. It currently has more than 50 centres around the country.
A step-through frame lets anyone who can't throw a leg over the saddle get aboard easily. There are lots of options, from small-wheeled bikes such as the Brompton and Moulton, to so-called women's frames. A height-adjustable 'dropper' seatpost, designed for mountain bikers to lower the seat out of the way while descending difficult trails, can be a useful extra - lowering the saddle for mounting the bike, then raising it for riding.
Cyclists with the effective use of one arm or hand can still brake and change gear safely. A back-pedal 'coaster' brake allows foot operation of the rear brake. To use all gears, two different kinds of gear shifter can be fitted to the same side of the handlebar. Alternatively, a hub gear or wide-range mountain bike rear derailleur may offer a good enough spread of gears via one shifter: a Shimano Alfine 11 hub gives a 409% range; an 11-36 cassette a 327% range.
How to Ride a Tandem Bike
Riding a tandem successfully is a lot to do with communication between pilot and stoker.
With practice, a lot of this communication can be done through the pedals but, in the early days particularly, it is essential for the pilot to keep the stoker informed on impending gear changes, starts and stops.
Getting away from the traffic lights will be slower than on a conventional bike, even for an experienced team. Tandems are not the easiest bikes to ride in start-stop traffic, and the place to practice is not in the rush-hour melee! The stoker has only two jobs – to set up the pedals for the initial push-off and to provide muscle power. Beyond that, think of yourself as luggage. Any attempts at steering will result in complaints from up front.
Recumbent bicycles address a range of aches, pains or more serious problems with the neck, back, backside, hands and arms, as the rider sits on a laid-back seat, with the bodyweight borne largely by the back.
Those suspicious of recumbent or semi-recumbent machines often express the fear of being run down by motor vehicles because their low position makes them difficult to see.
Fans often report the opposite, claiming the novelty of the machine makes it more conspicuous to other road users. They also have the advantage of an excellent view of the traffic from the drivers’ perspective.
A mirror is essential for a good view behind. The riding position makes them aerodynamic and quick – so long as the gradient isn’t against you. It also keeps the centre of gravity reassuringly low and allows you to get some ‘grunt’ behind the pedalling action.
Tricycles have the advantage of width, which can make them less vulnerable to close passes and certainly coerces the rider into taking the primary position on the road. That same width, though, limits opportunities for nipping through traffic and for that reason commuters might want to seek out quieter or traffic-free routes. Unfortunately, for any non-conventional bike design, there can be problems negotiating barriers and squeeze points on off-road cycle paths, so again, careful route choice is important. If you do find your progress restricted by poorly-designed infrastructure, make sure you raise it with your local authority.
Wheels for All, nationwide disability charity: cycling.org.uk/wheels-for-all
Tandem Club: www.tandem-club.org.uk
Highpath Engineering, for crank shortening or swing cranks: highpath.co.uk
Longstaff Cycles - tricycle specialists and bespoke adaptations: www.longstaffcycles.com
- UK Handcycling Association: www.handcycling.org.uk
Pashley bikes are so cool your bum might freeze to the saddle, and there’s no reason why tricycle riders should miss the party. The Picador has an upright ride with plenty of scope for saddle and bar height adjustment, belt-and-braces calliper and hub brakes and a parking brake as well. All three wheels are fully guarded, as is the chain which drives a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. The big back step is fitted with a wire carrying basket which holds 38 litres, and if that’s not enough you can fit a basket to the handlebar too.
Pashley Picador RRP: £745 | Cyclescheme price: £558.75*
Mission supplies a wide choice of trikes for all needs and this semi-recumbent model sits at the sporty end of the range. The low seat makes for a very stable riding position but the swept-back bar helps prevent that position from being too close to the horizontal. The seat is fully adjustable too. The semi-recumbent style keeps you low and out of the wind which makes for fast riding, augmented by the powerful pedalling position. Full mudguards and a basket come as standard, and the padded seat and self-levelling pedals with clips and straps can be fitted as extras.
Mission Semi-Recumbent Trike £810 | Cyclescheme Price £607.50*
The entry model in Dawes’ range of tandems, the Duet Twin is nevertheless well set out for commuting duties. The aluminium frame comes in two sizes. Mudguards and an aluminium rear rack are fitted as standard and the fork also has the necessary braze-ons for front luggage. The 26in (mountain bike size) wheels are fitted with tarmac-ready Kenda tyres. The lack of a drag or disc brake might tell on hilly rides when carrying heavy loads, but for the urban environment V-brakes are fine. The 21-speed derailleur transmission requires forward planning at junctions to prevent you becoming stranded in a high gear when the lights turn green.
Dawes Duet Twin £799.99 | Cyclescheme Price £599.99*
*=based on minimum savings of 25% inc End of Hire - many save more. Check your personal savings here.
You can now get bikes worth more than £1,000 through Cyclescheme. How about one of these super commuters?
Cyclescheme isn’t only a great way to get a new bike. It can also be used for accessories – and to improve the bike you’ve already got.
What’s the best way to alert other road users to your presence while cycling – bell, horn, whistle, voice? Here’s what you need to know.