Adaptive Biking Guide

Blog: Adaptive Bikes 2023

Biking is a wonderful way to improve health and fitness, an environmentally sustainable means of transportation and a beautiful way to enjoy the great outdoors. Adaptive bicycling enables bikers of varying abilities to reap all these benefits.

According to the folks at bike designer and manufacturer RAD Innovations, “adaptive cycles are bikes that are modified to fit the needs of an individual rider. We all have different abilities and challenges, and there are a wide variety of ways that a bicycle or tricycle can be modified to make cycling possible (and fun!) for anyone.”

With that said, here are some of the most popular types of adaptive cycles:

Hand Cycles
Hand cycling is the way to go for individuals with lower limb mobility challenges. “They can be as simple as a clip-on front wheel and hand-propelled drivetrain, which attaches to your everyday wheelchair or a separate handcycle,” according BikeRadar, an expert on all things bicycle. Since arms aren’t as strong as legs, BikeRadar advises hand cyclers to make sure their setup includes the appropriate wheel size and gear ratios. It’s also important to choose a seat type and position that provides the right kind of trunk support and pedal height for your body. Recumbent hand cycles sit higher than other types of hand cycles which makes it easier to transfer on and off.

Adult Tricycles
Adult trikes aren’t just for people with disabilities, though neurodiverse individuals may prefer the comfort and stability that a trike provides riders. Adult trikes come in two types: delta trikes, which are designed with one wheel in front and two in the back and are the most popular choice; and tadpole trikes, with two wheels in front. Many prefer tadpole trikes as they feel they are generally more stable and easier to handle. Tadpoles are also recommended for people with visual impairments.

Tandem Bicycles
Tandem bikes are built to accommodate two riders at once. Most of these are designed for one rider in front and one in back: the “captain” in front who controls steering, and the “stoker” in back who helps with the pedaling.  But there are also tandem bikes that seat riders side by side, and tandems where the person who steers sits in the back and the pedaling helper sits up front. If balance is a concern, tandem bikes also come with back tricycle wheels. These bikes are ideal for people with visual or cognitive impairment.

Recumbent Bicycles
These bikes are appropriate for anyone who feels more comfortable riding in the recumbent position. They are especially popular with neurodiverse individuals and those with back and balance issues.

In recent years, e-bikes (or electric bikes) have become an excellent option for those who lack the strength and staying power to rely strictly on their own pedal power.

Anyone who has investigated purchasing an adaptive bicycle knows they can be quite expensive. Depending on which type of bike you purchase, adaptive cycles can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. If that’s not in your budget, don’t despair. With a bit of research, you may be able to find more affordable options. For example, adaptive sports organizations in your area may run adaptive biking groups where bikes are available for loan, rent or a reasonable membership fee. Adaptive bike rentals are also available at some parks bike trails, bike stores, or through city bike sharing programs. Some nonprofits such as Charlie’s Champs, and the Adaptive Cycling Foundation and Cycling Without Age also supply adapted bicycles for riders with disabilities.