Beyond the Bicycle, with Wheels for Wellbeing

2 minute read

You don’t need two working legs to cycle. I learnt that on holiday last year in Alkmaar when a gentleman, probably in his eighties, whizzed past me on his bike – just as I noticed he had one metal, artificial leg. I was astounded and extremely impressed. Of course the Dutch, being the Dutch, didn’t bat an eye.

The misconception that cycling is just for the super sporty, able-bodied and young is something we need to get over as a society. Making cycling accessible and attractive for everyone means many more people can benefit and for those with a disability the benefits are even greater. It’s not just for fun as it enables mobility, independence and both physical and mental well-being. Some people can’t walk very far, or at all, but they can cycle miles – what freedom!

Wheels for Wellbeing is a charity who are determined to show that anyone can enjoy cycling, given the right equipment, support and environment. They provide cycling sessions for over 1000 people a year with a wide range of disabilities in south London thanks to their wide range of specialist cycling equipment. Their impact is much more far-reaching as they are considered the expert voice on disability cycling, provide guidance for purchasing specialist cycles, campaign to have cycles recognisable as disability aids and have published a world-leading Guide to Inclusive Cycling – aimed at local authorities but really for anyone.

Here’s a look at some of the kinds of adapted cycles they use in their sessions:

Hand Cycles

Who needs legs to cycle? A hand cycle is powered by… your hands. It may be clipped on to the front of a wheelchair and gives great freedom.

hand cycles

Adapted Bicycles

Standard bikes can be adapted for specific needs such as with grip aids and one-handed brakes.

adapted bicycles

Recumbent Tricycles

Sit back and enjoy. There is less pressure on the knees and hips and
Balance isn’t an issue.

Trikes/Tricycles

No need to worry about balancing. Trikes are gaining popularity for able-bodied cyclists too, particularly with the older generation. Did you see our blog with Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland on her trike at the grand age of 103 (actually today is her 104th birthday)?

Cycles Made for Two

A wheelchair tandem enables a rider to remain in their wheelchair. With a duet bike one rider can sit in the front and enjoy feeling the breeze – this is my absolute favourite photo with that look of joy on her face.

Duet cycling

Side by Side Cycles

Easy on your back and you can have a chat as you go along. One rider can steer whilst, for example, a visually impaired rider just pedals and gets to enjoy cycling.

side by side cycles

Been inspired? You will be even more so if you check out their video and hear from the cyclists themselves of the difference it makes to their lives.

Investing for All

The government is investing billions over the next few years in improving our cycling and walking infrastructure to get more people travelling in active ways. This is in a bid to address our climate emergency (transport is the greatest source of co2 in the UK), poor air quality (which kills nearly 40,000 annually in the UK), the devastating number of road casualties (on average 5 people every day), our obesity crisis and enable us to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19.  Effective investment will have a really big potential impact on improving the lives of those with disabilities and their families – so it is so important now more than ever to ensure their needs are addressed throughout.

Better for All

If engineers and planners involved in designing our infrastructure for cycling take into account the needs of disabled cyclists, it will improve design for everyone. Entrances into parks may have staggered metal barriers which are tricky for an adapted cycle to get around – if they are taken out to meet their accessibility needs it also makes it better for anyone else who comes along with an extra wide cycle, cargo bike, or even double buggy or mobility scooter.

barriers to cycling

Cycle Racks for All

Installing cycle racks? Don’t just think about traditional bicycles – ensure they cater for adapted cycles by including a low bar to lock to and enough ‘footprint’ space for their extra size – good for anyone with a cargo bike too.

If many people with disabilities are seen cycling, it is likely to draw many more people of all abilities to cycling as it quells that misconception of cycling being just for the super-sporty, able-bodied and young.

Meanwhile our Dutch friend, I hope, will have many more years spent happily cycling through the streets of Alkmaar.

I hope this has inspired those in a role developing fully-inclusive active travel initiatives. Please take a look at the Wheels for Wellbeing Guide to Inclusive Cycling and see how you can embed their principles in your role. 

We are a UK-based social enterprise promoting safe, active, sustainable everyday travel for all. We’ve been doing this for children for over 16 years under the name Brightkidz… and now the adults get a turn as we have just launched our Brightwayz side.

We offer an increasing range of products to support active travel campaigns. As an asset-locked business all profits are ploughed back and used to support our social aims. We look forward to providing many more useful blogs and resources to support the great work being done to engage more people in active travel.

Photo credits: Wheels for Wellbeing (@Wheels4Well), Samuel Shoesmith (metal barriers @samuelshoesmith)

Alison Holland

Alison Holland is a passionate advocate for walking and cycling for everyday journeys as well as for making places better for all. She has worked in the active travel sector for over 16 years as founder of Brightkidz social enterprise, now incorporating Brightwayz, providing resources and support for those working on active travel campaigns across the UK.

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