Rain, sleet, snow, or hail … it seems that no matter the weather, you can always see a cyclist biking for pleasure, on an errand, or keeping fit. The love of bike riding is rapidly growing across nearly every demographic. Cycling has always been a great way to enjoy the outdoors, socialize with fellow bikers, and is a great low-impact way to get a cardio-vascular workout while improving strength, balance, and coordination.

If you haven’t embraced the sport of cycling, what are you waiting for? Your first question may be how do I choose a bike – should I go for a handcycle, a two-wheeler, a recumbent or riding in tandem?  In general, handcycles are used by those without the use of their lower limbs, recumbent bicycles are used by those with balance issues, and tandem cycles are ridden by those with visual impairments and others needing assistance pedaling.  Leg amputees may ride a traditional upright bike using their prosthesis and a clip-in pedal or choose to forgo the prosthesis and pedal solely with the non-injured leg.

Choosing the Right Bike

Seeking out advice from adaptive cycling organizations or Move United Member Organization that offer cycling can help you choose what is best for your needs.

There are different bikes for different abilities:

  • Handcycles, popular among riders with lower-limb mobility impairments, allow cyclists to propel a three-wheeled cycle using their arms.
  • Tandem bikes come in a variety of setups, with the most common being a two-wheeled bike with a guide in the front.
  • Four-wheeled dual recumbents keep riders in a relaxed, seated position and are best for lower-extremity cycling.
  • A side-by-side tandem tricycle allows two people to cycle simultaneously or at different rates.Cycling
  • Recumbent cycles that have three wheels and are lower to the ground creates a lower center of balance.
  • A recumbent foot cycle comes in a tadpole style, one wheel in back and two in front. The tadpole style is better for balancing.
  • A recumbent foot cycle also comes in a delta style. The delta style has two wheels in the back and one in the front.
  • One style of recumbent handcycle sits up higher and looks similar to a wheelchair and sits higher off the ground. This cycle is much easier to transfer to and would be used for someone who has less mobility.
  • There are also handcycles much lower to the ground that are more efficient and for competitive cycling.

Recumbent handcycles are used for people who have no or limited use in their lower body, SCI, CP, MS, Spina Bifida, amputee, etc. Recumbent foot cycles are used for people who may need more balance, TBI, CP, stroke, autism, limited fine/gross motor skills, brain tumor, neurological back injury, etc.

Visually-impaired cyclists don’t have to miss out on the fun either.

“Some people with visual impairment ride a two-wheeled bike with a guide in front and might use radios. Some choose to ride a tandem recumbent cycle because it is easier to balance. This is set up with two tandem cycles; the guide in front and the participant in the back. The participant is the pedal power,” said Deb Maxfield, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation. “It really depends on the person and how much sight they have.”

Bart Center Director Joe Hurley offers these tips for finding the bike.

“I think that a question to be asked is What type of riding do you want to do? Road, bike paths, dirt roads, or mountain biking. Once you answer that question it might help you decide on what type of bike you want.”

Finding the Right Fit for Stand-Up Bikes

“I would start Cyclingwith the general rule of standing over the top tube and making sure that there is about an inch or so of clearance. You do not want a bike that is too small or too big. If you are looking at a regular bike I recommend to go to a bike shop and have them do a fit. It makes all the difference in comfort and performance,” said Hurley.


Mounting and Dismounting

Getting on and off a two-wheeler is not much different than how an able-bodied person does it. If it is a handcycle or a recumbent, a user may need to learn how to transfer.

“If it is a recumbent cycle, you can use the boom to hold on to and balance and push up from when getting off. If it is a recumbent cycle you can also walk backwards with the boom in-between your legs and sit down; if you are unable to lift your leg over the boom, you can also use other people to help,” Maxfield said.

Tweaking Your Ride as an Amputee

As an amputee, you may need to make some slight modifications to your bike.

“For a single-leg amputee, remove the crank arms on the side of the loss of limb,” recommended Hurley. “For an arm amputee, set up the handlebars so the shifters and brake levers are on the side that the person has use of the hand. I would think about removing the front brake for a person that uses the controls on one side. This might help them from going over the handle bar when making a quick stop.”

Ride Safely and Comfortably

cycling-2Clothing, food, water and safety are elements of being comfortable while riding. Clothing includes a helmet, cycling gloves, eye protection and, if you are riding a regular bike, padded cycling shorts. A wicking shirt or a cycling shirt contains pockets for snacks and energy bars, and a cell phone.

Don’t forget to bring water to keep hydrated. Bottle cages attached to the bike frame make it easy to drink on the go.

“If you have a bike path in the area I strongly recommend using it,” Hurley said. “If you ride on the road I recommend to ride single file, know the laws in your area and always, even on a bike path, ride with a friend.”

New riders are advised to attend a clinic or program with their local Move United Member Organization. Some Parks and Recreation Departments also provide adaptive equipment and instructions. Riders who wear a prosthesis or orthosis may want to verify with their practitioner that their prostheses or orthoses are in good shape for vigorous activities and protected from any harmful effects of water, sand, and sun.

Cycling Instructor Training and Development

In 2013, Move United brought together representatives from leading adaptive cycling programs nationwide, to develop an adaptive recreational cycling manual, which is consistent with Paralympic and USA Cycling standards. Since then, Move United Member Organization Northeast Passage, has spearheaded its completion, featuring contributions from nationally recognized coaches and organizations.  The manual aims to provide community organizations and therapeutic recreation programs with an easy to reference guide on all forms of adaptive cycling, including off-road, tandem, handcycling and more.  The first version of the manual will be distributed to attendees at the Adapt2Achieve:Cycling conference taking place May 12-15 in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit

This project was funded by a grant from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.