A handcycle is a human powered land vehicle ideal for people with spinal cord injuries and paralysis as they are propelled by hand cranking pedals rather than using the feet or legs. Most handcycles are tricycle in form, with two coasting rear wheels and one steerable powered front wheel. Utilizing modern technology manufacturers have designed specialized handcycles for athletes competing in professional sporting competitions. While standard general use handcycles are becoming more prevalent on our bikeways footpaths and streets.
Fork Steer Handcycles
Fork steer handcycles represent the majority of handcycles sold in modern countries. They work well for both low and high levels of spinal cord injury and paralysis. Most offer adjustable footrests, seat angle, variety of gearing, wheel configurations and tyre types depending on intended use: racing, recreation, touring, and off road being the four major handcycle activites.
Lean Steer Handcycles
Lean steer handcycles are operated by the rider shifting their body weight to one side, leaning into a turn to steer. Being less stable at high speed it takes practice to master this type of racing handcycle. As the lean steer system uses your whole body to steer the handcycle, lean steer handcycles are best suited for paraplegic athletes with lower levels of spinal cord injury, although some quadriplegics with high levels of disability can use them.
Another type of lean steer hand trike has two steering rear wheels and one non-steerable, powered front wheel with handholds offset at 180°, similar to bicycle pedal cranks that can be operated with only one hand. The automatic rear wheel steering system enables these type of lean steer handcycles to perform tighter turns.
Handcycles are also used for touring and to better accommodate this interest some manufacturers incorporate mudguards, pannier cargo racks and windshields. As touring handcycles have evolved they have become progressively lighter often with wheelchair or bicycle type wheels and better gearing for long climbs and long distance touring to overcome muscle fatigue.
Off Road 4X4 Handcycles
Off road handcycles are quickly gaining in popularity amongst adventurous wheelchair thrill seekers with spinal cord injury. 4×4 off road or “all terrain” handcycles are often distinguished by four wheels, like a go-kart. Mountain climbing wheelchairs and handcycles are also distinctive with two wheels in front and one behind. These both have a higher gear ratio range to tackle steep slopes and sturdy construction to endure mountain biking. Their fatter tyres with suitable tread also make pushing over grass, snow, sand, mud and gravel easier.
Handcycles come in a variety of accessible styles for people of all abilities including many persons with spinal cord injury disabilities. Handcycling is a great upper body workout and can provide a great sense of freedom for persons with disabilities. While the high cost prevents many from enjoying handcycles they are steadily growing in popularity.