West Lothian Cycle Circuit: a key asset for people with disabilities

West Lothian Cycle Circuit Volunteer Ken Talbot photographed by Anthony Robson

Handcycles help disabled people find freedom, Ken Talbot, a cycle circuit volunteer, explains why our project will boost all ability cycling.

Handcycling – Many people who try handcycling say it’s freedom. As I like to say: For a disabled person; you can go further, faster, and easier than any other means.

But what is handcycling? It’s simply a variation on cycling that allows someone with a lower limb impairment to still cycle.

Don’t have full use of your legs? Then why miss out on cycling?

Handcycling is suitable for people with a diverse range of disabilities including; amputees, persons with spinal injuries, chronic pain, brain injuries and neurological conditions, arthritis, balance impairment, and more.

Handcycles typically utilise a variety of recumbent riding styles though there are kneeling styles as well, so a wide range of disabilities can be accommodated. Bikes can be equipped for fairly simple disabilities all the way up to teta/ quadriplegics.

Much like their upright counterparts, handcycles are made for both road riding, racing, touring, and mountain biking and there are electric assist options as well. No matter what you’re interest or background in cycling, there’s probably a handcycling option for you.

So what’s it like to ride a handcycle? In this writer’s opinion: AMAZING!

Like many, the first time I rode a handcycle I found it was freedom; I was able to do so much more than I’d been able to do before and with much less effort; and this was after about seven years of a sedentary lifestyle after my accident. As my disability has progressed, that sense of freedom has become even more prominent as well.

In the many years that I’ve been coaching, of all the people I’ve introduced to handcycling, I’ve never had a person come of a bike who hasn’t had a huge smile on their face and said they really enjoyed it. Personally, I’ve always loved cycling from the days I rode uprights, and even more so as a handcyclist because of the freedom that it brings.

Yes, handcycling can be challenging at times, as you’re using much smaller muscles to do the same work that our upright counterparts are doing, but this just means that the rewards are bigger. Just as handcycling can be challenging, it’s also quite easy and enjoyable.

As most handcycles are low to the ground, your sense of speed is quite high so you feel like you’re doing more than you are. The recumbent position makes the bikes very aerodynamic which balances out the reduction in power available.

The bikes are equipped with mountain bike drivetrains with quite low gears so climbing hills can be easier than expected. And cruising can be incredibly enjoyable as well the comfortable recumbent position and the stability that a trike provides.

The best part though is that there is an ever going population of handcyclists out there and riding opportunities are increasing day by day.

The cycle circuit: a key asset

A cycle circuit such as the West Lothian Cycle Circuit currently under development can be a key asset in getting people involved in handcycling. By providing a flat, traffic-free riding area new handcyclists can be afforded a safe and comfortable place to learn how to ride.

Without the immediacy of traffic, new riders can develop the strength and skills needed to then take their riding further afield. For some disabled individuals, handcycling will be the first time they’ve ever been on a bike and there will be a lot to learn, and for others they will be learning a whole new way to ride. Combined with the complications that many disabilities bring, a traffic-free circuit allows riders to focus on success over all other things, and progress, step-wise, into more complicated riding environments.

Beyond the beginnings, the West Lothian Cycle Circuit can provide a central location for many people to gather from a wider area to ride and socialise, possibly compete in racing events, and even for some this will be their sole riding environment if they’re not comfortable or able to ride on the roads.

Ultimately, the combination of handcycling and the West Lothian Cycle Circuit is a great way to start, or get back into cycling for anyone with a lower limb impairment. And, the great thing about handcycling is that: Whether you’ve never had “proper” use of your legs, or whether you’ve had a mid-life event causing that, all the fun, fitness, and friendship that comes with cycling can still be had by you, just in a different way.

Ken Talbot photographed by Anthony Robson

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