Handcycling is a popular sport for good reason.
It provides a freedom akin to the feeling of gliding and allows for distant exploration, from neighborhood rides to road trails. In addition, the combination of being outside, getting a cardiovascular workout and socializing with fellow cyclists, joggers and new friends you meet on a ride is a natural mood enhancer.
For your riding enjoyment, here are seven popular handcycle options:
1. Freedom Ryder FRH-1Q350X with BionX Power Assist
“When I found out the Freedom Ryder was designed for a quad and had the BionX system, I was sold,” says Jason Hall, 40, a C5-6 quad from Muskego, Wisconsin. He especially loves the BionX power assist system. “Being able to dial in the amount of assistance I want makes all the difference,” he says. “I was able to join my wife and kids and keep up at their speed and distance on the first day, instead of taking years to build up to that fitness level. And the more I ride, the less assist I need, so I’m getting a great workout and having a blast on every ride.”
In addition to exercise, Hall says being in a reclined position has loosened up the muscles in his hips and reduced his spasticity.
Factoids: Freedom Ryder offers seven models of handcycles starting at $2,995. The FRH-1Q350X includes quadgrips, shifters and braking, and a 350 watt BionX system. Suggested retail: $6,995; www.freedomryder.com.
2. Top End Excelerator
“I tried a variety of different handcycles at an adaptive sports day before deciding on a Top End Excelerator,” says Jim Lunny, 59, of Marietta, South Carolina. “I like the Excelerator because it is the same height as my wheelchair, so it is easy to transfer into. I really like riding it because it is a great workout and is really social on the trails. It is more like I’m just one of the bike riders rather than a guy in a wheelchair.” Lunny, a T12 para as a result of transverse myelitis, says his favorite riding area is an 18-mile system of bike trails converted from old railroad beds that have been paved over for riding.
A caution about riding the Excelerator — it has a high center of gravity, so you need to slow down below 15 mph for cornering to avoid tipping.
Factoids: The Excelerator comes stock with 7-speed internal hub, “pedal backwards” coaster brake and many custom options, including quad grips, brakes and shifters. Junior version is also available. Suggested retail: $2,295; www.topendwheelchair.com.
3. Nuke Off Road Handcycle
“When I’m riding with my friends or grandkids, I will ride the Nuke so I am in an upright position. That way I can look around, see and talk with them,” says James Watson, a C6-7 quad from Winfield, Kansas. Watson, 54, owns Quadgrips.com, which sells all types of adaptive grips.
Although he rides a Force RX for road cycling, “I like the Nuke because it enables a person with a higher-level injury to get out in tough terrain and wilderness,” says Watson. “The key is rear-wheel drive, which is where all the traction is needed in loose dirt and gravel. There are some great hiking trails along the river near my house, plus there is a local mountain biking park that I enjoy riding.” When Watson gets a chance, he goes on rides in places like the Tetons in Wyoming and the Colorado Rockies.
Quadgrips.com has set-ups that enable a quad to pedal, shift, and brake and can be used with a majority of handcycles. Most shifting is enabled by tapping a lever with the back of your hand. Applying pressure for one click makes it upshift, applying more pressure for two clicks makes a downshift, and multiple clicks will downshift multiple gears. Braking works with two options: Option one has a pin above and below the wrist, and moving your wrist against the pin applies the brake. Option two uses a single pin that stops with outward wrist pressure.
Factoids: Nuke Off Road Handcycle comes with 3.5-inch rear suspension and 16 speeds, with easy-to-switch gears for optimal riding. Suggested retail: $7,600. Also available with BionX power assist. Check out www.reactiveadaptations.com and www.quadgrips.com.
4. Rio Dragonfly
The Rio Dragonfly is an attachable handcycle-front-wheel-combination that quick connects to manual wheelchairs. Ed Barker, 73, has had a racing wheelchair, a recumbent handcycle, and even a hand crank bicycle in his 31 years as a T5-6 complete para. “All were great, but none as versatile as the Rio Dragonfly,” says the Carmel, California, native.
Barker purchased his first Dragonfly 10 years ago and he rarely leaves his apartment without it. “The increase in places I can easily go with the Dragonfly is incredible, and the speed with which I can get there is amazing,” says Barker. The highlight of his day is going for 10-mile rides along the ocean. “It’s great exercise, brightens my outlook on life and lowers my stress levels.”
A big plus for Barker is how the cranking motion preserves and balances the muscles in his shoulders, especially the pulling motion of the crank arms. “In terms of speed it does a really nice job of keeping up with most joggers and even some bicycles,” he says. Like other forms of upright handcycling, Barker cautions that high speed cornering and/or taking bumps at speed can cause the chair to tip.
Factoids: The Dragonfly has eight gears, built-in coaster brake and is adjustable for adult and junior size chairs. Suggested retail: $1,990; www.riomobility.com/en/.
5. Top End Force 3
“I mainly do social riding, and for that, the Top End Force 3 is perfect,” says Sam Bridgman, 24, of Tampa, Florida. “My previous handcycle was a recumbent three-wheeler that I pedaled with my feet, but my condition progressed, so I switched to the Force 3.”
The Force 3 is a recumbent handcycle with a seat back that can be adjusted in a more upright position for recreational riding or lower for a more aerodynamic position for racing, which makes it a great choice for both recreation and riders interested in taking a crack at the competitive aspect of the sport.
“I have my seat back adjusted low enough to be aerodynamic, but still upright enough to be social and talk with people while riding,” says Bridgman, who has Friedrich’s ataxia. “We have great bike trails right next to the water here in Tampa. I try and ride them right as the sun is coming up. It’s a great way to start the day. And if I get fast enough, I would love to try racing.”
Factoids: The Top End Force 3 features a 27-speed drive train and rapid fire shifter/brakes. Many options are available, including off-road knobby tires and BionX. Suggested retail: $2,995; www.topendwheelchair.com.
6. Top End Force RX Quad Elite
John Squires rides a Top End Force RX — a high performance recumbent bike designed with racing in mind — with Bike-on’s “Quad Elite package” that combines grips from Quadgrips.com and a Bike-On.com system for braking and shifting. “Our braking system enables you to apply the brake and back pedal. So, for instance, if you’re stuck on a steep section of a hill, you can brake, ratchet back to the power part of your stroke again and again to make it to an easier incline,” says Squires, who works for Bike-On.com.
Squires says many quads start out thinking they want to sit upright. He explains that without trunk support, a quad is going to be wobbly in an upright position, especially around corners. Most of the Quad Elite bikes he sells are Force RXs and Force 3s because, as a quad, lying back provides better balance and support. “As a C5-6 quad I raise my seat back up a bit, rather than lying flat because with my level of injury I don’t have triceps muscles, and can’t push the crank between the nine o’clock position and up over the top,” says Squires. “By lying back — but not way back — my body is supported, doesn’t wobble, and I’m high enough to get the crank from nine o’clock up over the top using my biceps.”
The latest option on the Quad Elite package, which Squires now rides, is the pro-shift kit, an electronic shifter that is set up to automatically shift based on a choice of speed, cadence, or heart rate. “It’s great because it automatically shifts when needed,” says Squires. “All a rider has to do is pedal, steer and brake. The shift kit keeps the gearing in the sweet spot.”
Squires has created a YouTube video series showing braking, shifting and other options on the Quad Elite package as well as additional videos, including a converted Hoyer lift that fits into the receiver of a trailer hitch for easy chair-to-bike transfers. To view videos, go to YouTube.com and type in Bike-On Quad Elite.
Factoids: Force RX or Force 3 Handcycle Package with Quad Elite package suggested retail: $5,395; www.bike-on.com.
7. For the Kids: HOC Zipper Kids Handcycle
Like most kids, Hunter Pochop, 10, likes cycling. However, Pochop, who has spina bifida, wasn’t able to really get into handcycling because the handcycle he had didn’t fit him correctly. That changed last year when Pochop, who lives in Vista, California, went with his family to an Athletes Helping Athletes event in San Diego. The non-profit organization has an adaptive biking program for kids that provides grants for people 18 and under to purchase adaptive bikes, and had just received a bunch of new Zipper adjustable handcycles, designed for kids 3 feet tall and up, made by Hands on Concepts.
At the event Pochop hopped on a Zipper handcycle, had it properly fitted and adjusted and he was off. “He loved it — the adjustability on this bike is amazing, it fit him perfectly to a T, and it can be re-adjusted as he grows,” says Jacqueline, Pochops’s mom. The folks at Athletes Helping Athletes were so impressed with Pochops’s enthusiasm that they granted him the bike on the spot.
“I love riding it,” he says. “I ride around the neighborhood and on trails with my friends, and also ride at sports camp. My favorite thing about it is I can go really fast! Someday I want to get into racing.”
Factoids: The HOC Zipper features three-speeds, reverse pedal coaster brake and an adjustable fit. Suggested retail: $2,395; www.teamhoc.com.
• Athletes Helping Athletes, 888/566-5221; email@example.com, www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/content/content.jsp?contentId=2400098&vsg=2
• Bike-on.com, 888/424-5366; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bike-on.com
• BionX, www.ridebionx.com
• Freedom Ryder, 800/800-5828; www.freedomryder.com
• Hands On Concepts, 877/375-6257; email@example.com, www.teamhoc.com
• High Performance, 757/422-1912; www.handcycleracing.com
• Nuke, Reactive Adaptations, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.reactiveadaptations.com
• Dragonfly, Rio Mobility, email@example.com; www.riomobility.com/en/manualhandcycle/dragonfly-benefits.html
• Top End Force RX and Top End Force 3, Top End, www.topendwheelchair.com
• QuadGrips.com, 620/218-3133; www.quadgrips.com
A longer version of this article appeared in print under the title “Recreational Handcycling.” It can be viewed in its entirety at this link.