Two common myths about cycling

Two common myths about cycling

By Steve Unwin

What image comes up when you think: ‘bicycle’? Something with two wheels, a saddle and handlebars? Think again.

There are two common myths about cycling:

  1. Cycling is only for the fit and strong
  2. The standard two-wheel bicycle is the only type of cycle

These are views widely held by those who have not observed others enjoying cycling (especially people with disabilities) and those that are also unaware of the wide range of non-standard cycles that are available.

People’s abilities and disabilities vary enormously, so it is difficult to generalise about what suits a particular person or group of people. However, for many disabled people, cycling can be easier than walking. Practical barriers to cycling they might experience with a standard two-wheel bicycle can, in many cases, be overcome by choosing the right type of cycle with the right kind of adaptations. A cycle is a very effective mobility aid both for able-bodied people but, even more so, for those with disabilities.

There are many different types of cycle available for people with different needs and different challenges. As well as two-wheel cycles, there are tricycles (some with 2 wheels at the back, others with two wheels at the front), in-line tandems, side-by-side tandems, recumbent cycles, hand cycles, attachments that turn wheelchairs into hand cycles, wheelchair transporters, rickshaws and, of course, electric-assist cycles.

Adaptations can be simple or complex. Examples include: toe clips or foot plates to help keep people’s feet on the pedals, special mitts to hold people’s hands on the handlebars, step-through frames to make it easer to get on and off the cycle, adult stabiliser wheels, wide supportive saddles or, in some cases, seats, body supports (such as back rests and arm rests).

Some disabled people are heavily reliant on cars or public transport, but many others would be able to cycle if they had access to the appropriate type of bike and if the roads and cycling infrastructure were designed so that they could cycle safely. Sustrans estimate that the vast majority of disabled people living in the UK’s biggest cities never cycle for local journeys, yet one third say they would like to cycle. Disabled and elderly people have the most to gain from cycling becoming a safer form of active transport: facing many barriers, they exercise the least, and have a greater risk of additional health complications.

Inaccessible cycling infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to cycling: many people are currently excluded from cycling, not because they are physically unable to ride a bike (or other form of cycle), but because the road conditions are suitable only for the fit and the brave.

Creating wide cycle tracks, segregating them from motor traffic, removing barriers that cannot be negotiated by non-standard cycles and reducing the volume of traffic would give more opportunities for many more people to choose and participate in active travel, including many disabled people. In the Netherlands, inclusive infrastructure enables 16% of all trips by physically impaired people to be pedal powered, and people aged 65 to 75 cycle more than any other adult group.

Wheels for All – Oxford provide inclusive cycling facilities in a safe and supportive environment at the athletics track on Horspath Road in (pre-booked) hourly sessions every Friday morning. They have a wide range of two, three and four wheeled cycles and a variety of adaptations so they can help people with a wide variety of needs enjoy cycling.


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