Transporting a wheelchair by bike

By Damian Haywood

Damian is a Labour councillor in Oxfordshire County Council

We all need to make little changes in the way we transport ourselves around Oxford. Our medieval city was not designed to cope with the amount of traffic currently on its roads. It is congested, causing significant problems with air pollution, parking and productivity.

We found that because I cycle to work, and my profoundly disabled son Matias uses home-to-school transport, our usual transport, an adapted van, was sitting on the drive at least five days a week and rarely used at the weekend. We therefore made a decision: let’s give it up, get an alternative and see if it works.

Finding a solution

cargo bike towing wheelchair outside Oxfam Superstore

We started by going online and looking at what options there are for transporting wheelchairs by bicycle. We sought advice from Wheels for All Oxford, a club that runs weekly inclusive cycling sessions at Horspath Athletics Track, and went along to test a couple of bikes. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything that was suitable. We wanted a set-up that could be used for everyday tasks (such as shopping) as well as for transporting Matias, so we ended-up looking at a bike trailer from the Cargo Bike Company.

The company is a one-man-band based in Derby. The owner, Ben, makes all cargo bikes to order. After a detailed conversation, we decided on a trailer in Matias’s colour: royal blue. In order to be able to pull Matias along, I sought advice from a bike courier company regarding the need for an e-bike. With Oxford’s inclines, the weight of Matias, me and his wheelchair, I decided to go with the most powerful pedal assist I could find. The result is that it pulls us along quite nicely and still gives me a bit of a workout if I want one.

How does it work?

The process of attaching the wheelchair took some getting used to, but now I find it quicker than securing it in a car. Cold and rain is more of an issue, but as the saying goes ‘there isn’t bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’, so Matias uses a poncho to keep him dry. The initial complete price of the bike and trailer was approximately £2.5k, but we have easily made that back in the two years we have been using it: no petrol, Vehicle Excise Duty, or additional costs.

Matias absolutely loves it: the wind in his hair, the joy of us trundling along. His excitement is palpable when he gets on the ‘chariot’. The public love it too.

We get smiles and waves daily from pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Many people admire it and ask for further information. We have loads of interest from tourists in the city, many conversations ending with them saying they will tell their friends and families across the world about it. We find it amusing that people in Tokyo are showing their friends photos of me and Matias on Broad Street.

Plenty of plus points

On a practical level it has made our many hospital visits much easier as we are no longer fighting with the morning traffic, or endlessly driving around looking for a parking space. We can usually park outside the front door. The trailer is also carbon neutral as it is only fuelled by my taste for bananas and the sun from our solar panels. As you would expect we only use it in and around Oxford, and have to find alternative transport options if we travel further afield. But due to our situation this is very infrequent and the bike and chariot serve our needs perfectly.

We understand this isn’t an option for everyone, but it works well for us as a family, and most importantly it makes Matias happy.

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