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A man on a low handbike smiles with his arms out in the middle of the road

The Best Adaptive Bicycles for Different Disabilities

Choosing between adaptive bicycles can be overwhelming. There are so many different options, and certain bikes work better for certain disabilities than others. 

In Chile, the place where Wheel the World began, we run a program called Santiago Cycling. Every Sunday morning, the city of Santiago closes important streets down to cars so that people can walk or cycle. Santiago Cycling offers people with disabilities the opportunity to come out and rent these bikes for free. It’s a chance to make physical activity more widely available to people with disabilities, create community, and show that people with disabilities can recreate without limits! 

We’ve listed the bikes that we use in Santiago Cycling here, along with a description of each adaptive bicycle’s features, to give you some guidance when deciding which adaptive bicycle is the best fit for you.

Force Handcycle

The Force Handcycle is created for people that have mobility in their upper extremities. The user sits in the chair that is supported by two wheels in the back and one in the front, using their hands to pedal forward. It features an adjustable seat, cable-driven gear shifts, and a parking brake. With traditional disk brakes that are operated by pressure from the handles, the user must be able to squeeze the brake with their hands. In our cycling program, these bikes are most frequently used by people with paraplegia or amputations.

A man pedals a handbike up the street. In the background, a mother and child rollerblade past, a runner approaches, and a woman rests on her bike.
A cyclist rides the Force Handcycle during Santiago Cycling

XLT Handcycle

Another three-wheeled handbike, the XLT Handcycle is an option for users who may have some reduced mobility in their hands. Its adjustable, slightly reclined seat is supported by a lightweight aluminum frame, and it has 7 speeds. The bike’s brakes are activated by pedaling backwards, so movement in the hands is not necessary to brake. This bike also has certain modifications, like gloves that can be used to remove the necessity to pedal with pressure, or a quad shift twister, that allows people with hand impairments to shift gears using their quads. The XLT Handcycle can also be connected to a Trike bicycle to create a form of tandem bike, where the user on the Trike can provide assistance on surfaces that may be more challenging for the user on the XLT Handcycle.

A man sits on a reclined handbike as he pedals up a paved road.
A man rides the XLT Handcycle

XCL Handcycle

The XCL Handcycle is very similar to the XLT Handcycle. The main difference is that the user sits upright in the XCL Handcycle instead of reclined. The brakes are operated by pedaling backwards, and the bike has 7 speeds. First time participants in our cycling program tend to use this bike, as it is similar to a wheelchair with an extra wheel in front. It’s a great option for those who are just getting familiar with handbikes.

A man sits on an upright handbike with Santiago buildings in the background.
A Santiago Cycling participant tests out the XCL Handcylce

Trike

The Trike is a bicycle where the user is seated with their back well supported. These bikes are good options for users with general reduced mobility. People who have hemiplegia, reduced coordination, or muscular dystrophy often use these bicycles.

Two men, one on a handbike and the other on the trike
The Trike and XLT Handcycle Tandem

Freedom Concepts Tandem Bike

The Freedom Concepts Tandem is a tandem bicycle often used by kids with disabilities and a friend or family member. The bike has three wheels, two in the back and one in the front. The user in the back seat controls the pedals and steering, and the front seat pedals can be turned on and off, so that the user in the front seat can choose whether to pedal or not. 

Two people sit on a tandem bike. A woman sits on the back seat that steers, and a child sits in the front with a helmet.
Cyclists take the Freedom Concepts Tandem Bike out for a spin

Double Tandem Bike for Visual Impairments

This type of bike is a tandem bike used by people who have a visual impairment, with a companion. It’s very similar to a conventional bike, only it has two seats. The person seated in the front steers and pedals the bike, while the person seated behind (usually the person with a visual impairment) just focuses on pedaling. Both users must coordinate their movement to propel the bike forward.

Two women cycle together through the Chilean countryside on a tandem bike
Cyclists using the tandem bike

There are many adaptive bikes out there, these are just those that are part of our cycling program. If you have other recommendations, please share them in the comments! 

To learn more about Santiago Cycling, click here

An aerial shot group of around thirty people on bikes and in wheelchairs looking up smiling at the camera
The Santiago Cycling community

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