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How Do We Include Disabled Cyclists?

June 20, 2017

Last week, my charity Wheels for Wellbeing published the results of a national survey of disabled cyclists which is, to our knowledge, the first of its kind. The results largely confirmed our suspicions, including that disabled cyclists – though part of our cycling culture – remain excluded from it in a number of ways.

In particular, the results are an endorsement of our flagship campaign seeking recognition for cycles as a mobility aid. In most people’s minds, a mobility aid is a wheelchair, a mobility scooter or a guide dog – but our survey confirms that many people also use bicycles.

In fact, the majority of disabled cyclists (69% of our survey group) find cycling easier than walking and many use their cycle as a mobility aid. Cycling reduces strain on the joints, aids balance and alleviates breathing difficulties – but cycles are not legally recognised in the same way as wheelchairs or mobility scooters.

As a result of this legislative oversight, disabled cyclists regularly encounter difficulties. For instance, our survey revealed that one in three disabled cyclists have been asked to dismount and walk their cycle, even though they were using it as a mobility aid. Typically, such situations occur on footways or in pedestrianised areas, such as train concourses, where mobility scooters are readily permitted but cycles and cycling are not.

Phil, who is 60 and originally from Preston, says: “I use my bike as a sort of rolling walking stick when I walk and I can cycle very long distances without pain. I therefore class my bike as a mobility aid. However, it is very difficult to have this recognised in certain situations – for example in parks or other large outdoor venues. All they see is a bike. It would be so easy to modify a ‘no bikes’ rule to say ‘unless used as a mobility aid’.”

A similar problem also arises when using public transport. As one survey respondent lamented: “I would love to be able to go to places like Lea Valley … but can’t take my trike on the train as it is not viewed as a mobility aid, as a mobility scooter would be.”

It is interesting to note that a further 11% of disabled cyclists said they had been allowed to cycle in a pedestrianised area once they’d explained that their cycle was their mobility aid, suggesting a variation in police and local authority understanding on the issue.

Though the mobility aid concept is clearly an important issue, disabled cyclists said inaccessible cycling infrastructure was the biggest difficulty they face. This is usually down to narrow cycle lanes, bollards and anti-motorcycle barriers that restrict or deny access to non-standard cycles such as handcycles, tricycles and tandems.

The cost of non-standard cycles also featured high on the list of disabled cyclists’ grievances, with a significant number suggesting that the introduction of subsidies would help them to find the right kind of cycle.

Disabled cyclists who responded to the survey were most likely to be middle-aged, tended to cycle regularly (most likely weekly or daily) and cycled mainly for leisure or fun. One statistic that may come as a surprise to many was that 40% of disabled cyclists own a standard two-wheeled bicycle. A further 18% said that they own a cycle that uses electric assistance.

The results of our survey challenge some widely held assumptions about disabled people and cycling, and highlight a need to carry out more research. For too long disabled cyclists have been neglected in cycling culture. It’s time for the cycling world to look beyond the bicycle.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2017 3:50 pm

    There are many cyclists with disabilities that act & look like any other cyclist until they get off the bike. I used to be one until the son borrowed the bike and smashed it up.

  2. Lizzie permalink
    June 20, 2017 4:29 pm

    Part of the problem is large pedestrianised areas, too far from car parks or roads for those with limited mobility . Whilst as a wheelchair user I accept non conventional objects can help those with mobility difficulties get around, for example smaller supermarket trolleys, etc there does have to be rules otherwise everyone could claim they are disabled when they whizz past on bikes knocking us down. 2 wheeled Cyclists have always been banned from normal pavements what ever their age or ability.according to the highway code. Mobility scooters should not do more than 4mph on pavements, and larger ones are not accomodated on trains or buses. All mobility aids have limitations.
    If you can ride a normal or electric bike, you are unlikely to have the degree of mobility impairment of most wheelchair users have, most have no choice about how they can get around, It does require a certain degree of balance and leg power to stay on a 2 wheeled cycle. Special trikes or hand cycles may be seen as a disability aid, My car definitly helps me get around, but it doesn’t help me in large pedestrianised areas, too far for me to self propel a manual wheelchair, and too far for many slightly less impaired to walk round. Town and city centres should not be pedestrianised! They prevent many of us from even getting near, banks, shops, opticians, hairdressers etc. There are no easy answers. There are many places I would love to go but can’t For some reason some other disabled or impaired people think life in a wheelchair is easy, that everywhere is accessible, and that we can use buses and trains normally like other passengers. Many wheelchair users also have other hidden impairments, and our lack of useable legs is the least of our long term worries!
    Food for thought!

  3. June 20, 2017 11:40 pm

    my son uses an electric bike . the cost of repairs is far from good. we have lost count of the near misses hes survived when car drivers have not been looking and almost knocked him flying. today it finally happened. a 4 wheel drive car knocked him off. he was fine and at the tgime it looked like the bike was fine so no details were givemn for insurance purposes. however it didnt take him long to realise his front wheel had in fact been buckled slightly. more than would render the bike safe anyway, so now hes grounded yet again until he can find either £30 plus or a 2nd hand wheel from someone whose giving or throwing one away. his ESA money doesnt stetch to this sort of thing. he uses his bike to get to see me or is sister, or to get to local shops. its not always the cyclists fault.thats why there was that campaign which says think bike.( thats not just motorbikes. but ANY bike. )

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