How to open up cycling to disabled

Article by Laura Laker

If only there were more potential cycling customers out there… In fact, 33% of disabled people are keen on cycling. CI.N investigates the potentials and the newly revamped Guide to Inclusive Cycling with one of the leading charities in the sector…

There are two common myths about cycling: that it is only for the strong and fit, and that a standard two-wheeled bicycle is the only kind of cycle there is.

One organisation, disabled cycling charity Wheels for Wellbeing, has made it its mission to dispel those myths, with a new guide showing not only how more disabled people could cycle, given the right conditions – but how the cycling industry can help play a role.

According to research by Sustrans, 33% of disabled people would like to cycle, while cycling is easier than walking for three quarters of disabled cyclists – which means cycles are a mobility aid for many disabled riders.

Wheels for Wellbeing works on the premise people are disabled by society, not by their own limitations, and the Guide to Inclusive Cycling sets out how anything from infrastructure design to the use of imagery and language in marketing, and access to different cycles, can make cycling something that almost anyone can do, regardless of their ability.

The result of years of research, and now in its second edition, the Guide is thought to be the only report of its kind in the world. It was born out of a frustration that disabled cyclists were largely missing from the cycling debate – and a desire to change that.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “Our message is that in order for cycling to become truly a default mode of transport for the general population, we need to start by making it accessible to the people the furthest away from cycling.”

“I realised a few years ago that actually, nobody was talking about it. Literally, nobody was actually informing or educating the cycling world to the fact that disabled people do cycle and that disabled people encounter a lot of barriers to cycling.

“If those barriers were removed, which they can be, then many, many more disabled people could cycle, and experience the same benefits as everybody else.

“There is no manual out there – so we’ve just had to write it.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), one in five people in England and Wales have a disability. Disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to be inactive, and are more likely to rely on driving or being driven to get around.

While many people still think cycling is only for the able-bodied, including many disabled people themselves, research by Transport for London shows just how wrong that assumption is, with 12% of disabled people cycling regularly or occasionally, compared to 17% of non-disabled people.

Clement says many issues that impact disabled people also impact anyone who uses cargo bikes, whether to transport children or carrying goods for their business – including being unable to lift a cycle up a set of stairs, or dismount and push. Non-standard cycles also tend to be heavier, wider, longer and more expensive, taking up more space and needing more secure storage.

Cycles can come in many shapes and sizes, from regular bikes and e-Bikes to tricycles, or side-by-side tandems. As some disabilities are invisible to the casual observer, someone’s disability may be invisible while they are cycling, even if they struggle to walk.

Clement says bike shops can help encourage both disabled people and families to consider buying cargo bikes, or non-standard cycles, to replace some car trips, while also giving staff the skills and know how to repair those non-standard cycles. Bike shops can also advise people on the kinds of cycles available to them – with a little help.

Get Cycling CiC can offer advice to cycle shops on what kind of cycle or adaptation a disabled customer may need, from straps on pedals to help keep feet in place, to single brake levers that can operate both brakes at once.

Non-standard cycles can be expensive, with tricycles costing up to £3,000 – so having somewhere to try before you buy can be invaluable. While some towns and cities have inclusive cycling hubs where people can do just that, these are few and far between.

In London, Wheels for Wellbeing runs five sessions every week at its inclusive cycling hub, with a fleet of more than 200 cycles. Each year 1,200 disabled people use its hubs to ride anything from wheelchair cycles to recumbents and hand cycles.

Get Cycling can also assist in bringing cycle roadshows to a local area, where disabled people can try out different cycles close to home. Funds to run these can come from business sponsorship, local authority budgets, or fundraising events like sponsored cycle rides.

Imagery that includes disabled riders and non-standard cycles can help change perceptions.

Clement says: “If women never see themselves represented on cycling infrastructure and imagery, they don’t think it’s anything to do with them. It’s the same with disabled people. It’s the same with older people. It’s the same with kids and youngsters and teenagers.”

“Cycling is for all of us, not just disabled people. But if the cycling world learns from the experience of disabled people who cycle we will then be able to move to fully inclusive infrastructure, fully inclusive facilities and the recognition that everybody cycles.”

“If we want to solve huge health issues, like congestion and pollution, but also lack of physical activity, etc, for the majority, not just for the few, then we need to be thinking beyond the bicycle.”

Thanks to Wheels for Wellbeing’s first Guide to Inclusive Cycling, Trinity College in Dublin opened a world first in June, dedicated cycle parking for a disabled staff member who cycles. Wheels for Wellbeing is also helping Sustrans shape the transformation of the National Cycle Network by providing advice on removal of barriers on paths, which can prevent and the design of new infrastructure. The charity also gives advice on how best to reroute cycle tracks during roadworks, to avoid disadvantaging people on nonstandard cycles with steep cambers or narrow lanes, for example.


Wheels for Wellbeing offers advice for people looking to fundraise for an inclusive cycle at ( You can also call 020 7346 8482; email; or visit 336 Brixton Rd, London, SW9 7AA.

Get Cycling CiC can also help:

For advice on disabled cycling email, or call 01904 636812.

The Green Commute Initiative provides a similar service to the cycle to work scheme, but with a focus on e-bikes. Find them at:

There’s a database of disabled cycling groups nationwide at:; Wheels for Wellbeing has a fleet of more than 200 inclusive cycles to try out in South London:

The Guide can be accessed at

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