Please Note: this is intended as a helpful guide and whilst no guide can ever be absolutely definitive, I hope there is enough information with relevant links here to get you started and properly into your own research. If you think some key information is missing, or discover broken links, please get in touch and help me to help others.
Handbikes (or handcycles) are an excellent form of exercise. And while there is a fair degree of choice if you want to get into this great sport - for competition, adrenaline or for out and out enjoyable recreation & exercise - information in one place seems quite limited. Maybe it's because those enthusiasts who are experienced and knowledgeable are out there doing it rather than online writing about it!?
There is a certain amount of terminology to get to behind, as you'll find out from bike forums and google searches. It's all pretty easy, and as some of these machines are variants on Able Bodied (AB) trikes and recumbents, you find online resources for them useful in determining which might suit you best. Helpfully, there are some geeky people out there who get very into it.
Types of Handbike:
These clip onto your wheelchair and are less expensive than the full on handcycles. They can be good for scooting around and maybe giving you easier access for say, picnic-ing in a park with friends or for a day out (exhibition venues or shopping) but won't get you particularly off-road. There are quite a range to choose from and Team Hybrid, Molten Rock and Stricker are probably as good a starting place as any from which to expand your search if these are what you are after. You can get manual and battery operated cliip on handcycle versions which can be a helpful choice according to ability.
Above: example of a Clip on - Coyote Shimano 7 Manual Hancycle from Team Hybrid.
Interestingly, there is a new company called Armbike who have a clip on. Instead of cycling round and round with your hands, you push/pull the bar to get going.
Road Use & Racing:
If you want to feel the wind in your hair and race along roads, compete and feel the adrenaline of activity and exertion, then the links below are all options to consider. Models range from the carbon fibre, fully recumbent, racing handbikes
to the more upright and leisurely road handbikes:
These road handbikes are probably where there is most choice. There are a number of manufacturers in this sector and therefore cater to a wider range of technical demands and budgets. And in no particular order:
In the UK there are a number of suppliers. (If you know one not listed, please get in touch.) Again, no particular order:
Are you a seasoned handcyclist? Can you describe / list the differences between brands, their pros and cons, etc..? Contribute to this article! Please get in touch with your views, info and experience. And / Or add to our reviews page - details further down this article.
Cross Country, Off-Road & Touring:
If you aren't the racing snake type, but prefer getting off-road and muddy, There are a number of options for getting off the track, depending on how extreme you like to be.
I am a handcycler and enjoy the sport. A couple years ago, after preparing for a race (the 2009 Sadler's Ultra Challenge) and spending so much time training on the few paved roads and paths that would accommodate a racer, I got to looking at all the great off road trails that my mountain bike friends would ride and wished I could bike along with them. I knew of the One-Off, but it wasn't very comfortable for me personally, and I wasn't looking to get quite as extreme as a One-Off handcycle would allow. Basically, I wanted something comfortable, familiar, with a lot of ground clearance, and that I could ride off road or on road. With that in mind, I designed the ATH. Being a front wheel drive handbike I worried that it wouldn't be able to climb very well, but as it turns out it climbs great. It can't climb straight up the side of a mountain like a One-Off, but it can climb the hills on the kind of trails a mountain bike would ride on, which was the main purpose.
As part of the design, it was important to me to make the ATH as user friendly as possible, so I use as many off-the-shelf mountain bike components as I can. This means that the only component on the ATH that isn't a direct mountain bike part is the crank arms, though they are mostly made from a mountain bike crank. This allows the user to get their bike tuned-up at any bike shop. Also, the bike components on the ATH can be upgraded or changed for any other standard mountain bike component.
Above: Lashersport's All Terrain Handcycle (ATH) off the trail.
These One-Off Handcycles seem better documented than many others, with manufacturer and users creating clear videos documenting their use and capabilities. Andy Campbell's video (below) gives them a fantastic introduction:
It seems that a number of manufacturers set out making a handcrank variant of their own recumbent trikes (both deltas & tadpoles) but the market wasn't big enough and to make it worth their while they were having to sell them at such high prices it wasn't viable. This left Hase as the clear market leader in disability biking, and these German engineers seem to love their product and relish the problem of solving the issue of biking with any disability. Their Kettwiesels and Lepus are versatile and beautifully engineered.
The Hase Kettwiesel is such a versatile trike / handbike. It can be used individually or with a clever coupling attachment can be turned into a tandem - in fact you can add as many as you like in series! - and so is a wonderful way for couples or friends to go off together sharing the same activity in the same way, and there are the obvious benefits of combined power. AND the benefits of having separate chains and gearing means that each couple can find their own cadence and rhythm... so less opportunity for arguments - rather like SatNav in a car ending those navigation arguments!!
It's main disadvantage that I can find is that if you are wanting to tour, the loading is restricted. In theory you can put either the handcrank or AB version at the front, but in practice its better to have the handcrank. The reason for this is that the handcrank is very cleverly used for steering also. Because of the torque that could be applied when cycling along, if the handcrank is behind, there is a risk of damaging parts where the two are connected, unless you loosen off the steering capability. Easily done, but it means resetting each time you want to go solo. Depends whether you like fiddling and tweaking or not! With the handcrank at the front, the front panniers do not fit on the bike, meaning you can only use the excellent and specially made Ortlieb back on the rear trike and a trailer. How little kit can you take with you as a person with disabilities? Not impossible but, I would venture, not easy... I think the Greenspeed GTT might be a little better for load carrying.
That said, these are huge fun. And life suddenly becomes more accessible. Don't expect to climb hills fast, but then why would you want to? It's a tourer!
These are a superb piece of engineering. You both steer and cycle with the highly intuitive handcrank, and unlike so many the chain powers the rear wheels. so there is no loss of forward momentum if you are going uphill and need to turn. You can also take advantage of differentials for gravel and slippery mud.
From my own experience, I would recommend Oliver at London Recumbents for these Kettwiesels. Although they never set out to go into disability biking, their excellent relationship with Hase Bikes meant that they offered the handcrank bikes also. Product knowledge is key as these are expensive bits of kit and he sells enough of them and gives good aftersales care to know about them. Their website is rubbish! so don't rely on it for information. Telephone and book to see Oliver in Dulwich Park.
The Greenspeed Anura is another option for a delta trike, but there seems to be less availability(?) and information on it as a handcycle in the UK - would be grateful for any links... There seems to be less information available on these.
This is a fantastic way for couples and friends to get out and enjoy the same activity, in the same way, as each other. There are a couple of options.
As described above, you can choose a Kettwiesel and get a coupling device to link two together.
Or, if you want a rigid tandem designed for two then look at the Australian Greenspeed GTT (tandem tourer). Karen Darke took one of these to the Himalayas and describes the trip in her book If You Fall: It's a New Beginning.
There is a useful review by an American retailer - although this isn't for the handcrank. Greenspeed's own website seems to only offer information on the basic model and not mention handcranks - which is a little frustrating - but do a google image search and you soon come up with an impression of what it could be like to own and tour on your own GTT.
There is a fantastic image around, which shows its capabilities as a tourer, and combine that with Karen Darke's Himalayan trip with her own "green beast" (above) and it all gets pretty interesting...
Fourcross Downhill Mountain Biking:
If you haven't had enough of SCI and want some extreme action, have a look at Fourwheel Downhill Mountain Biking.
There are a number of forum threads on Apparelyzed.com (the Spinal Cord Injury forum) which provide comment, links and info on this sport and the R-ONE Fourcross Bike. The key difference with this bike to others is that it is gravity driven and not chain! So it needs a ride to get to the top of the hill before you hurtle downwards. Either a ski lift, car, quad bike or something else. This is for the adrenaline junkies who just can't get enough!
I recently received a question from a chap at Help 4 Heroes who was looking for a bike for a wounded soldier to ride in an Ironman competition. The soldier is a double amputee and blind, so after a little research, I came up with Hase's Handbike Pino Custom. Full marks to Hase for coming up with this one - see the image below. If anyone else knows of other handbike tandem combinations, please, please get in touch and tell me so I can update here!
And if you're looking for a turbo trainer to exercise, many of them require the bike to be fixed into the trainer - which can be very impractical for handbikes and their users. Draft have a Turbo Trainer which they call a Handcycle Roller and which doesn't need clipping in and gives the flexibility to change to an indoor plan at the last moment!
I'm listing the Berkel Bike here as I picked it up on a forum as being something that can have both handcrank and foot pedals on the same machine - making it good as a rehabilitation bike. It is a bit of a curiosity on this page but for the aforementioned fact alone deserves mention here. Maybe other readers would like to add further reviews, more information or the benefits...?
For more organisations, information and retailers for All Ability and Special Needs Cycling (i.e. the other varieties of adapted bikes and trikes other than specifically handcycles have a look at our other Info Page:
The Handcycling Association of the United Kingdom, better known as HandcyclingUK is the governing body for hand cycling in the UK. They aim to promote hand-cycling of all kinds from simple recreation rides with family and friends to full-scale international racing. Nearly all of their members have a disability which prevents the use of pedal bikes. They are going through a period of change (2011/12) and this can already be seen in the increase of information available and layout of their website. The new executive team seem motivated and keen to engage, making membership worthwhile.
Handcycling NI is another handcycling association website for Northern Ireland. Another one for links and a calendar of events, though could do with user information and reviews on the actual handbikes.
Wheel High was formed to provide off-road handcycling opportunities to disabled people. They have a One-Off handcycle available for use at Glenmore Lodge, the National Outdoor Centre, in the Cairngorms National Park. They also have a Greenspeed off-road handbike available for use at the nearby Badaguish Outdoor Centre, also located in the Glenmore Forest Park area.
Peak District Hand Cycle Hire - Follow this link, if you want to get out on some good National Park trails or try hiring a handcycle.
Cycleability is Cornwall's All Abilities Inclusive Cycling Club. For more information on who they are and what they do, click on the link (in blue) to go to their website. In conjunction with Cornwall Sports Partnership, they offer informartion, advice and events. Join in the fun..
And how about this local Austrian tourist office who have a whole Handbiking Routes information section marked out on their website: http://www.tyrol.com/handbike-routes
Velovision is an online magazine, mainly for mainstream biking, but which offers some excellent background and points on all manner of biking issues, including recumbents, which may be useful and fill some gaps.
And I am setting up this subpage (link below) to enable enthusiasts to leave reviews on their handcycles. Without you, it is pointless! Please email your reviews and help create a useful and dynamic resource for all to share.
Handbike Reviews --> http://disabledgear.com/pages/reviews
Discussions & Videos:
An excellent & clearly laid out information website offering practical advice and adpations called Cycling For All. Their Advice page just helped me answer someone's question about a Dropped Crank. Obvious really....!
theAndyCambell.com has some good advice and excellent videos. His commentary is incisive and clear and he really talks from a personal viewpoint of enjoying getting back out after an SCI. He also does a load of other sports and I recommend his website.
You can find useful discussions and threads on Apparelyzed.com which have comment, video and more. And while this link takes you to one thread, use the search function with keywords "handbike" or "handbiking" or "handcycle" or "handcycling" to find more.
www.bentrideronline.com is a useful resource. Although a mainstream site, it's good for getting to grips with many biking issues, especially if you're looking at recumbent trikes rather than the more specialised machines available solely for biking with disabilities.
Want to find out where are the cycle routes in an area? The Sustrans Website offers information and mapping and is easy to use. Worth a visit to get more out of your handbike.
If you can't get enough of climbing challenges, then all the peaks and cols that you could ever want or need are at www.climbbybike.com.
One obvious question is: if you want to bike to a pub for lunch, what do you do with your chair to be self-sufficient? A canny chap from NZ has come up with the only clever solution that we know of: Wheelchair Buddies. Haven't found anyone who stocks them in the UK yet, but if London Recumbents don't, maybe we'll try..!
Buying and Selling Handbikes:
In the UK there are plenty of outlets and distributors for these bikes. Be advised to ring round and get as much information as you can before committing your money. And if you can wait for a show such as the Mobility Roadshow or Naidex, you may find you can pick up a show deal. Ultimately, if you are new to all of this, you will probably need excellent after-sales service for all those questions that arise out of use rather than theory! So don't be shy, ask them about what support they will offer if things need tweaking after you've taken delivery of your new handbike.
If you are looking to buy a second-hand hand-bike / handcycle then have a look through DisabledGear.com's own pages, and if you can't find what you are looking for then stick up a WANTED listing.
Also try the Wanted Section of disability forums such as Apparelyzed.com and the SIA (I have an SCI bias because of my own situation, but if you think your own disability forum should be listed, please get in touch. Handbike Scotland also carry listings for 2nd hand handbikes. And of course, you can always try eBay.