Just starting out the most important thing to know about handcycling is where and how to use the brake. The most common complaint is the hand pedals hitting the legs while turning – to avoid this you should coast with the pedals in the “up” position.

The chain falling off is often times caused by not knowing when or how to change gears. To avoid this don’t leave the upper chain in the largest ring (most difficult) and the easiest gear on the bottom.


Handcycling began in the 1980’s as a recreational sport. Originally the arm powered bike was not intended for someone with a disability. Nonetheless, the development has made it possible for all individuals of all abilities to experience the joy of cycling.

The first appearance in the Paralympic games was in 2004 in Athens, Greece. The first world championships were held in 1998. The IPC cycling program included hand cycling in 1998 originally formed under the name “United States Handcycling Federation” known as USHF. The organization is dedicated to creating opportunities for wheelchair athletes as well as integrating cyclists of all abilities.

The US Handcycling was created as the national governing body under Wheelchair Sports, USA (WSUSA) in 1998. At that same time US Hand cycling established themselves as a non-profit organization with headquarters in Colorado.

Working in conjunction with the WSUSA, Disabled Sports USA, and US Association of Blind Athletes a series of national events were created to find hand cyclists. With such immediate success more than 20 IPC hand cycling medals have been handed out between 1998 through 2002.

In 2002 US Paralympics was created and in turn this new structure included hand cyclists. At present the work continues to integrate opportunities for cyclists with several organizations throughout the country. These groups include cycling clubs, parks and recreation groups to Disabled Sports USA chapters.

In the United States Handcycle Racing is governed by the United States Handcycle Federation and USA Cycling. Races are integrated with able bodied bicycle racing. Many races have handcycle divisions. The USHF promotes a national series in addition to the National Handcycle Championships each summer, which includes all of the handcycle classifications recognized by the US Paralympics and the International Paralympic Committee.

Types Of Equipment

The Upright Handcycle has 5-7 gears, is for recreational riding only and all ages can ride. Youth and adult models are available. The design is intended for the new and beginning handcyclists, is easy to transfer in and out of from the everyday wheelchair, has a short learning curve and natural easy steering.

The Youth Handcycle (Recumbent) also has 5-7 gears, is for recreational and youth racing. It is meant for children under 18 or small adults. This model is good for people with shorter legs, while the low center of gravity facilities higher speeds than the upright. It makes a good starter bike, especially for kids looking at racing in the future.

The Recumbent Fork Steer Handcycle has any variety of gears up to 27, can be adjustable for each rider, is good for all ages and can be used for recreational, touring or racing. The fork steer handcycles have a natural feel and represent most handcycles sold. They work well for individuals with low or high level spinal cord injuries. Most have adjustable footrests, seat angle adjustments, comes in a variety of gearing, wheel and tire configurations depending upon the intended use.

The Recumbent Lean Steer Handcycle can have any variety of gears up to 27 and is also used for recreational, touring or racing applications. This style has been around for a long time and is a favorite for many top athletes. Athletes with a lower level of injury have better use of this than those with an injury at a higher level. The learning curve is longer and this bike is less stable at high speeds. You need to use your whole body to steer the handcycle and feels similar to monoskiing.

The “Trunk Power” Handcycles are on the cutting edge of development in handcycling. They are best suited for athletes who have most or all of their abdominal muscles and are used for racing. Trunk power uses the weight of the upper body like a pendulum to push power through the arm stroke.

Off Road 4X4 Handcycles are gaining in popularity among the adventurous wheelchair users. They are distinguished by four wheels instead of three. Mountain climbing wheelchairs have two wheels in front and one in back. Their higher gear ratio range makes it easier to climb slopes. The wider tires also making moving over grass, sand, snow, mud and gravel easier.

Types Of Races

There are three main types of races: road races, time trials and criteriums.

Road races are events with mass starts that involve tactical skills, the ability to draft and have potential team dynamics. This type of race generally takes place on a closed course with a predetermined distance between 15 and 50 miles.

Time trials are individual races against the clock, drafting is not allowed and riders depart one at a time at fixed intervals; usually 1-2 minutes. The objective is to cover a given distance – usually 5-15 miles in the shortest amount of time.

A Criterium is a mass start event often held in downtown areas on a circuit less than two miles. Criteriums usually have predetermined numbers of laps or a time limit. The time limit is preferred for handcycle racing. These are the most spectator friendly races as the “pack” goes by often and there are frequent lead changes making it exciting for participants and spectators.


While there are several choices in types of handcycles to choose from first explore what it is you want to be able to do with your handcycle. Is it primarily for recreation, touring, racing or off-road? Once you determine that you can then proceed to look at the various setups that will best suit you. The fork steer represent the majority of handcycles being used today, but this doesn’t mean you must have one. The handcycle provides a great upper body workout and provides a sense of freedom for persons with disabilities. The high cost prevents many from enjoying hand cycling; however, they are steadily growing in popularity.

If you are considering handcycling please keep in mind you must include proper nutrition and hydration. Many wheelchair athletes have special dietary and temperature regulating considerations that are vital to their success. Consult with an experienced trainer to ensure your best route to success.

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