Hand Bikes & Hand Cycles

I have been a recreational hand cyclist for two years. Much is written about the elite athletes and the mega-long-distance riders, but most of us are just your three-or-four-times-a-week-, a-few-miles-a-day type of the average person looking to stay in shape, have some fun, and meet some new people riders. I think hand cycling is a perfect recreational sport for the average person looking to stay in shape have some fun and meet some new people.

 My favorite things about hand cycling include the following:

  1. It’s outside

    I love the outdoors. I spend all day indoors at work, or escaping the heat of South Carolina in the summer. Hand cycling is a fun way to get outdoors whether you have someone with you or not. You can do it in the cool of the morning or evening, with a group or by yourself.

  2. I’ve lost weight and feel better.

    Who doesn’t want to do that? Since I’ve added regular hand cycling to my weekly routine, I’ve lost weight and toned my body. I feel better and look better. Even if you don’t want to lose weight, toned muscles look so much better than flabby ones.

  3. The speed option

    Ah, the wind in my hair and the breeze at my back. I enjoy anything that gets me moving faster than I do everyday in my manual wheelchair and the less effort the better! Kayaking, downhill skiing, water skiing. For me, sports has to be very different from everyday movement — and hand cycling fills the bill. On flat terrain, you can blast with very little effort using the gears on the bike. Downhill requires even less effort. Yes, uphill can be a struggle, but the feeling of the downhill afterward is worth it!

  4. The slow option

    Sometimes I like to take it easy.  Just drift along and look at plants and houses and things in the world. With a hand cycle you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

  5. It’s great exercise

    If you haven’t exercised in a while, other than using your wheelchair — and even if you have — hand cycling will wake up muscles you forgot you had.

    Turning the crank is a repetitive motion at about chest height that works all of your body. You don’t realize it until you get moving. Pedaling obviously involves your back, shoulders and arms. You use your neck and trunk muscles to stabilize your body on the seat and some models require trunk motion to turn the bike. Because the pedaling motion is a push/pull, your trunk muscles do much more than isometrics (where the muscle contracts and the body doesn’t move. eg; like when a gymnast on the rings or a figure skater holds a position). My abdominals contract and relax rhythmically with the pedaling motion.

  6. With old friends, new friends, or alone.

    You can hand cycle alone, if that’s your mood. Or, you can cycle with friends or loved ones. It’s a sport that crosses the barrier of the impediment of the " wheelchair".

    It’s a fun thing to talk about with people. "I bike a lot." "You bike?!? How do you do that?!? Wow, that’s neat!" Suddenly, you’re not an unusual person in a wheelchair; you’re an athlete.

    The cycling people I’ve met are great! They’re energetic; they’re into the outdoors , feeling good and enjoy life.

  7. It’s healthy!

    My circulation improves when I cycle. The swelling in my legs goes down dramatically.  Since my legs are stuck straight out in front of me, on the bike, I feel like I re-acquaint myself with my feet. Also, my, ummm, shall I say — ability to eliminate waste products — is so much easier when I cycle regularly!

Go for it! Try one! Most owners will be glad to share their bike if you want to try one out. You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain! Then buy your own hand cycle and get spinning!

Go to Here for a wide selection of Hand bikes at very competitive prices. 


Laurie Rappl,PT, is clinical support manager for Span-America Medical Systems Inc., Greenville, S.C. She is active with the American Physical Therapy Association. She’s also a presenter at APTA conferences as well as other meetings where she focuses on pressure ulcer prevention and other seating issues.

July 16, 2000