Bicycles as Mobility Aids

Is there anyone out there who could, with hand on heart, say that they can run or walk further than they could cycle?

We would suspect that the number of people who would say yes to that are small and are either being economical with the truth or just being difficult.

A human with a bicycle is far more efficient than a human without. Some people with far more brain power and spare time than us have calculated that we’re even more efficient than a car. Where a car engine may be 20% efficient, a human on a bicycle is closer to 25% and up.

Operating at peak efficiency, the human body’s efficiency at converting energy from food to work through pedaling is quite similar to that of an automobile: Wilson [1] puts human efficiency at between 20 and 30 percent, while Pietro [2] finds it varies between 22 and 26 percent. The remainder is released as heat or is contained in bodily waste. The exact efficiency achieved depends on the athleticism and training of the cyclist, the resistance supplied, and pedaling speed. Automobile engines, on the other hand, tend to average about 20% efficiency;

Source: Energy Efficiency of Bicycle Transportation

This of course assumes a fit, able-bodied cyclist is aboard the bicycle. But what if you are not fit and able? What if you normally need to get around on crutches? What if the impact of running or walking is proving too much for your joints to bear? It stands to reason that cycling, being an efficient but low-impact form of not just transport but exercise too, can provide independence for those people whose bodies are not what they used to be, or what they should be.

However, if you can walk at all, there’s a pretty good chance that a bicycle can provide you with an extra level of independence that you might not otherwise have had. It will take whatever you have right now and make it more efficient.

So, really, I have to laugh when I hear people suggesting that cycling infrastructure creates problems or difficulties for those with mobility problems. Done properly, as it almost always is in the Netherlands, it’s the complete opposite – totally liberating. A good environment for cycling is a good environment for all.

Source: Independent mobility | As Easy As Riding A Bike

With e-bikes becoming more popular this has never been more true. E-bike riders are finding that they can travel further, scale bigger hills and generally do more than they could with a normal bike. They take what is already an efficient mode of transport and then lower the physical requirements.

Not only that, but there are many different forms of bicycle to suit a wide variety of needs, from recumbent tricycles to cargo bikes that can carry a wheelchair and its occupant on the front.

Yet here in the UK we’re still not grasping the idea that cycling is for everyone. At the moment we’re buying bikes for our kids, that they may never use because of the situation on the roads; and we’re buying bikes for ourselves in our late 30s and 40s when we realise we really should probably start looking after ourselves. We don’t consider that there are people in their 70s and 80s that need safe infrastructure too, or there are people suffering from arthritis or other joint problems, or with neurological disorders like MS and would really benefit from the independence afforded to them by being able to ride a bike.

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.

Source: How do we build an inclusive culture for disabled cyclists? | Environment | The Guardian

As we’ve already talked about this week, we install barriers along our trails; we place “cyclists dismount” signs on sections we never got around to finishing, forcing people off their bikes and assuming that everyone who cycles is fit and able to lift their bikes over or around the obstructions that are put in the way.

But what if you cannot navigate these obstacles? What if you are one of the people we spoke about above? Should you stop cycling, or wanting to cycle?

No, certainly not.

People power…

If you are still reading at this point and any of what we’ve said above resonates with you, councils and their councillors need to know you exist. They need to know that your needs are not being met and they need to understand what they could do to make things better for you.

The trouble with the democratic process is that very often the needs of the many (or the noisy) outweigh the needs of the few (trying desperately to avoid a political comment about austerity here…). Being people who would ride bikes we’re already in a minority, but if you narrow the field further to people with mobility problems it is easy to feel that your voice will never be heard.

But it can.

Here in Cardiff we already have the experts in inclusive cycling –the charity Pedal Power. Not only will they find a bike that works for you and give you all the training you need, they should be able to help you find a route that works for you, or put you in touch with someone who can.

Where problems exist that only councillors can fix, clicking on the “Council” tab of any of the county council websites should give you a list of councillors for your area –chances are there are more than one. Drop one or all of them an email (or letter) telling them where the problem is and if you can, suggest a potential solution that would work for you.

If you need help with the writing part, for whatever reason, please get in touch. Tell us where the problem is, who your councillor is and we’ll see if we can come up with a draft for you to print and sign.

4 thoughts on “Bicycles as Mobility Aids

Add yours

  1. As someone who graduated to an electric bike – following two new knees – I’d already begun to learn the lessons in this post. The first time we took the bikes to Cardigan and found the delightful trail along the river, we discovered the joy of bike barriers. Our electric bikes weigh 24 kg , are seriously unbalanced with the weight at the back, and lifting over five bar gate as your picture illustrates is no fun.

    But hey, my situation has deteriorated. I now have one of the, comparatively rare, prosthetic elbows. This must not be subjected to a strain of more than 2 kg, yes the weight of the bag of sugar. So lifing is no longer on the agenda even if I can resolve the issue that yanking the handlebars to avoid a too-close car might dislocate my elbow!

    So maybe I can trade in my, probably worth–a–lot–less-than the £2000 I paid for it, bike, for a trike. Then getting over that five bar gate would be really impossible.

    Yes bikes can be a great disability aid but only when we become more like – well, everywhere else in Europe. Brexit for bikers anyway ?


    1. Thanks Peter, that’s a great comment.

      We really do have a very long way to go before we stop seeing cycling as purely a leisure activity and start seeing it as inclusive form of transport that requires every bit as much support as that afforded to motorists.


  2. Now that I have read this (belatedly, but these posts are invariably brilliant, thoughtful, balanced, well-argued) I think we would be wise/practical/opportunist to focus on this issue. The argument of safe, meaningful access for able-bodied bikers ought to be a self-evident need. Access for people who use bikes as disability aids, just as say, a wheelchair user might, moves the arguments into an arena where there is much legislation and even compliance.
    Ok, so the bus I use has a lowering platform, great, but it took a lot of campaigning and legislation so that it could (more often than not) be used by parents with a buggy. How’s about I complain that the Taff Trail (from my house to the city) should be entirely accessible to me on a trike, as well as other users with a wheelchair. Now that has legal traction behind it (sorry about the metaphor).
    But, if I use it to accompany my other on his electric bike we’ll use up all the width, no room for lycra speeders, or push chairs for that matter. Then I’ll be the object of complaint – hey, ho ………
    And yes, I find it easier to park my car in town (thanks to a Blue Badge) than I ever did with a bike …… Perhaps Blue Badges for bikes (go on people, get your head’s around that).


    1. Completely and utterly agree. Happy to work with you on something around that, perhaps collaborate on a follow-up article & trawl through the accessibility regulations.


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