Editor’s note: The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is honored to host a new series on our blog about adaptive cycling, written by local cyclist Patrick Sweeney. As a differently-abled person, Sweeney has found freedom in his bicycle and has used that freedom to become an athlete. 

Bike in Philly

When you’re going out to ride on an adaptive bicycle, it’s important to think about safety. You want to be aware of your surroundings. Part of being aware of your surroundings is being prepared. Before I ever started long trail rides, I practiced in my neighborhood. Bikes have to follow the same traffic rules as cars.  If you have a disability and have never driven before, you’ll need someone to teach you the rules to obey. I had an awesome rehab therapist who rode her bike with me. She taught me in a safe area I was familiar with.

Before you go on a ride, do your research. Know your route ahead of time. Adaptive trikes are very wide. Make sure a trail has enough space, or that a road has a wide enough shoulder.

You have to know the capabilities of your equipment for the terrain. Read the trail map, and look for areas where you could stop or take shelter. There usually aren’t tunnels or shelters, so check the weather! When you first visit a trail, know who’s around to help.

For example, you can give park rangers a heads up you’ll be out there. Sometimes they’ll ride with you. We first got in touch with our Park Rangers by contacting our local trail association, such as Friends of Chester Valley Trail. The trail associations can tell you about conditions of the trail, and safety resources.

Another trick for finding help on the trail is to look for the mile marker signs. Sometimes, they have an emergency number you can call. If they don’t, you can just call 911, and say, “I need a park ranger.”

Obviously, it’s important to always bring a fully charged cell phone, to be able to call for help if you need it. Sometimes, you may need help, but it’s not an emergency.  Like one time, my shoe fell out of my brace, and my riding partner had to help me put it back in.

If you need something, you can’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Wave someone down. Explain your current situation, like, “My foot fell out of my pedals, but I can’t get it back in myself.” How do people respond? It depends on the day, to be honest. Some people are really nice, and we have a good conversation. On a busy day, some people may not stop, and you should be prepared for bypassers to not always help. That’s why, when you’re riding with a disability, it’s better to never ride alone. Go with a friend, or a group. Your team can help you if you get a flat tire, or if you fall. They may also be able to see things ahead that you can’t.

Adaptive cycles are low to the ground, so the visibility is different.  It can be harder to see cars and around blind turns.  So you need to go slow around turns, and make sure to stop before crossing the street.  You need to use all your senses. If you hear a car coming, wait.  Don’t try to ride when visibility is bad. The best time for me to ride is 7:30 am.

It’s less crowded, and you have no worries about it getting dark soon.  Be vocal on the trail to make people aware of where you are.  Call out if you will be passing them.  Because you are low to the ground, you have to make yourself visible to others too. Use anything that can make you more visible, like a neon vest and helmet. The most important safety tips for cycling are, have a flag on your bike and have reflectors on your bike.

Do your research, advocate for yourself, and have visibility! That will help keep you safe.

Read the whole series here: 

Part 1: Meet Patrick Sweeney 

Part 2: Training 

Part 3: Safety 

Part 4: Racing 

Part 5: Race Day

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