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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. 

Having the right equipment is important for any rider to ensure that they can have the smoothest ride. As an adaptive cyclist, knowing which equipment to get can be a challenge and can be expensive. Luckily there are organizations that can help make sure that you’re investing your money in the right equipment.

As a new cyclist, the first thing you’ll want to do is research your new bike or trike. I recommend you check out IndustrialBicycles.com to overview the different styles of bikes and trikes that are out there. A trike can range from from $1000 to $5000, so you’ll want to make sure you get the one that is best for you. Visit PA Center for Adaptive Sports (PCAS) or Lancaster Recumbent so you can demo equipment, make sure it fits properly, and receive some pointers before you buy it. They’ll also measure your xseam which is a measurement to get the right size bike or trike.

You can purchase bikes or equipment online from stores like Utah Trikes, Industrial Bikes, Terra Trikes, and Cat Trikes. If you’re nervous about your purchase, call them ahead of time.  They’ll tell you about the different options and help you make a choice that is right for you!

Once you have your trike, you can begin customizing it for your individual needs. Since I have low mobility on the left side of my body, I have all my gears and breaks on the right side of my trike. I use a recumbent trike with a standard seat.  It allows me to peddle with my feet and steer more with my arms and hands. Some riders may need to get a custom seat or a bike with hand cycling capabilities. Some riders may also prefer to use a motor to help them with their propulsion.

To transport their equipment, adaptive cyclists also have to invest in a specialized bike hitch, since their trike may be bigger than the standard bike. Lucky for me, my dad has a truck that I can put my trike in instead so I don’t have worry about how to get it to races! Whether it’s a truck or a bike hitch, I do rely on my support system to help me load and unload my trike when I’m traveling.

For racing purposes, I modified my trike to be lighter and faster, to make it easier to pedal and maintain speed over a long distance. I use 700c sized wheels that are bigger. They help my trike go faster since they can cover more ground in one rotation. I also use carbon wheel frames that make my trike lighter.

I replaced some other parts of my trike with carbon fiber, as well. While having carbon parts may make your bike faster, it is a less durable material than aluminum or steel, which are heavier and stronger. Having a bigger wheel in the back of your trike, or different treads on your tires, can also help you go faster without changing out the material of the parts.

As a newer adaptive cyclist, you’ll want to focus on customizing your bike for your specific needs first. You can streamline your bike for racing as you go on. You’ll also need some extra equipment to get started. Obviously a helmet is key.

I also think that two of the most essential pieces of equipment are an easily accessible hydration pack and a flag to make sure that other riders and cars can see you. If you decide you want to measure your speed, distance, progress, or wattage, you can look to invest in a bike computer. Otherwise there are mobile phone apps you can use that are cheaper. I recommend the Strava app, which records your pace and how far you go. It will even compare it to your pace from the last time you rode that course. It’s simple and all you need when you first start.

When you have a disability, getting a bike that is right for you can seem challenging in the beginning. But anyone can enjoy the pleasure of a ride once they know all the options out there.

Do your research, utilize the knowledge of the employees and volunteers in stores and organizations around you, invest in the right equipment, and get riding!

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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