How To Choose a Handcycle
Choosing the right handcycle is important to make certain that it is comfortable and fits you well. First, you need to consider what you are looking for with regards to size, style and features. We can assist you in finding a handcycle that not only fits well, but is appropriate for your lifestyle.
The past 15 years of research and development have produced handcycles to fit almost all needs. Some people may ask, “How does a handicapped person stay in shape?” There are now numerous adaptations available to the adaptive cycling community that allow not only athletes who are looking for a competitive racing style handcycle, but also those with disabilities that are looking for a recreational handcycle to exercise, to improve endurance and strength, and to enjoy the outdoors.
Handcycles are becoming more and more popular, yet many bike shop employees are unfamiliar with the different handcycle styles, specifications, adaptations and parts, so it is best to speak with a handcycle expert. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the form on our Contact page and an expert can help you with any of your handcycle questions.
First, don’t be deterred, we are here to help! There are certain qualities that you will want to look for in a handcycle to ensure it will suit your needs. Let’s dive deeper into the various handcycle options available for varying levels of disability, including amputees, paraplegics and quadriplegics. We have used the popular Top End Invacare line of handcycles for reference in our consumer guide to buying a handcycle.
What is your handcycle budget?
First, you will need to determine what your budget is. You can find a quality stock handcycle for under $2,500, but it will most likely not have all of the components that a $3,500+ custom adaptive cycle will have. Keep in mind, there is the option to apply for a payment plan when shopping at Journeybikes.com and there are many non-profit grants that you can apply for to help fund your adaptive cycling equipment. See a full list of non-profit organizations at the end of this article.
How do I measure my handcycle seat width?
Next, you need to decide what seat width will fit you best. Measuring for a recreational handcycle is super easy because it is so adjustable.
Seat width: If you use a wheelchair for mobility, simply measure the seat width and order the same width for your handcycle. Handcycles come with seat cushions that match the width of the seat. See diagram at end of this page.
Next check the specs of the handcycle in question for things like height range and max weight of the handcycle. If you’re interested in a recumbent or competitive handcycle that requires additional measurements and sizing customizations, check the handcycle in question for measurement instructions related to that specific cycle. For reference only, see this diagram explaining how to take measurements for the Force-K Handcycle - Kneeler.
Once you have decided on size and budget, your next step will be to determine which style handcycle you need.
What frame design do you prefer?
Handcycles come in many styles including recreational vs. competitive, and upright vs. recumbent handcycles. There are even handcycles designed specifically for youth. Additionally, there are two steering options: fork-steer versus lean-to-steer. And there are two seating options: trunk-power versus reclined.
Recreational and Upright options are best for those who are entry-level, or those who don’t need to handcycle at speeds faster than 15 mph or for very long distances. These handcycle styles are perfect for those just looking to enjoy the outdoors while getting some exercise. These handcycles usually provide an upright seated position with fork-steering.
Recreational recumbent options tend to come with 3- to 7-speeds, have a lower center of gravity, are easy to transfer in and out of, have a reclined seating position and fork-steering system, and are for those who aren’t necessarily in need of racing competitively since they usually top out at 15 mph.
Competitive options are for those who are looking to cycle at higher speeds and perhaps race competitively. These handcycle options tend to be higher priced, have higher frame stiffness, are lighter weight, closer to the ground, more aerodynamic, and are more customized to the athlete. They usually have 27-gear drivetrains and come with trunk-power or reclined seating options and fork-steer or lean-to-steer steering options.
Trunk-power typically means there won’t be much of a seatback and that you will be positioned leaning forward to utilize the weight of your trunk for steering and cycling power.
Reclined seating allows for the athlete to have a reclined seatback with the cranks closer and higher to the rider so that the athlete can leverage the seatback for steering and cycling power.
Fork-steering is the most traditional and popular steering option providing a fork that turns independently of the frame. The lean-to-steer option provides a top frame that swivels over the bottom frame and allows the rider to use the weight of their trunk for cycle power.
When it comes to selecting the seating and steering type for your handcycle, it will heavily rely on (a) intended use, (b) disability type/level, and (c) the athlete’s preference.
What are the different types of handpedals?
Small 1 ½” vs. Medium 1 ¾” vs. Large 2 ¼” handpedals – handpedal size is the largest diameter of the handpedal. To see diagram, click here.
Power plates for handpedals are a welded crescent piece of flat aluminum plate that assists with powering through revolutions per crank. To see image, click here.
Quad Cuff Handpedals with Power Plates include top and bottom power plates to assist through both the up and down stroke crank rotation, adjustable metal quad cuffs and straps that bolt through top power plate and use hook/loop fastener to attach to quad cuff.
Quad Grips Handpedals include quad wraps and a wrist activated shifter system, elbow activated braking and combine the tri-pin and the quad cuff power plate design used by many quadriplegics and include quad wraps to prevent chaffing plus 3” crank width extensions to maximize arm power.
Tri-pin quad handpedals offer a 3-point contact, (the same as are used in driving a car) and allow the rider to get on/off handles independently, as to change gears, etc. and are compatible with the standard crankset.
What are the differences in the types of wheels?
Some of the differences in wheels includes wheel size (24” vs 26”), rim composition (alloy rims vs. carbon rims), tire type (high pressure performance vs. cruiser tires) and psi rating (100 psi vs 40 psi).
Knobby Tire Set can be used on hard pack, mud or loose sand.
What is Mountain Drive and what is a V-Crankset vs S-Crank?
Mountain Drive works like a transmission to gear "down" for climbing hills so that there are 7 climbing gears and 7 regular gears. This option doubles of the number of gears making it a great option for customers with limited hand function and strength. Cannot change gears under load.
S-Crank and V-Crank mm and widths: To choose the width for the crank, consider the end user's shoulder width. The width is measured horizontally center to center to the point at the middle of the handpedal. Length of crank set depends on the length of the arms. The length is measured perpendicular from the center of the crank to the center of the handpedal spindle.
V-Crank arms are the standard crank arms that come with your handcycle.
S-Crank arms are designed for people who need wider crank arms to clear their chest, or people who prefer a much wider arm width.
V-Crank Cross Country Off-Road adaptations are available for those want more climbing gears.
Crank width adaptors are good for spacing out handpedals for more clearance.
A power boost like the Bion X Power Boost adds 25, 50, 75 or 100% power assist.
What are the differences in shifting options?
Trigger Shifting vs Grip/Twist Shifting - Grip shift is operated by rotating the grip mounted on either the right or left handle. Super light. Shifts quickly and accurately, Preferred by most riders. Trigger shifting is thumb and forefinger operated. Super light-weight, high quality components. A great choice for those who want low weight and do not like the grip shift.
Quad Twist Shifter – A three-pronged adaptation secured around the twist shifter that is recommended for customers with limited hand function.
What are the differences in chainring options?
The standard chain ring set of 48-39-24 will allow you to conquer almost any terrain. While the 53-39-28 will provide more gears allowing a faster speed on downhills, it in turn has fewer low gears for hilly terrain. The 53-39-28 is good for competitive cyclists or those who will be cycling on mostly flat terrain, whereas the standard 48-39-24 is great for cyclists needing an all-terrain chainring.
What is wheel camber?
Wheel camber is simply the angle of the rear wheels relative to 90 degrees. A common question is, “Why do wheelchairs have slanted wheels?”
More camber improves stability and agility, but also limits ability to pass through narrow spaces. A typical sport chair uses nine to twelve degrees of camber.
What is the weight of the handcycle?
Another important specification to consider when selecting a handcycle is weight. Less expensive handcycles tend to be heavier whereas competitive handcycles over $3,500 tend to be lighter weight, as little as 25 lbs.
If you plan on using your handcycle for traveling longer distances or cycling at higher speeds, then you should consider the lighter weight and more competitive handcycles.
What will I have to assemble when purchasing a handcycle online?
Most handcycles ship 85%-100% assembled, usually only needing the rear wheels to be assembled. But if you have questions, please ask us before purchasing!
There are many factors to consider when deciding on a handcycle. We briefly touched on what we feel are the 8 most common factors that are important to adaptive cyclists. If you have any more questions regarding the specifications and components of a handcycle, feel free to reach out to us!
- Your Budget
- Handcycle Size (Seat Width)
- Your Intended Use (recreational vs. competitive)
- Frame style (ex: upright vs. recumbent)
- Seating options (reclined vs. trunk-power)
- Steering options (fork-steer vs. lean-to-steer)
- Crank length, width and style (S-crank vs. V-crank)
- Handpedal type
Other Accessories to Consider
- Leg guard attachment option is recommended in case of absent leg sensation
- Chain Tension Idler
- Bike Rack
- Alignment Gauge
- Crutch Holder Strap
- Cordless Computer
You can learn more about the various adaptive sports over at Disabled Sports USA
Handcycles are generally not covered by insurance but there are other funding options such as financing or funding through a non-profit grant. If you’re interested in financing, just select Klarna as the payment option during the checkout process.
Below is a list of potential U.S. based non-profit organizations that may be able to assist you with funding for your handcycle:
- America’s Fund is a program created to direct urgently needed resources and financial support to injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. This is a program of the Semper Fi Fund, an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit with an A+ rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy and a 4-star (highest possible) rating from Charity Navigator. Since its inception in 2004, the Semper Fi Fund has provided more than $76 million in support. Find out more at www.americasfund.org
- Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF): It is the mission of the CAF® to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. CAF believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life. Find out more at www.challengedathletes.org
- Getting Back Up provides qualified and selected individuals with funding for participation in exercise-based recovery programs and the purchase of adaptable products. These programs and products have been proven to greatly improve the physical and emotional well-being of the injured individual. Learn more at http://www.gettingbackup.org/
- The GOHAWKEYE FOUNDATION is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization whose mission is to provide support to adaptive organizations and individuals through financial aid, outdoor experiences and filmmaking meant to inspire people of all abilities. Their films showcase people overcoming disabilities and reaching their goals through active lifestyles and outdoor adventures. Find out more at https://gohawkeye.org/grants/
- IM ABLE Foundation: IM ABLE Grants are awarded to disabled individuals, providing hand-cycles and other adaptive athletic gear, as well as instructional training programs for those in need. Our purpose is to unleash the potential in physically challenged children and adults to be more active, enjoy the benefits of physical fitness, and spend more time in the great outdoors: https://imablefoundation.org/
- The Independence Fund: their mission is to provide the tools, therapies, and guidance that those veterans severely injured in the Line of Duty are otherwise not receiving. The Independence Fund is an entirely 100%, All Volunteer Non-Profit whose Board of Directors is comprised entirely of Combat Veterans. Find out more at www.independencefund.org.
- Kelly Brush Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to: advocating for improving ski racing safety, supporting research to treat and cure paralysis due to traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), improving the quality of life for individuals living with SCI by purchasing adaptive athletic equipment for those with financial limitations, and supporting the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team. Find out more at kellybrushfoundation.org.
- The Mobility Resource- State Grants for Wheelchair Accessible Vans offers grants and other programs that could help you finance a wheelchair van, scooter, wheelchair lift, adaptive driving equipment, or other mobility product. Select your state on the map to see the available grants to apply for in your state: https://www.themobilityresource.com/financing-handicap-accessible-vehicles/state-grants
- NAIDW is a nationally recognized 501 (c) (3) public charity whose purpose is to provide unlimited resources, support, guidance and short-term financial assistance to injured & disabled workers and their families as a result of injury, illness, pain or disability. Find out more at www.naidw.org.
- SCORE: SCORE aims to assist young people who have been injured while participating in sporting events or athletic recreation. SCORE endeavors to improve the quality of life for people with a spinal cord injury, assisting with the substantial out-of-pocket costs associated with obtaining the best medical care, home amenities and transportation. The end goal is to facilitate rehabilitation and independent living. Find out more at www.scorefund.org.
- Semper Fi Fund: The Semper Fi Fund (SFF) provides relief for financial needs that arise during hospitalization and recovery as well as assistance for those with perpetuating needs. Our program provides support in a variety of ways including Service Member and Family Support, Specialized & Adaptive Equipment, Adaptive Housing, Adaptive Transportation, Education and Career Transition Assistance, PTS and TBI Support, Team Semper Fi, and America’s Fund. Find out more at semperfifund.org.
- Team Possabilities: The purpose of a PossAbilities grant or scholarship is to provide support for our members to improve the quality of life, assist in the reintegration of those with disabilities into the community and society, and to meet the specific needs of our members. Find out more at www.TeamPossabilities.org.
- Triumph Foundation is a 501c(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to help individuals with Spinal Cord Injury triumph over their disability and to inspire them to keep moving forward with their lives by pushing themselves toget better every day. Triumph Foundation works to minimize the obstacles that one faces after suffering Spinal Cord Injury. We specialize in galvanizing and restoring lives after Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). Find out more at www.triumph-foundation.org.
- US Dept of Veterans Affairs – VA Adaptive Sports Grant Program for Veterans with disabilities and Members of the Armed Forces (ASG Program) provides grant funding to organizations to increase and expand the quantity and quality of adaptive sport activities that Veterans and Servicemembers with disabilities have to participate in physical activity including those for mental health issues within their home communities, as well as more advanced Paralympic and adaptive sport programs at the regional and national levels: https://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/va_grant_program.asp
General Measurement Guide Using Wheelchair
Seat width: If you use a wheelchair for mobility, simply measure the seat width and order the same width for your handcycle. Most handcycles come with seat cushions that match the width of the seat.
Measure from the most posterior point of the body to the inside of the knee, minus at least two inches. Optimal contact between the legs and the seat increases stability for the body.
Measured from the seat base to the top of the chair back. Sport users need enough height for upper body support, yet low enough to allow the arms and trunk to rotate freely.
Rear Seat to Floor
Measurement from the ground to the rear seat edge. Relative to the front seat-to-floor dimension, this determines the rearward slope ("dump" or "squeeze") of the seat. Sport chairs usually have more dump for extra upper body stability.
Determines how far the toes extend away from the body, measured from the horizontal. Sport users often use very tight angles to be able to rotate in the smallest possible space.
Front Seat to Floor
Measure the leg from the back of the knee to the sole of the foot. Then subtract the thickness of the cushion when it is compressed. Next, add a minimum of two inches for footrest clearance. Do not add the footrest clearance if the chair will be foot-propelled.
Angle of the wheel relative to the vertical. More camber improves stability and agility, but also limits ability to pass through narrow spaces. A typical sport chair uses nine to twelve degrees of camber.
Determined by the widest point of the body from knee to hip, plus an inch to ensure room to move. Sport chairs are typically as narrow as possible to save weight which improves agility.
Measure from the inside of each leg rest tubing the distance or desired distance between leg rests.
Measure the angle of the back post to the floor. Ninety degrees will be perpendicular to the floor, to approximate the angle from the back post to the seat, subtract two degrees from measurement for every .5" of dump.
Center of Gravity
Measure from the front of the seat back post to the center of the rear axle.
Seat to Footrest Length
Measure from the edge of the seat upholstery to the top rear of the footrest.