Inclusive Cycling: Adapted Bikes

By Charlotte Murray

Everyone should have the chance to ride a bike, yet a standard bike is designed for an able-bodied person. Yet the world is made up of many different types of people, with various differences in health and mobility. So, to make riding a bike accessible to all, there is a number of set-ups available to suit a range of riders including those who have health or learning issues and physical difficulties. Whether you’re interested in picking one up for yourself or would just like to know what’s out there, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of what is currently on offer.


A tricycle (also known as a trike) is much like a bicycle except it has three wheels instead of two. This acts in the same way as the stabilisers you might have used as a child, though the wheels are often larger. This can make riding a bike more comfortable as well as being easier to balance. They usually come in three different styles

– Recumbent
– Semi-recumbent
– Upright

These mean that the rider is sat in a slightly different position. Upright tricycles are, as the name suggests, the most upright of the three – mimicking what is usually the ‘standard’ cycling position. This is followed by the semi-recumbent in the middle and the recumbent as a much more reclined seating position. These are utilised depending on rider preference or the support that is required by the rider and are the basis for many specially adapted bikes.

Special needs tricycle
Mission Cycles – Special Needs MX 16″ Tricycle

Side-by-side trikes or tandems

The side-by-side trike is much like the upright trike, except it can host two riders instead of one. This means that those with limited mobility or those just wanting a bit of company can share the pedalling with a friend. These can be also known as tandems since you are cycling in tandem with another person.


Just as the name suggests, the handcycle uses the power of the arms to propel the bike forwards as opposed to using the legs. Again, this can look much like an upright trike, with three wheels and a comfortable seat. It can be great for those who have limited mobility in the lower half or for those who prefer the seating and positioning of the hand-cycle.

Walking aid

A walking aid looks a little like a scooter, with two small wheels but with a seat on which to rest. For those who have difficulty walking or standing for long periods but where a wheelchair is not necessary, the walking aid offers a solution. The user can cover greater distances with less fatigue, helping those who might have chronic pain issues or weakness in the legs. Whilst quite different to the ‘standard’ bike, a walking aid might give the user the same feeling of freedom whilst scooting along with ease.

A walking aid
City walking aid by vanraam

Step-through bike

A step-through bike is more closely related to the bike than a walking aid but resembles the walking aid in the same way that the top tube is much lower to the ground. This enables those who may have difficulty raising their leg to a greater height to get on and off the bike with ease. Also useful for those who want to protect their modesty if wearing a dress or skirt!


Modifying an existing standard bike might make it easier to tailor the bike to your specific needs, whether that’s changing the positioning of the seat or handlebars, adding stabilisers or converting it into an e-bike! It could be a fun project and a great learning exercise or you can pay a professional to do this.

Purchasing a specially adapted bike might not be for everyone or you may want to try a few out before committing. Cycling Projects promote inclusive cycling in the UK with a number of community engagement programmes to either try out an adapted bike or to use it regularly. Their Wheels for All initiative is designed for those with needs different to those typically seen on a ‘standard’ bike. You may also find other inclusive cycling centres local to where you are and supporting these initiatives is important to continuing their work. Cycling UK hosts an inclusive cycle forum where you can ask questions or read through discussions around the topic.