We’ve long held that cycling is for everyone – so accessibility and inclusivity are key. It means opening up a life in the saddle to young and old, male and female, and to those of all abilities – which is why it’s a cause for celebration to see advances made in the area of para-cycling.
Of course, in Ireland we haven’t had to look far for demonstrations of what disabled athletes can do on the bike, with the likes of Eoghan Clifford and Katie-George Dunleavy riding their way to Paralympic gold medals. But to see the wider embrace of accessible cycling, from disabled parking facilities to handcycles, trikes and trishaws, is welcome proof of the cycling community growing ever wider every day.
The world of Para-cycling
Para-cycling is the term used to describe the sport of cycling which is adapted for those who have various disabilities, including cerebral palsy, visual and physical impairments. Many ride a bike similar to any other rider, perhaps with some minor adaptations, while others may ride a trike, tandem or a handbike, depending on their impairment.
Para-cycling has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1984, when road racing was first introduced; track cycling was included at the Paralympics for the first time in 1996.
The discipline has evolved to serve those with a wide variety of different disabilities too, as 1996 also saw the introduction of functional categories into Paralympic cycling, so competitors are grouped depending on ability level.
In the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, Team Ireland was represented by seven outstanding para-cyclists – the gold medallist pairing of Katie-George Dunleavy and pilot Eve McCrystal; Ronan Grimes, Richael Timothy, Gary O’Reilly and the tandem pair of Martin Gordon and Eamon Byrne.
You can find out more about Irish para-cycling at the Paralympics by checking out the Team Ireland website.
Paralympian Richael Timothy was featured in our ‘Defying the Odds’ podcast, where she was in conversation with Declan Quigley about how her life was turned upside down at just 21 years old and the learning curve that came with getting on her bike.
Accessibility in everyday life
In 2018, Trinity College Dublin became the first third-level institution in the country to provide disabled bicycle parking spaces. These designated areas are step-free and extra wide, allowing ample space for non-standard bikes. The spaces are also located right next to the main college facilities, ensuring those with mobility issues can get to their destination easily.
Since then, local authorities are following Trinity’s lead, with accessible parking facilities also being installed at the St James’ Cancer Institute. Of course, these welcome advancements are just the beginning, and serve to highlight the need to strengthen accessibility and promote para-cycling in more and more areas.
Another fantastic initiative which has been brought to life in South Co. Dublin is ‘Inclusive Cycling for All in Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown’. This scheme provides free to use inclusive bikes for rental, so everyone can enjoy cycling along the Coastal Mobility Route. (CMR) The fleet includes electric Trishaws, which can carry up to two people with mobility issues, as well as a tandem bike, specialised trike and handcycle.
The bikes are housed within a purpose-built area, The Bike Hub in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, and an online booking portal is open to the public so they can choose a time slot and an appropriate bike for their needs. Staff will also be on site to provide assistance with the bikes.
The Para-cycling National League
Each year, the Para-cycling National League, run by Cycling Ireland, welcomes para-cyclists to eight races, with clubs from across the island hosting the different stages.
In 2022, the League is taking place from April to September, and para-cyclists will find themselves pedalling on roads from Newry to Wexford – an altogether literal illustration of how para-cycling continues to go from strength to strength across the isle.
To find out more about the National League, visit the Cycling Ireland Para-cycling National Series website.
If you’re looking to learn more about inclusive bikes which are on the market, check out our article on Adapted bikes for the lowdown on the different options available to you.