accessibility · aging · cycling · disability · fitness

Bikes as mobility aids: Another reason to prioritize cycling infrastructure

I came across this article the other day on “rolling walking sticks.” It’s about the number of disabled people in Cambridge who get around on a bike.

From the article: “Riding a bike may be easier than walking for two-thirds of disabled cyclists, but they often remain invisible to society. Many don’t realize that more than a quarter of disabled commutes in this university city are made by bike.”

Lately I’ve become one of those people for whom riding is much easier than walking. I ride my bike sometimes when walking isn’t an option. I often find myself wishing I had my bike with me. Lately I’ve even been shopping for a foldable, take anywhere bike. It would be nice to have a bike to ride between meetings, that I could easily take into the meeting when I got there.

In Australia, at ANU, the philosophy department had a bike for riding across campus. It had wide tires and a big basket on the front. Since all university departments had them there was never a need to lock it. Maybe Guelph could go that route?

My first experience riding with someone with a disability was very striking. While in Canberra, Australia I rode bikes with Michael Milton, a world record holding cyclist with one leg. Milton’s a serious athlete. He also holds the world speed record for downhill skiing. We were both members of the Vikings cycling club.

Here’s his impressive Wikipedia bio: “Michael John Milton, OAM is an Australian Paralympic skier, Paralympic cyclist and paratriathlete with one leg. With 6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals he is the most successful Australian Paralympic athlete in the Winter Games. ”

He’s also a really nice person to ride with.

One of the interesting things about Milton is that he doesn’t have a prosthetic leg for riding so when you’re riding bikes and you stop for coffee, he still gets around by bike. The bike comes wherever he goes because in addition to a go fast cycling machine, it’s also his main mobility aid. It goes in schools and shopping malls.

On a bike trip a few years ago, I noticed that the two oldest riders in our trip had a very hard time walking. They limped. They couldn’t do stairs. Off their bikes they barely looked mobile. But on their bikes, whoosh!

We jokingly called them Statler and Waldorf. They arrived each night for dinner in PJs. One was a widower and the other’s wife wasn’t well enough to holiday anymore. So the two joined forces and took biking holidays together. They had great stories of trips they’d done together through the years.

We were riding 70-100 km a day, including some serious hills, and they had no problem. I started to wonder how many seniors with walking issues might do well to switch to two wheeled transportation.

Again from the article on bikes in Cambridge: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.”

It seems to me it’s another reason to put priority on bike infrastructure. If there are people, like me, riding because walking isn’t an option, then we need to make riding safe and accessible for all.

See Elly Blue on bike riding, disability, and infrastructure.

In my own case, it’s part of an evolving love story between me and bicycles. It’s been about transportation, about fitness, about friendship, and about performance. What’s new is thinking about bikes as mobility aid that help me get around when walking just won’t work.

9 thoughts on “Bikes as mobility aids: Another reason to prioritize cycling infrastructure

  1. Well, my partner now has a long-term issue where he must wear a knee brace, compression socks, etc. Cycling is way easier and he sees a lot more further way.

  2. “According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.”

    Samantha, approximately 70% of disabled people are unemployed and likely cannot afford to buy expensive bicycles.


    1. Sure. But first this article is about the UK. Second, it doesn’t say that 78% own bikes. It says 78% can ride bikes. Lots of people can’t afford expensive bikes. But you don’t necessarily need an expensive bike to ride. The article is really about the invisibility of the disabled among cyclists.

    2. HI Shelley– thanks for pointing this out. This a a key point for cycling and disability advocates to work together for greater access to transportation for everyone. In Boston (and lots of other cities), there are many bike share companies. It seems like it wouldn’t be hard for them to issue cards for people so they could use the bikes for free. I’m going to talk to some bike advocates I know in Boston and then get back to the blog on this. Definite food for thought!

  3. Samantha,
    I realize that the article is about the UK, but the unemployment rate I gave is relevant to the UK, where I believe that the unemployment rate for disabled people is something like 68%. I know that it doesn’t say 78% ride bikes. You seemed to suggest that improved bike infrastructure would get more disabled people on bikes. I think that the high unemployment rate is probably doing more to keep disabled people from biking than the state of bike infrastructure. When you live below the poverty line, which most disabled people everywhere do, then virtually any bike (upkeep, licenses, etc.) is likely to seem expensive.

    In any case, I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth about this. I merely wanted to suggest that there could be another, and perhaps more likely, reason why more disabled people don’t ride bicycles.


Comments are closed.