accessibility · cycling · disability · fitness

Safe cycling is a disability rights issue

I had a bit of a moment on Twitter last week.

I shared the tweet below and added, “Indeed. I’m someone who can ride a bike 100’s of kms but can’t walk more than a single km. My bikes are many things to me but they are also increasingly mobility aids. Safe city cycling is a disability rights issue. “

Four hundred+ likes and dozens of retweets and lots of new followers later, the virtual dust settled. It seems I’d hit a nerve. The thing is safe cycling isn’t just about the young and the fit and the able bodied.

I’ve written about this before.

I started to notice it when my knee got really bad and I was walking with a knee brace and cane. On two feet I was definitely a person with a disability, recognizably so, but put me on a bike and whee, zoom! I started to ride between meetings in campus. I bike to work even though it’s just over 2 km.

Sometimes I explain when people express surprise that I ride when I live so close. Other times I just let it go.

This was all pretty natural for me. I’m a cyclist. It’s part of who I am. But I can imagine that for lots of people who pre-injury or pre-chronic condition didn’t ride a bike, it wouldn’t be obvious that cycling is a great way to get around. Lots of people, watching me walk, were shocked that I could ride a bike.

When I ride a bike for disability reasons, I feel like I’ve joined a community of people who wheel rather than walk. That includes mobility scooters and wheelchairs and tricycles. Walk your bike? Um, what if I can’t? No ramp? We’re all in trouble.

Since then I’ve bought a Brompton which I travel with so I can get around in other cities. I take it in places, folded, walking, but often it would be easier if I could keep riding. It needs an accessibility/mobility device sticker!

I see people with scooters like this one using them inside and I’m jealous.

A man with a blue shirt and khaki pants sitting on a mobility scooter.

What are the big takeaway points?

  1. Not everyone riding a bike is able-bodied in virtue of riding a bike. We often stereotype people on bikes as young and able-bodied. From this article on bikes as rolling walking sticks: “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. “
  2. If you have difficulty standing or walking yourself, you might be surprised at how much better riding a bike feels. In my case it takes the weight off my joints and relieves almost all of the pain. Plus, I’m mobile.
  3. For municipal planning, safe bike lanes aren’t a luxury. Lots of people need to wheel around rather than walk. Safe cycling is a disability rights issue.
  4. “Walk your bike” isn’t always a good thing. That assumes that everyone can walk their bike. That’s simply not the case.

Once I started to pay attention to bikes this way, I started notice that there are lots of different bodies, with lots of different abilities out there on wheels.

3 thoughts on “Safe cycling is a disability rights issue

  1. Great post! Reframing cycling infrastructure as a disability rights issue seems like a win on so many levels– switching from a recreational plus to an accessibility mandate, opening up funding sources for cities and towns, and providing opportunities for programs that will improve the lives of lots of people who currently don’t have access to the resources of their area. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My mother had both hips replaced in the last year, and they have been pushing her to walk more. She tries, and it can take her an hour to walk a mile.

    A month ago, she bought a bike. It’s taking time to build up the strength, but she can now go several blocks before she feels like she needs to turn back towards home. I admit, I was nervous when she told me that she was going to try to ride a bicycle for exercise, but I am thrilled that she seems to be enjoying it and it is helping her feel capable and strong again.

    Thank you for calling attention to how biking can be more accessible for folks of different abilities!

    Liked by 1 person

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