Handcycling began in the 1980s as a recreational sport. Early equipment was hard to find, clunky, and expensive. The leap from “leg only” powered to “arm powered” was made by cyclists from within the ranks of the human powered vehicle movement. Ironically, the original handcycle was not intended for someone with a disability. Nonetheless, the development made it possible for individuals of all abilities to experience the joy of cycling.
Today, handcycles reap the benefits of both the modern cycling industry and cutting-edge wheelchair technology, including light weight components, high pressure tires, wide-range gearing systems, hi-tech. seating systems, hydration systems, and ingenious steering systems for optimal handling.
Handcycling was approved as part of the IPC Cycling Program in 1998 and was included at the World Cycling Championships for the Disabled that same year. In 2004, the IPC included a race for handcycles (men only) at the Paralympic Games in Athens Greece for the first time. Although handcycle racing is still relatively new, it has become very popular worldwide and athletes in the U.S., Europe, and Australia compete in respective national race series.
Although handcycling is popular with the racing crowd, most handcycles are purchased by recreational athletes. In contrast to racing wheelchairs, handcycles are easily adjusted, simple to operate, and very easy to transfer in and out of. As a result, thousands of people with and without disabilities are handcycling to improve cardiovascular and aerobic health, increase upper body strength, ride with friends and family, and improve overall fitness.