Brave wheelchair athletes are entering the world of mountain biking. Mountain biking is an extreme sport. Therefore, wheelchair mountain biking is not for the timid. A beginner should not attempt an actual mountain bike course without proper training. Riders reach high speeds traveling with the force of gravity down mountain courses.
Mountain bikes for wheelchair users are designed with four wheels compared to a traditional two wheel mountain bike. These mountain bikes are sometimes referred to as four-wheelers or quadricycles. The bikes are powered mainly by gravity; however, the bikes are wheeled onto the course manually. The quadricycles are steered by traditional handlebars, but contain no pedals. Athletes must gauge and maintain speeds. Riders slow or stop the bikes with traditional disc brakes. Top-end suspension and carbon-fiber seating are the only cushioning factors built into the bike. The bikes are equipped with 20-inch BMX wheels on the front of the bike and 26-inch mountain bike wheels on the back.
In 2004, Calvin Williams, avid mountain biker, fell 50 feet from a cliff. Massive injuries to his legs required him to use a wheelchair for over a year. The accident prompted Williams to design a mountain bike for wheelchair users. He named the venture Project Enduro. The Welsh Government has supported Williams’s project through European Regional Development Funding. The second prototype appeared in the American market in December 2014. His desire is to see wheelchair athletes competing in traditional mountain bike races.
Phil Hall, a wheelchair mountain bike enthusiast, started campaigning to modify mountain bike courses for four-wheeling athletes after breaking his back in a motorcycle accident. Hall claims that with minor adjustments athletes on four-wheeling mountain bikes can enjoy or compete on traditional courses. Hall began a mountain bike club for wheelchair athletes called the Rough Riderz in 2007. The Rough Riderz Club has been combining efforts with both the Scotland and North England Forestry Commission to adapt forest trails for four-wheeling mountain bikes. Step-offs, an area where the ground drops abruptly, need to be adjusted slightly to accommodate four-wheel mountain bikes along with a few other minor adjustments.
*Photo courtesy of Downhill Wheelchair Mountain Bike by 1001things Flickr’s Creative Commons.