Ready ... Set ... Exercise

Three-Wheel Cycles Make Conditioning Fun

by Kathy Wechsler on May 1, 2005 - 10:16am

Why should a little bad balance or lack of strength keep you from enjoying the freedom of soaring down a hill with the wind in your hair? Maybe you’ve dreamed of riding a bike again. Or you don’t want your child’s neuromuscular disease to stop him or her from biking with friends.

Whatever your motive, a three-wheel cycle may meet your need.

Why Three?

A cycle with three wheels offers more stability than a two-wheeler, making it practical for many people with disabilities. If your neuromuscular disease causes trunk weakness, balancing on a standard bicycle is difficult, said Jennifer Majors, a physical therapist (PT) with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Sometimes the problem has to do more with leg strength than balance. In either case, a three-wheel cycle can help.

Quickie                    introduces the Shark.
Quickie introduces the Shark, a recumbent hand cycle made for comfort and high performance in competitions and recreational riding.

With these cycles you can exercise while enjoying the fresh air, and you’re more likely to exercise if it’s fun. Cycling is an aerobic exercise that increases your lung capacity and heart rate, keeps you limber and maintains your range of motion.

“With increasing strength, flexibility and endurance, this may slow down the progression of contractures or problems secondary to the disease,” Majors said. “It’s also something fun that [people] can do, giving them confidence and the freedom to perform an activity their peers are performing.”

Lola Lucas of Springfield, Ill., who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and was MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador in 1961 and 1962, lost 30 pounds after she started riding “Silver,” her Haluzak Triumf, in 2002.

“It’s very satisfying over the course of a summer to go from struggling to get up the hill, to the hill turning into nothing,” Lucas said. “I don’t even downshift for some of the things I struggled with at the beginning of the season.”

Besides exercise, Silver offers Lucas, 51, freedom, allowing her to join her husband, Kevin Brown, in cycling activities. Lucas and Brown typically ride on neighborhood streets or in a nearby park; occasionally they load their bikes in their truck and hit the cycling trails.

“Don’t even remotely think of going out riding without a helmet,” said Lucas, who’s the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s statewide trainer specializing in career development software. “Trikes are quite stable, but there’s no point taking a chance — as though any of us need additional physical problems!”

As with any new form of exercise, always see your PT or physician before you start. He or she will evaluate you to see what type of bike you need and offer suggestions on brands and equipment dealers.

Try Before You Buy

Lola Lucas on Silver
Lola Lucas recently had the number of “Silver’s” gears adjusted from eight to 24.

When Lucas first took Silver for a spin, it was “love at first ride.

“It was a Goldilocks thing when I went up to Creative Mobility [a dealer],” Lucas said. “One trike was too heavy and one just felt weird, but getting on the Triumf was just right.”

That’s why it’s important to ask your accessible equipment dealer to let you try several types of cycles. How else are you going to find the perfect three-wheeler?

Silver is a recumbent-style tricycle, on which the rider sits reclined with the pedals in front of the torso, instead of beneath it, as on an upright cycle. Lucas’ cycle also has a comfortable seat with a back.

Types of Trikes

The Quickie Cyclone
The Quickie Cyclone attaches to most manual wheelchairs.

The three-wheel cycle that’s right for you depends on your muscle strength and level of control, said Wesley Walker, a certified assistive technology supplier (ATS) at Cox Home Support in Springfield, Mo.

If your legs don’t have much strength and coordination, you’ll probably want to go with a hand cycle, which you power with your hands and arms using a crank system located near the handlebars. Your PT and ATS will determine if you have enough shoulder and elbow flexibility to get the full range of motion with a hand cycle, Walker said.

You might want an upright for recreational riding.

Recumbent hand cycles, which place your feet forward instead of directly under you, are used for leisure riding and racing. Built for comfort, stability and speed, most of these cycles are close to the ground for a low center of gravity, making them easier to control at higher speeds. Serious racers actually lie back as far as possible in their recumbent hand cycles to minimize wind resistance.

The Quickie Cyclone LS
Quickie Cyclone LS

Most hand cycle prices range from $1,800 to $3,600 but can reach $9,000 for the high-end racing hand cycles. For $1,650, you can get the Quickie Cyclone, which adapts your manual wheelchair into a hand cycle.

Foot-powered, three-wheel cycles are literally tricycles for adults, but there are children’s models available, too.

“In terms of foot-powered bikes, one of the advantages for a recumbent is going to be comfort, because you are sitting on a larger muscle mass,” said Hal Honeyman of Creative Mobility in St. Charles, Ill., who sold Lucas her trike. “You’re sitting on an area that was meant to be sat on, where your upright bikes tend to put weight on areas that don’t support weight as well, soft tissue and areas that might be more prone to giving you trouble.”

Recumbent trikes are configured in the delta design (two wheels in back) or the tadpole design (two wheels in front). Tadpole trikes tend to give you a lower center of gravity, said Honeyman, who’s also the executive director of a nonprofit cycling outreach program, Project Mobility.

Invacare Top End Excelerator-XLT recumbent hand cycle
The stable and maneuverable Invacare Top End Excelerator-XLT recumbent hand cycle can reach 30 mph.

For three-wheel foot-powered cycles, prices start at $800 and can skyrocket to $4,000. For $4,583, the Journey, from Freedom Concepts, puts you in a prone position if you can’t sit upright, and you pedal with your feet.

Whatever your seating needs, there’s probably a three-wheel cycle that can be adapted for you. The seating complexity depends on your range of motion and trunk stability and adds to the price of the cycle. You can get a cycle with just a soft cushion or a bucket seat or one that’s much more involved, with shoulder straps, lateral guides and even a molded seating system, Walker said.

Freedom Concept's Discovery series
Freedom Concepts Discovery series offers stability for children under 125 pounds.

You Get What You Pay For

Most private insurance companies won’t cover three-wheel cycles because they’re not medically necessary, Walker said. Let’s face it: You can find cheaper ways to exercise, even though they’re not as much fun.

If money’s an issue, consider buying a used cycle. To find out whether Medicaid will help you buy a cycle, call your Medicaid agency. You can get the phone number by going to and clicking on your state.

“Accept that you have to pay for quality,” said Lucas, who advised readers not to pay less than $800 for a trike. “It’s a lifestyle improvement that gives a tremendous amount of enjoyment and health benefits and fun.”


Resources for: Foot-Powered, Three-Wheel Cycles and Hand Cycles

Bicycles By Haluzak
(707) 544-6243

Freedom Ryder
(800) 800-5828

Easy Racers
(831) 722-9797

Mobility Engineering
(509) 545-0659

Freedom Concepts
(800) 661-9915

Quickie Designs (Sunrise Medical)
(800) 333-4000
Search for “cycles”

Greenspeed USA

Top End (Invacare)
(800) 333-6900
Click on “Wheelchairs and Top End”

Organic Engines
(850) 224-7499

Varna Innovation and Research Corp.
(250) 247-8379

Penninger Recumbents
(630) 556-4325

Rifton Equipment
(800) 777-4244

Sun Bicycles

(800) 777-1034

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