Ask not what the industry can do for you, but what you can do for the industry! - BikeBiz
The cycling industry isn’t the most inclusive place to be for those with disabilities, but it doesn’t have to be that way, writes Bikeworks head of development Emily Esche

I’ve been around the industry for a while, having occupied various roles in sales, marketing and blogging. While working as a rep, I looked for ways to encourage everyone to cycle and stumbled across my current employer, Bikeworks. I started volunteering at their All Ability Inclusive Cycling clubs, and now head up development to expand the programme and enable even more people to cycle, regardless of their ability – something that I feel very strongly about as a lifelong cyclist and hoarder of bikes!

When pondering what the industry can do to make cycling more inclusive, I always come back to the core idea of awareness and acceptance of others. We’re not all the same; we don’t all have the same needs, approach to life, or the same body. The cycling industry is slowly becoming more aware that we’re not all fit, skinny men, and this is a great thing for everyone! What I’d like to highlight more than anything here is that there are things we can do to take this further and make cycling the truly inclusive activity and mode of transport it was originally intended to be. The key is to really ask yourself: what can I do to help those furthest away from cycling to get on a bike and get going?

Acceptance and knowledge
Approach and attitude play a huge role in anyone’s bicycle-buying experience, and this is particularly true when working with those facing multiple barriers in everyday life. 

Imagine how it would feel to be told by society that you’re not able to do something, constantly fighting for acceptance, access, and to be understood and not belittled. These are things members of the cycling community have to deal with on a daily basis.

Buying a bike should be fun for everyone – it’s the start of a new adventure, after all. For people with disabilities, this can be doubly true. Research by Wheels For Wellbeing, an inclusive cycling delivery and advocacy charity in London, has found that using a bicycle as a mobility aid is actually easier for many people, and can significantly increase independence and freedom. These are all things worth bearing in mind when thinking about how inclusive we are as an industry, from manufacturers through local shops and clubs to consumers.

Bike shops can sometimes be intimidating to people who already cycle, let alone those who don’t! If you don’t know what you’re looking for then you can feel very much out of place in that environment. Bike shops have come on leaps and bounds in the last decade with the rise of cycling as a serious hobby. However, if you happen to have a physical disability or have no cycling experience or confidence, then you may not see a bike shop as somewhere that caters to you. Unfortunately, for the most part, this is correction assumption – but it doesn’t need to be.

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There are small alterations that can be made to regular bicycles, shops and equipment that allow some people with disabilities to ride a ‘standard’ bike and enter the industry as a consumer. One thing the cycling industry could do to make cycling more accessible, therefore, is learning how to talk to people about their needs, and think creatively about what can be used to adapt a bike. For example, you can get dual pull brake levers which allow both brakes to be operated from one lever. You can also integrate foot straps or one-sided SPD pedals.

Beyond this, there are a whole host of tricycles, recumbents, semi-recumbents and hand cycles out there which can enable practically anyone to ride. These are not readily available in shops and often have to be ordered online – Mission Cycles, for example, has a huge range of bikes and bits to adapt them to an individual’s needs. Being able to set these bikes up for customers, adjust them correctly and service them, while not earning a sale, will earn a customer and open up cycling to so many people.

Try it!
There are opportunities to try cycling at inclusive cycling clubs across the country. I work for a social enterprise in East London which has been delivering All Ability cycling for nearly 12 years now. At Bikeworks, we believe everyone should have the opportunity to ride a bike, and those who traditionally face a barrier to cycling have as much – if not more – to gain from getting out on a bike, regardless of what shape it takes.

The inclusive cycling clubs provide all equipment and trained instructors to help people to start cycling, get onto a bike, make the alterations needed for them to ride comfortably and confidently, and generally encourage them to give it a go. Knowledge and awareness of these sessions within shops and the cycling business could help to signpost potential cyclists to the service and the equipment. With a little awareness and acceptance, everyone can share the joy that is riding a bike.

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