If you love the feel of the wind in your face, heart thumping, eyes streaming, then handcycling could be just what you are looking for. Handcycling is a great way to improve fitness levels, lose weightand gain strength, especially for wheelchair users. This is one sport that almost anyone can participate in!
Handcycles have come a long way since the first models of the early 1990s and the racers have developed into two distinctdesigns: super-aerodynamic-recliners and kneelers for those with good trunk function.
Handcycles can further be divided into two basic categories: racing handcycles and recreational handcycles. As we have two world-class handcyclists, Ernst van Dyk and Stuart McCreadie, racing in the World Series (and doing quite well!) this product review is going to focus on racing handcycles, with particular emphasis on models currently in South Africa. Recreational handcycles will be covered in a later article.
The Force 2 is an entry level racer that is not as reclined as the Force R (seebelow) but is equipped with decent cycling components and is a very rideable package. This handcycle comes in either blue or red, depending on the frame width ordered. The standard package is rideable without having to add anyexpensive optional items.
If you like the Force 2 you are going to love the Force R. Top End's Force R is a reclining handcycle born from a string of previous models, and is a true racing thoroughbred. As a recliner, this handcycle is powered solely by arm power. Standard equipment is upper range of the scale SRAM X9 or X0 (27 speed) kit, but there are many options to choose from to customise the bike to your particular style. The crank is adjustable upand down and the backrest and footrests are adjustable to cater for riders fromabout 1,5m to over 2m tall.
Race feel: this handcycle feels solid on theroad and is easy to ride but you do need to concentrate on the job at hand asit does not like sudden, jerky, movements.
The Force K is Top End's kneeler - ridden predominantly by amputees and others who are able to kneel and use their trunkand arms to power the pedals. These handcycles are generally custom built for a snug fit.
Quickie Shark S
The Shark S has been around in its current form for a number of years. It is are clining handcycle, but can also be set up as a kneeler if required. The crank has a wide range of adjustments up and down and the seat backrest also has agood selection of positions so you can get the fit just right. The Shark S is slightly heavier than the Force R but feels solid on the road, corners well and gives an easy-to-ride first impression. Comes with Shimano Ultegra components so 27 speeds and dual braking with one of the brakes being a lockable parking brake. The wheels are 26"x 1" with the option of 20" rear wheels. The (almost essential) neckrest is a chargeable extra option.
The Schmicking handcycle is a custom built bike, hand-made in Germany. As there is no local agent the best option is to go over to the factory and get measured and fitted correctly, alternatively, you can take measurements and send the mover to the factory. This handcycle feels rock solid on the road and comes equipped with upper range components of your choice.
The Carbonbike is the ultimate handcycle for racing. It is light, fairly customised and is definitely the handcycle of choice for the faster European riders. Handbuilt in Switzerland, these handcycles are not cheap. If you can afford the best, then why not?
TheXcaliber Stealth is the first locally built handcycle to be really competitive, and the price is attractive too. The Stealth comes with a standard Suntour bicycle crank, chain guard, 8-speed cassette and triple chainrings (24 speed)with manual shifter. You can also specify preferred components at an additional cost. Wheels are 28" with clincher tyres, however you may choose 26" with either clincher or tubular tyres - all at extra cost.
These handcycles are basically custom built; the crank is a fixed height but can be moved forwards or back by about 5cm for the perfect fit. The backrest and footrests are also adjustable to get that perfect fit. The frame and fork are aluminium, and have a weight restriction of 90kg for the rider. They are supplied ex-Cape Town, but can be packed and freighted to anywhere in South Africa (at the buyers cost). The standard Stealth is R19,000 ex-works and the build time is 4 - 6 weeks.
The Xcaliber Avenger is similar to Invacare's Force R, but lighter. It gives a solid ride but here again, you need to pay attention at high speeds as it can be twitchy if you lose concentration. TheAvenger is all aluminium, with the frame being an oval section tube, and is very lightweight, weighing in at just over 12kg. It comes with an Avenger crank and Bottom Bracket, carbon-fibre chain guard, 9-speed SRAM X9 gripshift, a choice of 18 or 27 gears, manual front derailleur, parking brake and standard bike brake lever on the handgrip.
28" wheels are standard but 26" wheels can be ordered as an option. Currently the Avenger has a rider weight restriction of 75kg. Like the Stealth, the backrest and footrests are adjustable. The standard Avenger sells for R26,500 with a build time of 4 - 6 weeks.
Able Wheelchairs' DP Racer
The DP racer is designed along the lines of the Force R with a teardrop shaped frame and almost flat seating position. Standard equipment is Shimano Alivio 8-speed gripshift and a manual front derailleur shifter. You can choose an upgrade when purchasing. The wheels are 26" with the option of threaded axles or quick release. The DP Racer is anall-round performer. It is easy to handle and be competitive at all levels.There is a rider weight restriction of 100kg and the build time is 6 to 8 weeks from time of order.
Maybe you don't want to have your heart pounding, and your eyes streaming, as you scream down the hill that you just took ages to climb? Maybe you just want to enjoy the great South African outdoors? Watch out for the future article on recreational handcycles!