A blog by Karen Darke, Hannah Dines and John Hampshire
I (John) first found out about handcycles when I visited Karen in Inverness in the Autumn of 2009. Before that, like many people, I hadn’t known of their existence and although I had obviously seen a tricycle I didn’t know much about them.
I started Coaching Karen shortly after that first visit and after 6 years, including her winning a Paralympic Silver medal from London 2012 we have both learnt a lot about handcycles and handcycle racing.
Recently I was fortunate enough to become friends with Hannah Dines, who is a tricycle rider on the British Cycling Team. Karen and Hannah are hoping to go the Paralympic Games in Brazil this September and to get medals in their respective disciplines.
Handcycles and more conventional tricycles, although both having three wheels are very different. However, in a very important respect they provide an opportunity to get out and enjoy the many benefits of cycling as well as the excitement of competition up to the highest level
Apart from the obvious mechanical differences there are more challenging performance aspects to be considered and that is where I focus as a coach. I try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both equipment and riders to help each athlete be their best.
Conventionally, Para-sport has been labelled disability sport but in reality this is just a way of determining competition forums that allow people to take part on a relatively equal footing. As a 52 year old man I cannot compete against men of relatively similar fitness in their 20s and 30s, although of course I am fitter than a lot of people that age. I therefore race against people my own age and category of fitness.
My point here is that to make the most of sport and competition, the important thing is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each athlete individually. Comparing these to the demands of the sport. By doing this it is possible to identify where gains and improvements can be made in a systematic and logical way. It is simple to say and difficult to do but it is interesting, challenging and exciting.
Karen says: A few days ago marked 100 days to go until the start of the 2016 Paralympic Games. My ‘Paralympic’ focus began in 2008. It seemed a crazy dream to try and get to the 2012 Paralympics in London; little did I expect to be here for another four-year cycle and having a strong chance of selection and a medal in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
My first ever handbike experience was whilst in a spinal injuries hospital, trying out a clip-on handbike that fits onto the front of a wheelchair. I hated it as it didn’t support my upper body and I found myself just wobbling around and struggling to go any faster than my wheelchair. However, when I tried a recumbent handbike that supported my upper back and head, I was hooked. It’s a speed-machine. With good tarmac, I can steadily cruise at over 30kmph and if feeling edgy enough, I can fly at almost three times that speed downhill! In a good climate, it feels like a sun-bed on wheels; in a wet climate, like a broken shower spraying water in all directions. Regardless, I love it because it gives me so much freedom, allows me to get my heart rate to the max, stay fit and healthy and enjoy being outdoors.
But with three-months to go to Rio, I’m feeling a focus come over me like I’ve never felt before. It’s not a conscious decision…it’s like my body on all levels is preparing me to be in the best form possible, so that I can hopefully realise the dream I have this time; of up-grading from Silver to Gold. I believe I can do it, but it’s going to be a huge challenge. It seems that there is always at least one athlete I compete against who takes on a Goddess-like status, who just seems to have Gladiator strength and power. It’s an easy habit to diminish myself into the ‘underdog’, something I’ve been all too good at in the past. I’ve been a pro at putting myself on a psychological back step…seeing my competitors as stronger, faster and more capable, but knowing John is in my team for this ‘Round 2’, that we are nailing the training and the plan as well as working on the other ‘marginal gains’; all those tiny aspects that collectively can make a big difference, gives me a confidence I’ve never had before. Roll on Rio!
Hannah says: Have you got neurological disorder that makes you fall over a lot? Wobble about all over the place? Get suspicious looks on the street doing your morning errands as people try and work out if you’re drunk or on drugs while you try and zigzag, inconspicuously, past them? I’m from Glasgow, so perhaps that’s less about my disability and more about the place in which I live.
Paracycling trike racing is cycling’s biggest up and coming discipline for people with a need for speed, who want to surf the tarmac are already used to feeling unstable and are ready to experience something incredible. Like surfing and mastering those incredibly powerful waves, trike riding is terrifying but also incredibly fulfilling and respect-worthy. Mastering a downhill or a corner takes a similar strength of character to BMXers, snowboarders, surfers. Red-Bull should be all over our helmets and our kit- an extreme sport for sure!
Racing trikes first developed as a sport for typically developed, able-bodied men who were bored of the arguably easier challenge of bike racing. Trikes are harder to handle, in a lot more ways than bikes.
The trike is stable at rest and requires a lot less coordination to get onto it and get it moving than your two-wheeled ride. Once moving though, that’s where it gets fun. To reassure you though, I fall off my trike a lot less than I fall off my legs. Walking is more dangerous and painful for me. That’s why trike racing appeals to me but it’s no toddlers’ game.
It takes away the need to weight bear, you never have to unclip your pedals, you can take an hour to heave yourself onto the saddle if you need, if you get the right frame you don’t have to lift your leg high over a crossbar.
You do have to work at keeping all three wheels on the ground, shifting your body weight for every pothole, corner and camber of the road.
There are mobility trikes out there, big stable beasts for pavement riding. Then there are light-weight, flashy trike shivs that stab into the horizon in a moment and can take you miles and miles into lands you could never have dreamed about. That is what it felt like when I changed from my ‘to school and back’ trike to my Geoff Booker light-weight steel custom frame(http://www.trykit.com/) and now I'm hoping to be selected for the Paralympics to represent GB. A bit different to your average school run.
Getting your hands on a proper racing trike, just to try, without spending the big bucks is the hard part. Harder in Scotland. British Paracycling only operates in England and Wales, email about trying out riding in Manchester. There is also the Tricycle Association, only in England, that often have second hand trikes to buy. You can always hit me up for more info: .
A professional endurance coach since 2009, John Hampshire has worked with cyclists and runners from all over the world to help them achieve their goals. Whether you are training for your first road race or want to win an off-road trail marathon Coach John Hampshire can help you reach your potential and be your best. John enjoys working with a wide range of athletes from beginners to advanced as well as professionals. John offers personal coaching to individuals as well as teams and groups.