What is Adaptive Moutainbiking?

Adaptive MTB (Mountain Biking) encompasses a broad range of events and riders who typically cannot ride a standard mountain bike and require adapted equipment and trails to suit their physical, intellectual, neurological and sensory abilities.

There are varying adaptive mountain bikes available around the world, each designed to meet a riders specific need. Readily established adaptive equipment includes: handcycles, recumbent leg-cycles, and tandem bikes.

What is an off-road handcycle?

Off-road handcycles can be classed under the broader category of cyles used in Adaptive MTB, predominantly used by people with disabilities, special needs, or those who are uncomfortable, or unable to ride standard two-wheeled bikes. Due to the varying range of abilities, so to are the types of equipment.

As with mountain bikes, there are also a range of off road handcycles tailored to meet individual needs and the style of riding (XC and DH being the more prominent styles).

Three particular types exists, with many more variations being manufactured around the world and by handcycle enthusiasts. The following information provides a brief snapshot of the common styles of off-road handcycles.

Recumbent Handcycle

The first type of off-road handcycles, and the more preferred type amongst people with disabilities, is the recumbent handcycle. Much like it's road counterpart, the off road recumbent allows the rider to be seated in a 'leaning-back' position with the legs held forward and typically strapped in to supporting leg brackets. The weight is distributed toward the rear of the frame which is supported by two rear wheels.

The single front wheel pivots between the legs and acts as the primary steering wheel and drive wheel. A back rest allows the rider to strap themselves with belts according to their ability and comfort level. It also allows them to propel the handcycle by pushing simultaneously the hand cranks which is typically positioned around chest height.

C2C_DAY 2-15
Recumbent Off-road Handcycle. © Emily Dimozantos


Seating: Full backrest and sitting cushion

Seating Position: Leaning back - legs forward.

Weight Distribution: Middle to Back

Drive Chain: Front Wheel

Pedaling: Parallel hand cranks

Steering: Front wheel pivot (between legs) with hand cranks

PROS: Can be modified to use on-road. Less trunk stability required - Can be adapted to higher quadriplegics.

CONS: Larger turning circle. Less suspension. Less clearance.

OVERALL: Great for a more leisurely and comfortable ride on fire trails and less technical trails. Suitable for XC.

Kneeling Handcycle

The second type of off road hancycles is the kneeling handcycle. This is a relatively newer type of handcycles arranged in a 'tadpole-like' configuration with one wheel at the rear and two at the front. With the rider positioned on their knees and sitting on a bucket seat, they have less options for strapping their torso and are therefore more suited, although not limited, for people with a higher function and stability.

Opposite to the recumbent handcycle, the kneeling handcycle has the drive wheel is at the back, while two front wheels act as the steering and balancing wheels.

A typical bike handle bar group set is common among the kneeling handcycles.

Margaret River ountain bike handcycling
Kneeling offroad handcycle. Cape 2 Cape MTB 2013


Seating: Carbon bucket seat

Seating Position: Kneeling forward

Weight Distribution: Middle to front

Drive Chain: Rear wheel

Pedaling: Alternating hand cranks

Steering: Standard bike handlebars

PROS: Good impact absorber. Smaller turning circle. More stable.

CONS: Weight. More trunk function required. More strain on the back and neck.

OVERALL: Great for an intense and technical ride on technical trails and downhill. Suitable for DH.

Gravity Quad Bike

The third type of off road handcycle is the seated 'gravity' quad bike.
Due to it's inability to be propelled with gears and a drive wheel, it technically isn't classed as a handcycle, however is common amongst the same group of people who ride recumbent and kneeling handcycles. The configuration is very similar to that of a gocart and has four wheels (two steering wheels at the front and two non-steering wheels at the back). Similar to the kneeling handcycle, there is a handle bar group set which steers the front wheels. A more reinforced bucket seat provides the rider with more stability and allows for the knees to be tucked close to the body.

Gravity Quad Bike


Seating: Carbon bucket seat

Seating Position: Seated crouch

Weight Distribution: Middle

Drive Chain: Nil

Pedaling: Nil

Steering: Standard bike handlebars

PROS: Stability and comfort. Closest to a natural sitting position. Absorbs high impact with ease!

CONS: Cannot be self propelled (no drive chain). Heavy to transport. Limited to Downhill Trails.

OVERALL: These 'handcycles' are specifically designed to cater for DH riding, requiring enough downward gravity to maintain momentum throughout the course of a trail. Suspension on all 4 wheels is typical of this style.

Recumbent Trike

Recumbent leg-powered trikes have been on the road for decades, but recently they've been growing in numbers off-road. Typical styles come with the recumbent seating position of a recumbent handcycle in combination with a similar frame as the kneeling down handcycles.

Steering is achieved via the side handlebars on either side of the ride, which directly maneuver the steering crossbar. Leg pedaling is done on a fixed axis, ie. the legs don't move side to side or pivot, they only crank.



Seating: Full backrest and seat. Varying padding.

Seating Position: 45 - 85 degrees upright

Weight Distribution: Middle - Front

Drive Chain: Rear Wheel

Pedaling: Foot powered front

Steering: Side hand cranks

PROS: Perfect for people with limited upper body stability/arm dexterity but with good lower body function. Low center of gravity.

CONS: Legs, cranks and drive chain vulnerable to injury/damage if there is a collision.

OVERALL: Availability and variety with different variations in frame and seating design.

  Who makes off-road handcycles?

The following hand cycles are only to show some of the more established designs. There are plenty more out there! Don't write-off independent designers who can specialise in one-off cycles, who might be able to create something specific for your needs.

No one manufacturer is better than the other as they all provide varying equipment and it will depend highly on a rider's;

  • strength, balance and ability,
  • available trails,
  • preferred riding style, and
  • cost.

So, in no specific order, here are the prominent manufacturers of Adaptive Mountain Trikes from around the world.


  • Kneeling Handcycles (DH)
  • Recumbent Handcycles (XC)


  • Kneeling Handcycles (XC)
  • Upright-Recumbent Handcycle (XC)
  • Upright-Recumbent Legcycle Trike (XC)


  • Recumbent Handcycle (XC)
  • Recumbent Handcycle (DH)



Recumbent Handcycle (XC)



Recumbent leg-trike

Kriftel, GERMANY

Recumbent leg-trike


Recumbent leg-trike




West Australia, AUSTRALIA

Upright-Recumbent Handcycle (XC)



Gravity Quad-Bike (DH)


Gravity Quad-Bike (DH)


If you have any technical queries regarding any of these, it would be best to check the websites for their specifications or contact the manufacturers directly.