Updated: Sep 6
This is your go-to guide on how to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm. We'll touch on the following:
Do you need a prosthetic arm to ride a bike?
What prosthetic arms and tools are available to assist with riding a bike?
What’s the difference between riding a bike with a myoelectric prosthetic arm and a passive prosthetic arm?
How to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm
Which handlebars are best for riding a bike with a prosthetic arm?
How long does it take to learn to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm?
What does it feel like to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm?
Is it easy to grip handlebars using a prosthetic arm?
Why might someone think riding a bike with a prosthetic arm could be difficult?
Koalaa’s Approach to riding a bike with a prosthetic arm
User Stories - Sarah Fisher
In the realm of adaptive sports and activities, riding a bike with a prosthetic arm has become a symbol of the possibilities of assistive technology. Advanced prosthetic technology has made it possible for individuals with limb loss and limb difference to use assistive tools to engage in physical activities that they once might have avoided due to lack of adaptive equipment.
In this article, we'll delve into the question: "Can you ride a bike with a prosthetic arm?" by exploring the possibilities of prosthetics and offering practical tips for those interested in pursuing assistive tools to ride a bike!
Q1. Do you need a prosthetic arm to ride a bike?
In short, no! Many people with limb differences are able to ride a bike using their hands or arms depending on what type of limb difference or limb loss they have.
A prosthetic arm can act as an assistive tool which provides support and assistance for individuals with upper limb differences who decide they need extra support with riding a bike due to balance, stability and grip. The choice to use a prosthetic or alternative tools for riding a bike ultimately depends on the individual's comfort, needs, and preferences!
Q2. What prosthetic arms and tools are available to assist with riding a bike?
For individuals with upper limb differences who are seeking assistance with riding a bike, there are several prosthetic options and adaptive tools available. Here are some of the prosthetics and tools commonly used to assist with riding a bike:
Handlebar Grips: Adaptive handlebar grips with larger or modified shapes can provide a more secure grip for individuals with reduced hand movement and function.
Brake Modifications: Brake levers can be customised to accommodate different gripping techniques. Some adaptations include longer levers or loops that can be operated using different parts of the arm.
One-Handed Controls: Specially designed controls can consolidate braking and shifting functions, allowing individuals to operate the bike using just one hand.
Prosthetic Rests: Attachable prosthetic rests can be added to the handlebars, providing a stable surface for the prosthetic arm to rest on when not in use.
Stabilisers: Stabilising wheels or training wheels can provide additional balance and support, especially during the learning phase.
Straps and Harnesses: Straps or harnesses can be used to secure the prosthetic arm in place while riding, preventing it from slipping.
Passive Prosthetics: Koalaa provides soft prosthetic arms with interchangeable tools. We have a specific prosthetic tool designed for holding handlebars designed as a hook shape with velcro to provide a stable grip and control of the bar.
Our bike tool is perfect for gripping the handle bars on pedal bikes, scooters and buggies. With a spring loaded ‘wrist’ the "Sarah tool" enables secure and comfortable steering, as well as employing a quick-release hook and loop grip surface.
Myoelectric Prosthetics: Myoelectric prosthetics use muscle signals to control movement. Some advanced myoelectric prosthetics are equipped with precision grips that allow users to hold handlebars.
The choice of prosthetic or adaptive tool depends on the individual's specific upper limb difference and personal preferences. The ever-evolving field of prosthetics continues to offer innovative options, allowing individuals with upper limb differences to explore new avenues of assistive tools.
Q3. What’s the difference between riding a bike with a myoelectric prosthetic arm and a passive prosthetic arm?
Passive prosthetics are generally lightweight and easy to wear, causing minimal strain on the limb. This comfort can enhance the overall cycling experience, as users are less likely to experience discomfort or fatigue during extended cycling sessions. They also provide a good level of grip and support for holding handlebars.
With myoelectric prosthetics, signals from your muscles will prompt the prosthetic hand to close and hold the handlebar. Practice is key to achieving precision and refining your muscle movements. Be mindful of the prosthetic's battery life, extended cycling sessions might consume energy so always carry a spare battery or charger if needed!
Some modern myoelectric prosthetics are equipped with sensory feedback systems designed to provide users with a limited sense of touch or pressure. While this technology is still evolving, it represents a significant advancement in enhancing the user's experience and interaction with the prosthetic limb.
Q4. How to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm.
Start with Basics: Begin with a stationary bike or tricycle to practise balance, pedalling, and braking with the prosthetic arm.
Positioning and Posture: Maintain proper posture if possible whilst holding the handlebars. Adjust your seat and handlebar height to ensure your prosthetic rests comfortably on the bar.
Proper Fit: Ensure that the prosthetic arm or adaptive tool is properly fitted and adjusted to provide comfort and control while riding.
Gradual Progression: Take small steps and gradually transition to a regular bike once confidence and skills improve.
Practice Balancing: Balancing is crucial. Practice balance exercises off the bike to build core strength and stability.
Safety First: Always wear appropriate safety gear, including a helmet and any necessary protective padding.
Seek Professional Guidance: Work with a prosthetist or adaptive sports professional to find the best solution and receive guidance on technique.
Try Different Approaches: Remember that riding a bike with a prosthetic is a personal journey. Adapt and customise techniques to suit your unique needs and preferences. What matters most is finding a method that allows you to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable!
Seek Support: Connect with support groups or online limb difference communities. They can provide valuable guidance, techniques, and recommendations!
Q5. Which handlebars are best for riding a bike with a prosthetic arm?
Selecting the right handlebars is an important consideration when riding a bike with a prosthetic arm. The handlebars play a crucial role in providing stability, control, and comfort during a bike ride. Individuals with upper limb differences could consider different handlebars that accommodate their specific needs and allow them to maintain balance and control. Here are some handlebar options to consider:
Flat Handlebars: Flat handlebars are a popular choice for urban, hybrid, and mountain bikes. They offer a more upright riding position, which can be beneficial for individuals with prosthetic arms. The wider grip area provides ample space to position the prosthetic arm comfortably. The upright positioning allows for better visibility of the road and surroundings, the straight design also allows for easy access to brake levers and shifters.
Riser Handlebars: Riser handlebars have a slight upward curve at the ends, which allows for a more comfortable hand position. They are commonly found on mountain bikes but can be suitable for various types of cycling. The upward curve provides a natural hand position, reducing strain. The higher hand position enhances control, especially during off-road or bumpy rides.
Drop Handlebars: Drop handlebars are often seen on road bikes and offer multiple hand positions for various riding situations. While these handlebars might not be the most intuitive choice for individuals with prosthetic arms, they can still be adapted for use. The drop bars provide a more aerodynamic riding position, suitable for higher speeds.
Butterfly Handlebars: Butterfly handlebars, also known as trekking or touring bars, feature multiple hand positions and a unique design that allows for various grip options. The wide design offers stability and control, especially during long rides. However, the unique design may require more adjustments and adaptations to suit individual needs.
Customised Handlebars: Depending on an individual's specific prosthetic arm and needs, customised handlebars can be designed and fabricated. This might involve altering the shape, length, or positioning of the handlebars to provide the most comfortable and effective grip. Customised handlebars can be designed to perfectly suit the individual's prosthetic arm and preferences.
The best handlebars for riding a bike with a prosthetic arm will depend on individual preferences, the type of bike ride you plan to engage in, and the level of adaptation required for optimal comfort and control.
Q6. How long does it take to learn to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm?
The duration to learn to ride a bike with a prosthetic varies based on individual factors.
Individual Differences: Every person is unique, and the learning process will be influenced by factors such as their balance, coordination, strength, and familiarity with using a prosthetic arm.
Cycling Experience: If the individual has prior experience with riding a bike, even without a prosthetic arm, they might find it easier to adapt to riding with a prosthetic.
Prosthetic Type: The type of prosthetic arm used plays a significant role.
Adaptive Tools: The use of adaptive tools, such as customised handlebars or grips, can also impact the learning process. If the adaptive tools closely match the individual's needs, they might accelerate the learning curve.
Physical Fitness: Good overall physical fitness, including core strength and balance, can contribute to a smoother learning process.
Practice Frequency: Consistency is key. Regular practice sessions, even if they are shorter in duration, can be more effective than sporadic, infrequent attempts.
Training Environment: Learning in a safe, controlled environment with smooth terrain and minimal obstacles can help build confidence and skills faster.
The learning process should be approached with patience and techniques that work best for the individual's comfort and progress. Seeking guidance from a prosthetist, adaptive sports instructor, or experienced cyclist can provide valuable insights and tips!
Q7. What does it feel like to ride a bike with a prosthetic arm?
Using a prosthetic arm to ride a bike is a unique and evolving experience that varies from person to person, depending on the type of prosthetic and the individual. There is however a mix of physical and emotional sensations:
Initially, using a prosthetic to ride a bike can feel unfamiliar and require a period of adaptation. Users need time to understand the prosthetic's movements and if it’s a myoelectric prosthetic; how muscle signals or sensors translate into gripping motions.
Using a prosthetic arm to ride a bike typically involves engaging specific muscle groups to trigger the prosthetic's movements if it’s myoelectric. This might feel different from natural hand movements and could require focus and concentration.
Over time, individuals will feel more confident using the prosthetic or tool which brings increased comfort and control. It's important to acknowledge that the experience can be different for everyone. While some might encounter challenges with their prosthetic, others might find the experience seamless. The emotional aspect also plays a significant role – the process of learning and adapting often intertwines with a sense of achievement and pride!
Q8. Is it easy to grip handlebars using a prosthetic arm?
The level of ease varies based on the individual's prosthetic type, their upper limb difference, and the specific tools used.
Koalaa provides lightweight passive tools meaning the handlebar is simply secured into the tool using a hook and velcro which holds the bar securely!
Q9. Why might someone think riding a bike with a prosthetic arm could be difficult?
As a society, we sometimes perceive riding a bike with a prosthetic arm as difficult due to a combination of historical norms, limited exposure to prosthetic technology, and assumptions about physical limitations. In the past, prosthetics may have been rudimentary and lacked the functionality required for activities such as riding a bike. This has led to the idea that prosthetic users might struggle with tasks that involve fine motor skills.
The lack of awareness and representation of prosthetics has also contributed to misconceptions. Limited visibility of individuals successfully using prosthetics for activities like riding a bike has reinforced the idea that such tasks can be challenging.
Riding a bike requires a level of control and precision that may seem challenging to achieve with a prosthetic arm. These assumptions underestimate the capabilities of modern prosthetic technology, which has advanced significantly!
It's important to challenge these perceptions and embrace a more inclusive perspective. While there may be a learning curve and adjustments involved, individuals who chose to use prosthetic arms can develop remarkable skills using them to ride a bike.
The narrative is shifting towards empowerment and expanded possibilities, highlighting that riding a bike with a prosthetic arm is not inherently difficult but a skill that can be mastered with determination and the right tools!
Koalaa’s Approach to riding a bike with a prosthetic arm
At Koalaa, our user-centric approach to design ensures that individuals have the tools available if required to assist with various activities, including writing. Our prosthetics feature a soft, lightweight fabric sleeve that can be paired with different tool attachments, catering to specific tasks.
Our Sarah tool is specifically designed for gripping the handle bars on pedal bikes, scooters and buggies. With a spring loaded ‘wrist’ the Sarah tool enables secure and comfortable steering, as well as employing a quick-release hook and loop grip surface.
Whether you’re scaling mountains, training for the Tour de France or pushing your bike up the local hill, the Sarah tool gives you a secure and flexible grip on the handlebars.
By designing tool attachments that cater to activities such as riding a bike, we aim to encourage inclusivity and ensure that no one feels limited by the lack of resources out there available to assist them!
User Stories - Sarah Fisher
The journey of riding a bike with a prosthetic arm is deeply personal and looks different for each individual. From partial hand to below elbow, congenital to acquired limb differences - our tools have assisted many of our community pick ride a bike!
This tool was inspired by Sarah, our very own Limb Buddy here at Koalaa. She is an avid cyclist and had never found the right solution to her prosthetic until now! She worked with Koalaa to create a tool perfect for holding the hand bars and paired with the soft socket is perfect for long rides.
The Sarah tool is available for those with a below elbow limb difference and those with partial hands and fingers.
Want to see our tools for riding a bike?
If you want to check out our tools which attach to our prosthetic arm for riding a bike, click the links below: