When Laura Wilton first explored the idea of buying a handcycle, she had no idea how much her life would change. It not only reactivated her active lifestyle, but inspired her to open a one-of-a-kind business in Cornwall. TRI-Cycle hires out a pair of sporty handcycles on the Camel Trail, National Cycle Network Route 32, so that more people can experience the freedom, thrill and independence that Laura’s own handcycle has brought her.
An e-assisted handcycle enables Laura to get active in the Cornish landscape with her family. Credit: TRI-Cycle handbike
The arrival of an e-assisted handcycle in Laura’s life has been transformative.
Laura shared her story:
“A few years back, I was diagnosed with SPG5a, a progressive condition that affects the lower half of the body.
“I was told that over time, wheels would gradually be needed to replace the function of my legs.
“It’s quite a challenge coming to terms with living life at a slower pace.”
Laura, who’s 35, lives in Bodmin with her husband, three children and two terriers.
They’re an active bunch who love to be outdoors, taking advantage of Cornwall’s rugged and beautiful landscapes.
“I needed a cycle that would enable me to get back out on the Cornish woodland and coastal trails that I’d grown up exploring.
“As my ability to walk slowed and reduced, I started missing out on experiences.
“I have an active mindset and missing out felt totally unacceptable.
“I went in search of solutions.”
Shopping for a handcycle
“I knew I wanted to maintain an active, independent lifestyle.
“Sitting in my wheelchair on a platform, whilst someone else cycled, was not right for me.
“A handcycle seemed like the way forward, but I didn’t want to be in a recumbent position.
“I wanted to be sat upright, keeping an eye on my children and dogs.”
Laura went to Draft Wheelchairs near Cambridge, who specialise in sports chairs for active people.
“I originally had a much tamer looking bike in mind, but when I tried the very comfortable Sport-on XCR handcycle I was sold.
“It also has e-assist that I can turn up or down.
“Which is perfect for the Cornish hills, and depending on the sort of day I’m having, I can give my arms extra support.”
Laura chose a sporty handcycle with an upright riding position to enjoy the Camel Trail and other routes. Credit: TRI-Cycle handbike
A sporty handcycle for an adventure mum
“I felt trapped when I was first diagnosed, not knowing how my condition was going to progress.
“The arrival of the handcycle gave me a sense of freedom again.”
The first time Laura took her children cycling on woodland trails, her daughter said “I love this! I’ve got adventure mum back again”.
“Riding gives me a sense of achievement and increases my self-esteem.
“If I didn’t have my handcycle, I think my mental health would be severely impacted by now.”
Setting up a hire business
Laura explained that XCR handcycles are not only expensive, but large too:
“So many hire shops don’t believe it makes financial sense to add them to their fleets for occasional hire, or to have them take up the space of three standard bikes.
“I recognised that I was really lucky to be able to buy one and always thought about how many more people would benefit from riding one.”
In 2020, Laura’s beloved mum passed away, leaving her an inheritance.
“No amount of money could replace my mum.
“She loved Cornwall and was always helping everybody out.
“I thought, how can I keep my mum exploring Cornwall and helping others?
“That’s when I decided to use the money to buy two more XCRs and set up TRI-Cycle in memory of my mum.”
Laura set up TRI-Cycle to enable others to experience the thrill and freedom of riding a handcycle on the National Cycle Network. Credit: TRI-Cycle handbike
Getting down to business
Laura dedicated herself to getting TRI-Cycle off the ground, taking a small business course and a mechanics course.
Recognising that the hire of a new cycle can be quite daunting, Laura offers free have-a-go sessions on the Camel Trail, so people can see if a handcycle's right for them.
She explained that you don’t have to be disabled to ride a handcycle:
“It could be you have a bad hip, or a problem with balance.
“It could be that one of you is disabled and you both want to share the same experience.
“These bikes are here to accommodate anyone who feels they might be right for them.
“The Cornwall Bicycle Project have been phenomenal, allowing me to join their rides and expand my knowledge of local trails so I can broaden my hire routes in the future.
“They also hire my handcycles for people who really need them, demonstrating how important it is that people have access to a cycle which meets their needs.
“Purchasing an XCR handcycle would be a massive expense for an organisation like The Cornwall Bicycle Project.
“It's important that I fill that gap and be a part of their community.
“It means so much to me to run this business.
“I sometimes get told I’m an inspiration, but I’m not really comfortable with that.
“After all, this is my day-to-day life and I’m just getting on with it.”
Barriers to travel
Laura’s been working with Sustrans and Cornwall Council to help us assess and redesign barriers on the Camel Trail, to improve accessibility for everyone.
We also asked her to tell us what it's like making journeys with her handcycle beyond the National Cycle Network:
“I find there’s a lot of parking for standard bikes, but nothing for cycles like mine.
“Often I can’t park because I’ll end up blocking three or four bike spaces or the pavement.
“It turns you into an inconvenience.”
Laura also explained that taking her handcycle on a train is impossible as the storage spaces are far too small.
“We’re all encouraged to be more green and travel carbon neutrally, but we don’t always have the infrastructure to support that.
“I feel comfortable with the space I take up, but facilities like trains and bike racks make me feel like there’s no room for me.”
Laura’s been working with us to help assess and redesign barriers on the Camel Trail, so accessibility can be improved for everyone. Credit: TRI-Cycle handbike