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I badly fractured my shoulder in a car accident and have limited mobility in my right arm after the repair.

Is there a way for me to safely bicycle on city streets with one arm? Can I modify my current bicycles -- or, are there forms of bicycles, recumbents, or trikes that are designed to be safely operated with just one arm?

Related: can only use right hand to brake reliably, due to disability - safer/possible to modify bike?

  • 3
    Hard braking with one hand on the bar... not fun. – BSO rider Sep 8 '16 at 0:39
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    Is this a long-term/permanent injury ? or is it healing back to full function over time? Do you have a riding partner who might want to switch to a tandem for a bit? – Criggie Sep 8 '16 at 1:12
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    Not sure how long the disjunction will last. Depends on blood flow to the joint. But looking to be in rehab at least a year - if things go well. Tandem is an idea although not ideal for the city. – RoboKaren Sep 8 '16 at 1:21
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    Either a tandem (riding stoker) or a tiller-steered trike, I would say. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 8 '16 at 2:20
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    Hmm. Most comments and all answers seem to assume you have no use of that arm, essentially because of the headline question. Is that the case? Do you have to hold the arm in a sling, or could you put the hand on the (flat) bar, and use other other arm for everything? On one hand, that may mean you could use the brakes, on the other hand, there is a risk of further injury. – andy256 Sep 11 '16 at 9:52

11 Answers 11

16

There are devices that allow a bicycle to be modified to make it easier and safer to ride with one arm. Riding safely would come with practice and confidence. Trikes or recumbents mentioned in the comments offer a safe alternative also.

The key modification needed for a bike is a steering damper. The damper adds resistance to steering by way of a spring and helps slow down movement. It relieves the twitchiness of one armed steering. Steering dampers vary from a rudimentary spring based system such as the Hebie 695enter image description here a more sophisticated elastomer spring like the Hebie 696 enter image description here

or the hydraulic Hopey system. enter image description here

Other modifications include mounting both brake levers on one side to allow single hand usage and using 1x gearing with a single shifter. (or in the case below a 3x9 in an over/under shifter configuration)

enter image description here

There are a few online resources such as NotBroken which show both modified bikes and riders who use a single arm such as Tom Bannister.

  • 3
    Just reading through another bike check on Unbroken, this time Tom Wheelers notbroken.co.uk/2016/06/15/… Theres a lot of stuff you'll take for granted with two arms that may not be apparent until you only have one fully functional one. Things such as wiping sweat, water and mud away from your eyes! Mudguards, headbands and visors all need to be considered..... – DWGKNZ Sep 9 '16 at 12:20
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    Rather than both brake levers on one side, there are adaptors to drive two brakes off one lever. Though it may take a bit much force with your non-dominant hand it's likely to be more controllable than two levers with one hand. Or of course the coaster brake suggested in another answer. – Chris H Sep 9 '16 at 16:36
  • Holy **** that Tom Bannister video is amazing. I couldn't do that stuff with two hands on the bar! – BSO rider Sep 10 '16 at 12:52
  • But how do you calibrate the force distribution when driving two brakes off one lever? The front brake needs much more force. – Michael Apr 4 '17 at 12:07
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I would probably try a simple Roadster (or as I know them a "Dutch bike" or „Hollandrad“):

  • internal gear hub with back-pedaling/coaster brake (ex. Shimano's 8 speed Nexus)
  • normal brake leaver for the front
  • stable geometry

You will have to train to use the back brake, and try out a few "emergency" stops somewhere safe. These bikes aren't built to be fast and if you take your time and try to stay out of trouble, you will be fine.

  • 3
    Yeah, a coaster brake is a good idea, if the user does not need a multi-speed bike. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 8 '16 at 11:52
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    The Nexus 8 speed I mentioned exists in a version with a coaster brake. I use an Alfine 8 speed hub on my commuter, more than enough gears for use on city streets (except Filbert Street in San Francisco). I don't have any first hand experience with the Nexus and its brake though. – linac Sep 8 '16 at 12:00
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    +1 for a coaster brake. I use the Nexus 8 with coaster brake and 8 speeds are more than enough for my 3 mile commute. I have a small hill on the commute but no long, really steep slopes. – Sumyrda Sep 30 '16 at 21:47
  • I rode for many years with a coaster brake on a 3-speed Shimano Nexus. It was a gem. – Ian MacDonald May 1 at 15:03
6

I damaged my rotator cuff, and when it was healing I got back on the bike. What I found helpful was a bike that had a sit up and beg geometry, thumb shifters (not twist shifters) and the use of the rear brakes as primary brake. A dutch style bike by Giant helped enormously, but it had the twist shifter for a Nexxus system. Alfine now has trigger systems that are more friendly and induce less steering torque.

I took my time where I went, and avoided situations that would require violent breaking as much as necessary. Unfortunately, your biking life was changed. You'll have to take time to adapt for what works for you, and move forward from there

I don't think that there is a lot you can do from an equipment perspective in your case. It will be adaptation as needed. I regularly pass a commuter who is missing an arm (an older gentleman) and he seems to have overcome or avoids the difficulties that situation has.

In Brief:

Hybrid type bike adjusted to take pressure off of arm

Thumb trigger shifters are easiest to operate regardless of type of drivetrain

Spin, as mashing the pedals necessitates upper body motion

Practice easier to ride routes, and avoid sudden maneuvering if possible

Hope this helps

6

I’ve been riding with one arm for about twenty five years without problems. I have had many bikes (mainly old bikes with the front brake removed) and a few electric bikes again with no problem.

I stay on the road. My current bike is a Felt Cruiser with back-pedal rear brake, normal front brake, and twist gears. Luxury!

My biggest problem is hand signals.

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    So how do you cope with signalling? Are you missing the complete arm? Consider having a browse through the tour to see how SE works.... its a bit different to a normal chat forum. – Criggie Dec 7 '16 at 9:31
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    The combination of front hand-brake and rear pedal-brake sounds ideal. But if you only have one brake, I'd strongly recommend it to be the front brake! That's where all the braking power comes from. – David Richerby Dec 7 '16 at 10:56
  • @DavidRicherby, just a rear brake means that you will never go over the handle bars. A good brake will bring the bike to a stop, also when just using the rear one. – Willeke May 4 at 8:37
  • @Willeke On an ordinary upright bicycle, stopping with just the rear brake takes between two and three times longer than stopping with just the front brake. This isn't about the quality of the brakes, it's about the fundamental physics that takes weight off the rear wheel as you decelerate. Having said that, my original comment seems to have been based on a misreading of the answer: dave says he has a normal front brake and a back-pedal rear, which is exactly what I recommended. – David Richerby May 4 at 10:12
4

If the OP, is saying they have an injury, this could take a year so to heal, but there are plenty of adaptions to reduce load or stress. As others have posted, moving both brakes over, and running a single ring upfront, one gear shifter will all help. Then you can adjust the seat height, stack on the stem and stem angle so not so much weight over the bars, reducing load on shoulder. One thing to work on is generally fittness, flexibility and a strong core, if you have a stong core you should be barely resting on the handlebars. If using a backpack, put as much content off the back and onto the bike. Not only will this reduce load on the spine, but it will increase blood flow to the shoulder and arm, I used to get a numb left arm on long rides where the backpack strap would restrict blood flow.

My biking buddy has only one arm, the other a prosthetic, and with the right adaptions it has never slowed him down.

If you truly cannot use the arm, then I am sure I have seen recumbents with a centre handle which has both brakes and shifters on it.

3

First off, it's totally possible to ride using just your one arm. There is a cyclist who actually rides while missing part of one of his arms. Oh yeah and he only has one leg! It's a pretty neat story.

Cycling over the Pyrenees with one leg

So while it's a tough situation to be in, I think you may have to learn to ride with the limited mobility you have in your arm. As far as I know, there isn't a specific device for those circumstances.

In my opinion, you should take it slow and learn to ride with the limited mobility so long as it doesn't cause you pain. I would stay off of busy roads and things of that nature until you build up the confidence to ride like you used to. The last thing you want to do is end up back in the same situation or worse.

The last thing I would consider, if you have the option, would be some form of physical therapy to return mobility back in that arm/shoulder. (Not nowing your situation I don't know if that is an option or not.)

Edit/Update

I've tried to find some useful research for you but you are in somewhat of a unique situation. There is plenty of info and things for amputees and techniques on things like grabbing your water bottle but nothing for actually riding with limited mobility.

I hope you can find a good solution and would be interesting in hearing what ends up working out for you.

3

Some bicycle geometries are more stable than others, for example they can be ridden hands-free.

Stability is related to wheelbase and something called the mechanical trail. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_and_motorcycle_geometry

Maybe bicycle that is stable enough for hands-free riding would be beneficial in your situation. You can easily try out a few bicycles and see which ones rides best hands-free, and then choose that bike as a starting point for the modifications described by other answers here.

Also, having an internal hub give you another braking option.

Update:

A bicycle that is more stable means that it requires less frequent corrections to get it back on course. The more stable the bicycle is, the lower the wobble frequency (I don't know the technical term for this, but on a fast bike, the rider has to immediately correct any deviation, a touring bike in contrast is more sluggish and requires fewer and slower corrections). Roadbikes are made to steer very quickly, as this is a requirement for racing.

Having a more sluggish bike (like a touring bike), might make it easier for you to hang on to the handlebar with one arm, as you will need less control input overall to make it go straight. On a short wheelbase bicycle, you'll have to constantly correct in order not do trip over. So try out a classic long wheelbase touring bicycle with a stable steering geometry. You will be able to sit more upright with less pressure on your arms and back, I like their classical square diamond frames.

Another alternative might be a recumbent, they come in many different shapes and most have a massive seat that gives you a positive mechanical connection to the bicycle, so you can lean back and don't need to rely on your arms as much. There are also no-hands recumbents, here is a discussion about them http://www.bentrideronline.com/messageboard/archive/index.php?t-28633.html

hope your shoulder gets better soon!

  • 2
    Could you explain how being easier to ride hands-free would make a bike easier to ride with only one hand on the handlebars? Without that link it's hard to see the relevance. Backpedal brakes, however, are a good idea that no-one else has mentioned. – Móż Sep 25 '16 at 21:25
3

I have just built a adapting glove for a teenager who sustained a brachial plexus injury. Prior to the accident he raced BMX and wanted to ride again after the accident. With full avulsion to the right side he lost feeling below his elbow and use of the arm. He now is back on the track racing at events, currently in training to compete at State championships at the end of the year. Few mods to make but its massive progress.

  • Welcome to the site! I fixed what I think were a couple of spelling mistakes, but I'm not an anatomist -- please check that I didn't ruin anything. – David Richerby Apr 27 at 10:24
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    Could you explain how the adaptations work? – ojs May 1 at 15:07
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    Photos could make this a lot clearer. Welcome to SE - I'm looking forward to more info. – Criggie May 2 at 4:45
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Indicated in the comments and indicated in an answer, but not really covered yet.

A recumbent trike or bike.
The biggest difference is that on recumbent bikes and trikes your sitting position is such that you do not need to take any of the weight of your body and almost or completely non of the breaking force on your arms.

Many recumbent bikes and trikes will be suitable with no or little adaption. Depending on how the cycle has its gearing and brakes, and how much use you have of your hand, you may need to have the brakes moved to one side of the handle bar, and the same for the gearing.

Many shops where they sell recumbent trikes are used to adapting them for users with restrictions, they usually have sources for unusual gearing and braking mechanisms, which allow one handed use.

On the other hand, for people who have a little use of their poor hand, changing gears might be done with just one finger, and the brakes may already be such that your good hand does the more important brake.

I would certainly let someone with limited use of their hands use my standard delta trike, after checking with them whether they were able to switch gears and use the brakes. And if they feel confident, also my standard 'bent bike.

Recumbent bikes might be the solution, they do require a bit more learning to ride than trikes. On the other hand, they might be more available and easier to get one for a rental or loan than trikes.

There are recumbents which are even more suitable for long term use with just one or no hands, but hard to find and harder to learn to ride.
Flevo trikes have been fitted out with coaster (back pedal) breaks and ways to switch gears that do not require the use of hands, (switch with the heel of a foot or with a shoulder) and steering is done with the balance and the way you pedal. It does take longer to learn to ride these trikes (and as not many were build, they are a bit harder to find and only second hand or own build) but if needed they might be the answer to a problem.
I ride a Flevo trike these days (also own a Flevo bike) and ride with very little use of my hands to steer, I do use my hand for gear changes and the odd fast braking action. Slowing down and coming to a relaxed stop is often done by just stopping to peddle. It is the learning period which makes these trikes (and even more the bikes) hard but once you are confident you can do as long a journey on these as you have ever done on your other bikes, even when you have very little to no use of one arm and moderate to normal of the other, without adjustments.

A single center steering rod is not needed to ride one handed on a recumbent, you can ride while just using one side of a normal (for the 'bent) handlebar, as long as the needed brake, gear switch and bell are on that side, as you do not need to handle bars to support your weight at all, not even when starting to ride.

It might even be that with limited mobility in your arm, you might have enough to control the 'bent, as long as the handle bar comes to where your hand is and you have enough movement for the needed movements of this particular 'bent. Not much strength needed for most and handle bars have been extended and shaped to meet needs.

I have very little experience with tadpole trikes and do not know how easy those steer with just one hand. I have been riding a delta recumbent trike for many years and have added a bike and both Flevo's since.

2

I like to share my solution for modifying the brakes on a bike for riders who were born with one hand/arm or are amputees.

I was born missing four fingers on my left hand. For many years I was running two brake leavers on the right side. Even though it worked, I always found this solution somewhat inelegant from an engineering point of view. I recently got back into cycling and wanted to come up with a better solution.

The first thing I sould mention is that I'm running a 1x12 drivetrain which simplifies the shifting situation.

So, now to my brake setup. The front brake has not been touched other that moving the brake lever to the right side. The rear brake lever was moved to the left side. I took a right-hand grip-shifter and removed the indexing (click) mechanism to allow it to rotate freely. The cable from the grip-shifter is routed over to the left brake lever and runs through a hole in the handle bars and is attached to the brake lever. Now, when I rotate the grip-shifter the cable on pulls the brake lever and actautes the rear hydraulic brake.

I was initally worried that the forces required to turn the grip-shifter would be too high but this is absolutely not the case. With very little effort I can lock up the rear wheel in any situation.

One downside (albiet a small one) is that I'm using a shift cable to essentially do the job of a brake cable which may result in the cable prematurely stretching...but this is something that will become more clear over time.

Hope this information/solution may be useful to others. enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

  • Welcome! That is a super elegant solution. As to using shifter cable, your bike shop should be able to crip a shifter ferrule onto a brake cable so you can use brake cable - but there’s no rush. You’re using the shifter in tension where it’s strong — far better than trying to use a brake cable for shifting. – RoboKaren Jun 21 at 7:39
0

I would advise against riding a normal bike for two reasons :

1- One arm braking is hard. I don't know how much easier the device suggested in the accepted post makes it, but as a person doing it quite often, there is little chance you can make an emergency stop one handed. The problem is not braking power, it is the force that you have to counter with just one arm. The harder the braking, the harder it is to counteract that force. And it gets worse if you have a telescopic fork. Which leads to reason #2.

2- If you hurt your shoulder again, there is a significant chance that you will be having problems for the rest of your life. Meaning no more shoulder dependant sports, and in the worst case scenario problems with your driving licence. Imo, it is a bet that's not worth it. Especially when you see how people are driving.

If you are dying for cycling anyway, I would advise to try something new and much safer : a trike or recumbent trike. If you are wealthy enough, you could even get a velomobile ! From what both are pretty fast too.

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