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?

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    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
up vote 13 down vote accepted

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.

  • 1
    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

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.

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    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
  • +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 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

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 which is in the Help menu, 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

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.

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!

  • 1
    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

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