Cycling, a history

The pedal bicycle was invented in the early 1860s, with the first documented race taking place in Paris, on May 31st 1868. The Bicycle Union was established in London in 1878 and was later renamed as the National Cyclist’s Union in 1883. The NCU’s main purpose was to organise and regulate bicycle racing in Great Britain. It also selected teams for world championships and regulated circuit and track racing in England and Wales.

The International Cycling Association was founded in 1892 to organise world championships and provide a common definition of amateurism. The latter was becoming increasingly important as riders were beginning to travel internationally to take part in races. Different countries governing bodies had varying ideas as to what made a person an amateur, which led many riders to complain that they felt they were racing against professionals.

In 1900 the Union Cycliste Internationale was founded in Paris and superseded the ICA. The group argued that Great Britain had too much influence on events as it was entering separate teams for each nation (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland). It wasn’t until 1903 that Great Britain was allowed to join the UCI, by agreeing to the new rules imposed by the organisation. The Unionist Cycliste Internationale is still the world governing body for sports cycling and oversees international competitive cycling events.

Six cycling events were contested at the first ‘Modern Olympic Games’ held in Athens in 1896, a road race and five track events. Nineteen cyclists, from five nations competed. Since then cycling has been a major event in every Olympic Games, however women’s cycling did not enter the Olympic programme until the introduction of a road race in 1984. Women have competed in track events as well since 1988.

In 1949, Dr. Ludwig Guttman developed a ‘bed cycle’ which was used as an exercise bike for both paraplegics and tetraplegics. This machine was on a moveable frame which could be rolled over to a patient’s bed, allowing the patient to exercise and gain strength without having to leave the bed. Patients pushed the pedals with their hands in order to build muscle in their arms and upper body. Once stronger, they were then able to use a wheelchair, and take part in games such as darts or snooker. The original machine is now in the collection of the London Science Museum.
Cyclists with visual impairments then began to develop a way to compete using tandem bicycles with sighted pilots.

Para-cycling, a competitive sport

Patients at Stoke Mandeville used bed-cycles as a form of rehabilitation from 1949 until 1994, however it seems that, prior to 1984, athletes were introduced to the sport by taking up cycling on standard bicycles and competing in races against able-bodied riders.

The British Cycling Federation (later British Cycling) was set up in 1959 and controlled all competitive cycling in the country, apart from time-trialling. It later evolved to include the development and promotion of para-cycling as a sport.

Para-cycling, a Paralympic event

Para-cycling first appeared at the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. There were eight countries that participated in seven medal events, with a total of 20 male athletes and 2 female athletes competing.  Four years later in Seoul, the number of events remained the same, but the number of participants nearly doubled, to 40. Though the sport was becoming more popular, no women competed in any cycling events at the 1986 Paralympics. However, 17 women competed in Barcelona (1992), accounting for just over 10% of the para-cycling delegation.

In 1996, track para-cycling events were added to the Paralympics for the first time. The Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games confirmed that para-cycling was a major sport, with more than 200 para-cyclists competing. Handcycling was also included as an exhibition event, before being formally added as an event in Athens (2004). There were also changes to the classification system which meant athletes became classed in four categories: visually impaired (tandem), lower-body paralysis (handbicycle), cerebral palsy, and locomotor impairments. Now the Paralympic Games welcome more than 200 para-cyclists from almost 50 countries to compete for 50 titles. The fact that 23 countries earned at least one medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games is another sign of how the sport continues the expand globally.

Great Britain has competed in para-cycling since the 1984 Paralympic Games and won their first medal in 2000.

Para-cycling at the Summer Paralympic Games

  • 1984 New York, USA – 7 road events for athletes with cerebral palsy.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 7 road events for athletes with cerebral palsy and other physical impairments.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 9 road events, of which 3 were tandem events for visually impaired athletes.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 23 events in two disciplines, road cycling and track cycling.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 27 events in total. 12 road cycling and 15 track cycling. Handcycling was also included as an exhibition event.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 31 events in total, of which four were handcycling events for paraplegic and/or quadriplegic athletes.
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 44 track and road cycling events.
  • 2012 London, UK – 50 track and road cycling events.

British Para-cycling medal winners

  • 2000 Sydney, Australia
    Thomas Evans - silver in Mixed Road Bicycle Road Race CP Div 3
    Robert Allen - silver in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem Open
    Andrew Slater - silver in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem Open (Tandem Pilot)
  • 2004 Athens, Greece
    Darren Kenny - silver in Men’s Road Race/ Time Trial Bicycle CP Div 3
    Ian Sharpe - bronze in Men’s Track Individual Pursuit Tandem B1-3
    Paul Hunter - bronze in Men’s Track Individual Pursuit Tandem B1-3 (Tandem Pilot)
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Track Individual Pursuit Bicycle CP Div 3 (Set a new World Record)
    Ian Sharpe - bronze in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem B1-3
    Paul Hunter - bronze in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem B1-3 (Tandem Pilot)
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial Bicycle CP Div 3 (Set a new World Record)
    Aileen McGlynn - silver in Women’s Track Sprint Tandem B1-3
    Ellen Hunter - silver in Women’s Track Sprint Tandem B1-3 (Tandem Pilot)
    Aileen McGlynn - gold Women’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem B1-3 in (Set a new World Record)
    Ellen Hunter - gold in Women’s Track 1km Time Trial Tandem B1-3 (Tandem Pilot, Set a new World Record)
  • 2008 Beijing, China
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Road Individual Road Race LC3-4/CP3
    Darren Kenny - silver in Men’s Road Individual Time Trial CP3
    Simon Richardson - silver in Men’s Road Individual Time Trial LC3
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Track Individual Pursuit CP3
    Simon Richardson - gold in Men’s Track Individual Pursuit LC3-4
    Mark Bristow - gold in Men’s Track Team Sprint LC1-4 CP3/4
    Jody Cundy - gold in Men’s Track Team Sprint LC1-4 CP3/4
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Track Team Sprint LC1-4 CP3/4
    Mark Bristow - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial LC1 (Set a new World Record)
    Jody Cundy - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial LC2 (Set a new World Record)
    Simon Richardson - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial LC3-4 (Set a new World Record)
    Anthony Kappes - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial B VI 1-3 (Set a new World Record)
    Barney Storey - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial B VI 1-3 (Tandem Pilot, Set a new World Record)
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial CP3 (Set a new World Record)
    Rik Waddon - silver in Men’s Track 1km Time Trial CP3
    David Stone - gold in Mixed Road Individual Road Race CP1-2
    David Stone - gold in Mixed Road Individual Time Trial CP1-2
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s Road Individual Time Trial LC1-2/CP4
    Rachel Morris - gold in Women’s Road Individual Time Trial HC A-C
    Aileen McGlynn - gold in Women’s Track Individual Pursuit B VI 1-3
    Ellen Hunter - gold in Women’s Track Individual Pursuit B VI 1-3 (Tandem Pilot)
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s Track Individual Pursuit LC1-2/CP4 (Set a new World Record)
    Aileen McGlynn - gold in Women’s Track 1km Time Trial B VI 1-3 (Set a new World Record)
    Ellen Hunter - gold in Women’s Track 1km Time Trial B VI 1-3 (Tandem Pilot, Set a new World Record)
  • 2012 London, UK
    Mark Colbourne - gold in Men’s Individual Pursuit C1 (Set a new World Record)
    Darren Kenny - gold in Men’s Individual Pursuit C3
    Shaun McKeown - silver in Men’s Individual Pursuit C3
    Jody Cundy - bronze in Men’s Individual Pursuit C4
    Jon-Allen Butterworth - silver in Men’s Individual Pursuit C5
    Anthony Kappes - gold in Men’s Individual Sprint B (Set a new World Record)
    Craig Maclean - gold in Men’s Individual Sprint B (Tandem Pilot, Set a new World Record)
    Neil Fachie - silver in Men’s Individual Sprint B
    Barney Storey - silver in Men’s Individual Sprint B (Tandem Pilot)
    Neil Fachie - gold in Men’s 1km Time Trial B (Set a new World Record)
    Barney Storey - gold in Men’s 1km Time Trial B (Tandem Pilot, Set a new World Record)
    Mark Colbourne - silver in Men’s 1km Time Trial C1-3
    Jon-Allen Butterworth - silver in Men’s 1km Time Trial C4-5
    Mark Colbourne - gold in Men’s Time Trial C1
    David Stone - gold in Mixed Road Race T1-2
    David Stone - bronze in Mixed Time Trial T1-2
    Jon-Allen Butterworth - silver in Mixed Team Sprint C1-5
    Darren Kenny - silver in Mixed Team Sprint C1-5
    Richard Waddon - silver in Mixed Team Sprint C1-5
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s Road Race C4-5
    Rachel Morris - bronze in Women’s Road Race H1-3
    Aileen McGlynn - bronze in Women’s Individual Pursuit B
    Helen Scott - bronze in Women’s Individual Pursuit B (Tandem Pilot)
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s Individual Pursuit C5 (Set a new World Record)
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s 500m Time Trial C4-5
    Aileen McGlynn - silver in Women’s 1km Time Trial B
    Helen Scott - silver in Women’s 1km Time Trial B (Tandem Pilot)
    Sarah Storey - gold in Women’s Time Trial C5
    Karen Darke - silver in Women’s Time Trial H1-2

How Para-cycling has evolved

Para-cycling has come a long way since its debut at the 1984 Paralympic Games. In 2007, the organisation of the sport changed hands. Previously headed by the International Paralympic Committee, para-cycling is now overseen by the Union Cycliste Internationale. In line with all the other cycling disciplines, UCI World Championships are held for para-cycling, for both road and track. In addition, a UCI para-cycling Road World Cup was introduced in 2010, initially with one round but growing to three rounds the following year. Para-cycling races will also be included at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup for the first time in London in December 2018. 

British Cycling runs the Para-cycling Performance Pathway, which aims to identify talented riders and develop their skills so they can compete at an international level in World Championships and the Paralympic Games. The Pathway was launched in its current form in 2014, but is regularly reviewed to ensure that athletes are identified and prepared for competitions in the most effective ways. Riders can be scouted to join the Pathway in a number of ways, and the introduction of Disability Hubs across the country has meant that it is now easier for coaches to promote the sport and recognise talent at an earlier age.

The Pathway consists of three stages, the first being the Paralympic Development Programme. Here the focus is for riders to develop their fitness, skills and strategies to be able to cope with the demands of racing at a professional level. The Paralympic Academy Programme is the second stage, where skills are developed further and many riders become full-time athletes. The third stage is the Paralympic Podium Programme. At this level riders are all full-time athletes, generally based near the team’s headquarters in Manchester, and aiming to win medals in major competitions, such as world championships and Paralympic Games.

Coaching at all levels is from both cycling and para-cycling coaches and this Pathway is fully integrated with the Performance Pathway for able-bodied cyclists, again highlighting how the rules and expectations of the two sports are very similar. 

Equipment

Many para-cycling riders will ride a typical bicycle when competing. Modern developments mean that these bicycles are now lighter, stronger and potentially faster than ever before. The frames are made out of a combination of titanium, carbon fibre and aluminium and look identical to those used in Olympic cycling events, however depending on the rider’s impairment the bike may be adapted to assist them. Tandem bicycles have also been developed to improve speed and stability, and are used in events when a rider has a visual impairment. Tricycles are for riders with cerebral palsy, neurological conditions or other riders who are unable to ride a bicycle. The frames are again made from carbon fibre and other strong but light materials. Handcycles are for riders with impairments affecting either both legs or a combination of the upper and lower limbs. All cycles are custom-made for their riders and while they have to adhere to certain criteria to make sure there are no unfair advantages for any competitors, they can be fully adapted to suit the individual rider’s needs.

Clothing

Clothing worn by para-cyclists has developed in much the same way as it has for able-bodied cyclists. Members of Team GB compete in breathable skinsuits, which allow for a wide range of movement, whilst ensuring that perspiration is able to escape. This means the riders are as comfortable as possible and able to focus on their event.

Helmets are also fully adjustable and designed to keep riders cool, as well as protecting them from crashes. It was made compulsory to wear a helmet in all UCI endorsed races, including those for para-cycling, in 2003 after the death of a cyclist competing in the Paris-Nice race. Time-trial helmets have become more aerodynamic and often have longer ‘tails’ than standard road racing helmets. This is to help riders save valuable seconds when they compete against the clock.

Rules of Para-cycling

Paralympic cyclists compete under exactly the same rules and conditions as their counterparts at the Olympic Games. Para-cycling currently includes individuals with cerebral palsy, visual impairments and physical impairments. Road cyclists compete on handcycles, tricycles, tandem bicycles or bicycles depending on their condition. On the track, cyclists compete on either tandem bicycles or bicycles.

There are several classes for para-cycling:

C1-C5 is for athletes with cerebral palsy, amputees and other conditions, including impairments which affect co-ordination, who can ride a standard bicycle. Sport class C1 is allocated to athletes with the most severe activity limitation, while class C5 is allocated to athletes who meet the minimum impairment criteria.

H1-H5 (handcycle) is for riders with impairments affecting either both legs or a combination of the upper and lower limbs (amputees, paraplegics and tetraplegics). Athletes in classes H1-4 all compete in a laying position whereas those in class H5 compete in a kneeling position.

T1-T2 is for athletes with impairments affecting their balance and/or co-ordination, so they ride a tricycle to increase stability. The class T1 is allocated to athletes with more significant co-ordination problems or loss of muscle power than athletes competing in sport class T2.

B is for visually impaired cyclists who compete on tandem bikes with a pilot. Cyclists in this class must meet the minimum criteria for class B3. All B1, B2 and B3 athletes compete together in one event.

B1 - Athletes with a very low visual acuity and/or no light perception.

B2 - Athletes with a higher visual acuity than athletes competing in B1 and/or a visual field of less than 5 degrees radius.

B3 - Athletes with least severe visual impairment eligible for Paralympic sport. They have the highest visual acuity and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees radius. 

Some cycling events are factored at the Paralympics. This means that cyclists from different classes compete against each other and the results take into account the severity of the impairments of each competitor. Due to this, some riders within an event will have their times ‘factored’ while other riders will not. The gold medal goes to the athlete with the fastest time after all the required times have been factored.

Para-cycling events

Road race: Races have a bunched start (all competitors together) and the first rider to cross the finishing line wins.

Road time-trial: Competitors start at 60-second intervals and the rider completing the distance in the fastest time is the winner.

1km time-trial: Also known as the kilo, this event begins with a standing start and athletes compete against the clock to complete the 1km distance in the fastest time.

Team sprint: This event is contested over three laps of the track by two teams of three riders. Teams start at opposite sides of the track and each rider must lead for one lap. The front rider pulls out of the way at the end of each lap leaving the next rider to take over at the front. The third and final front rider sets the team time when they cross the finishing line at the end of the third lap.

3km and 4km individual pursuit (two events): Competitors start on opposite sides of the track and attempt to catch their opponent. The four athletes with the best times in the opening round progress to the next round and to the medal rides. There, the two fastest qualifiers race for gold and silver and third races fourth compete for the bronze medal. If a competitor catches and passes their opponent, they win the race, however they may choose to continue, usually if they are attempting to break a record or set a new personal best.

500m time-trial: Contested over two laps of the track, the rider begins with a standing start and athletes compete against the clock to complete the distance in the fastest time.

Governing bodies

Formed in 1959, British Cycling is the national governing body for cycling in Great Britain. Their work is delivered in England across ten regions by regional staff and volunteers. In Scotland and Wales, they work in partnership with the respective governing bodies, Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling (Beicio Cymru).

Cycling Ireland was formally recognised in 1988 and is the governing body for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Union Cycliste International (UCI) is the worldwide governing body for cycling. It develops and oversees cycling in all its forms.

Regional clubs

England
British Cycling has launched disability cycling hubs across the country to improve access to the sport for people with a disability. This also ensures that those wanting to improve their cycling performance receive the support they need. There are currently hubs in Manchester, Bath, Nottingham, York, Kent, Leeds, London - Herne Hill, London Lee Valley Velopark and Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury. For more information about the hubs visit: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/disabilityhubs?c=EN.

To search for a cycling club visit https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/clubfinder.

Scotland
There are two Scottish Cycling disability hubs, both in West Scotland:

The Castle Semple Centre in the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park offers a range of two-wheeled bikes, hand cycles, side-by-side bikes, mountain trikes and tandems for riders to use. More information is available here.

Para-cycling track sessions are held at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, Emirates Arena. To book online and for more information, visit The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

Wales
For information about para-cycling in Wales visit: https://www.disabilitysportwales.com/what-sports-can-i-do/cycling/

Northern Ireland
To search for a para-cycling club in Northern Ireland visit www.cyclingulster.com/paracycling/ or www.cyclingireland.ie/page/membership/clubs/club-locator-map.

References
www.britishcycling.org.uk/disability
www.britishcycling.org.uk/scotland
www.paralympics.org.uk
http://paralympics.codereach.co.uk/paralympicsports/cycling
www.paralympic.org/results
www.paralympicheritage.org.uk
www.uci.org/para-cycling
www.dsni.co.uk/performance-sport/performance-pathways/cycling
www.cyclingulster.com/paracycling
www.cyclingireland.ie/page/disciplines/paracycling
www.britishcycling.org.uk/wales
https://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co498443/hospital-bed-cycle-england-1949-bed-cycle
https://parasport.org.uk/play-sport/sports-a-z/cycling
www.cyclingiom.com