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“Adaptive cycling is whatever you need to do to get on the road” : Urbane Cyclist’s highly personalized custom build process

The shop's unique service helps a wide variety of customers

Photo by: ICE

“Adaptive cycling is whatever you need to do to get on the road,” says Samantha Richter, a specialist in bike fitting and recumbents at Urbane Cyclist in Toronto.

The shop is known across the country for its adaptive cycling builds, which are much more varied than just the typical recumbent bike many would think of.

“It can be for all kinds of people,” says Richter. “From a small adjustment to a bike to a big one. Adaptive cycling can look like a recumbent, an upright bike with a dropper seatpost or even just a shorter crank arm.”

There are many reasons people seek out adaptive cycling solutions. Some have trouble with balance, others have had a stroke or carpal tunnel. Urbane sees riders who can’t bike quite as long and require a pedal assist and clients that are amputees or have leg length discrepancies.

“A lot of people end up coming to us with recommendations from occupational therapists or physical therapists,”says Richter. “Maybe they need a new way of getting exercise or want to spend more time doing activities with their families.”

Regardless of their reasons for seeking these bikes, Richter says that for many potential riders these adaptive rides are the missing link they’ve been looking for. They give them the extra confidence or comfort that’s been holding them back from riding.

Adaptive rides

Bikes, trikes and recumbents that fall under the adaptive cycling umbrella vary drastically in design. “These are just like any kind of bike that people use,” says Richter. “They’re not just for sport, they’re also used as mobility devices—maybe for carrying groceries. Some people use them because they don’t have a car.”

Urbane stocks adaptive brands with fat bike options, off road and mtb style designs. “A lot of the general spec models do really nicely on gravel trails as well as in the city,” says Richter. There are even tandem recumbents (the stoker rides in the front).

She notes that there’s a misconception that trikes are slow. “Some of these trikes aren’t even legal to race on,” she says. In fact, the [ICE] VTX Trike actually holds land speed records.

The shop carries tricycles in delta style (two wheels in the back and one at the front) or tadpole style (two wheels in the front and one at the back). Richter says that many fear that the more upright tricycle designs will be unstable, but these bikes are generally even more balanced than a two wheel ride. “The brands we carry are mid to high end, and are engineered to be incredibly stable,” she says. “They’re hard to topple over—you can easily go over a curb with them.”

Trikes’ steering can be set up one or two handed with over-seat steering or under-seat steering (though Urbane recommends under-seat to maintain a lower centre of gravity.) “It’s really easy to get used to the steering,” says Richter. “Just like a two-wheel bike, you’re using your body to push into the turns, it’s incredibly intuitive.”

The first chat

Urbane has a well-refined process for getting riders set up on an adaptive ride.

“The best place to start is by having a conversation,” says Richter. Every cyclist’s needs are different, and, she finds that (as with any bike): “The more I talk to someone about who they are and what their needs are, the better I can match them with a bike.”

She starts with the basics: What are you using it for? Where are you planning on taking it? What are you comfortable with?

After an initial discussion about what will and won’t work, Urbane will schedule a one-on-one consultation appointment with the rider, where they will bring some bikes out on the floor, ready to roll.

Testing the ride

Urbane has a rental program for recumbent bikes and trikes that makes it possible for riders to get a sense of what the specific designs can do for them. To make it easier for cyclists who don’t live in Toronto, the shop will rent a bike for the week or a weekend, allowing clients to see how it fits into their lifestyle.

Those who rent bikes are also able to put some of the rental money towards a new bike or trike if they choose to buy one.

The build

Once a bike is ordered in, the shop does a full bike fit for the customer. “A lot of these parts are hard to get,” says Richter, “but what’s cool about our shop is we keep a lot of problem solving solutions on hand at all times,” [editor’s note: On a number of occasions Urbane has been the only shop in the city that had the component that I needed in stock.]

“It’s always an exciting and creative process to do something more custom and adaptive,” says Richter. “I’ll usually have a few tricks up my sleeve, but every single person is a specific and fun challenge.”

Getting out there

Once the riders get going, Richter says she often stays in touch with them for years. “It’s great to see people’s excitement. We all want to feel comfortable, confident and have a good time on the road,” she says. “Getting people comfortable and confident and into cycling is the best part of my day, every day.”

A unique shop

There aren’t very many shops with an adaptive cycling program like Urbane. The shop has been selling recumbents and trikes for almost 20 years. “Part of our mandate is to play a part in the larger human powered transportation movement that promotes the awesomeness of bicycles,” says Richter. “We do lots of things to make our shop accessible and welcoming and to keep people riding no matter their budget or style of riding. This is a logical part of that.”

She thinks that more shops should think about accessibility and being welcoming to different kinds of riders. Even simply educating staff can make customers feel more comfortable. “It doesn’t have to be an obscure niche,” she says, “these are fantastic pieces of equipment.”