Spoke Talk: Adaptive cycling in Routt County

Kelly Northcutt
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

When was the last time you did not try something because it seemed too difficult or risky?

Mountain biking often presents opportunities to challenge yourself and expand what you think you can or can’t do — a drop, a rock feature, a steep section.

Well, adaptive cyclists push their limits and the boundaries of mountain biking on every ride.

Adaptive mountain biking uses one of the following types of off-road handcycles: recumbent handcycles, kneeling handcycles, gravity quad bikes and recumbent trikes. Each of these bikes are designed for different types of user abilities and terrain.

The kneeling handcycles are favorites for adaptive cyclists with stronger trunk ability because they are able to tackle more technical terrain and features. 

As for our local adaptive community, Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports — or STARS — has seen immense growth of adaptive mountain biking in their organization, and this summer, they are launching their first adaptive mountain bike program.

They have a fleet of eight adaptive bikes, including hand-powered and foot-powered. Tim Nagel, past program coordinator for STARS, loves handcycles because of “the freedom it gives myself and other adaptive riders to experience the outdoors. In particular, I love the Reactive Adaptions Bomber bike where you lay prone, head first going up and down trails. It feels like you’re flying!”

Adaptive trails need to be at least 36 inches wide, with obstacle heights less than 2 inches or 3 inches, depending on the degree of slope. Trails available for adaptive mountain biking are not always equivalent to federal Americans with Disabilities Act accessible trails, which have additional requirements. It is also important to keep the corridor, the area above and to the sides of a trail, clear and maintained as well. 

Local adaptive-accessible trails include Panorama, Fiddlehead, Blackmer, NPR, Rotary and others. Twenty volunteers joined Routt County Riders and STARS for a trail work day on Rotary Trail on June 1, National Trails Day, and cleared a few miles of corridor.

One challenge with Rotary and other adaptive trails is that they can quickly turn back into singletrack if not frequently ridden by adaptive cyclists. Regardless, Routt County Riders is advocating to grow the number of accessible trails. Nagel mentioned he would “love to see more flow trails that are wide enough for adaptive riders.” 

Next time you are checking out some challenges on the trail, remember the growing number of riders, some with significant physical restrictions, taking on the challenges of mountain biking and reaping the rewards.

Mike Boone, program director of STARS said, “Just like the other programs organized through STARS, it is our hope and goal that (adaptive mountain biking) is the catalyst to a higher quality of life for the participants.”

As an able-bodied rider, I am grateful for my opportunities to ride and hope this community will continue to support the growing adaptive cycling community. 

Kelly Northcutt is the executive director of Routt County Riders.

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