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An In Depth Look at Accessible Mountain Biking

Posted on July 31, 2023 @ 2:39 PM

MountainBikeNI recently spoke to Noel Joyce, a mountain biker who designs and rides his own accessible bike. He gives us his insight into the world of accessible mountain biking, how  
Noel, thanks for talking to us! You got in touch with MountainBikeNI after we put a call out for mountain bikers with a disability. Can you tell us about your specially adapted mountain bike and how it has enhanced your mountain biking experience?


Sure. I had my accident mountain biking almost 18 years ago and recently got back into mountain biking. The bike I originally was using came up short pretty quickly. Subsequently I worked with a company in Spain to build a carbon fibre full suspension bike which I was soon breaking! It was then I decided to design my current bike which is part of a bigger project I can tell you about later.

Each of the bikes have without doubt enhanced my experience. It was just the case that as I pushed to harder more demanding terrain they started to fall short. The current bike has 200mm of suspension travel and assistive drive to help on the hills as well as keep me out of scrapes. (essential especially as I cannot use uplifts) This bike is going really well and proving to be very capable. Reliability is critical as you need to be able to ride out of every situation when you can't walk.


 What specific features or modifications does your bike have?

My bike is more of a trike or adapted MTB is the preferred term. It has its drive mounted to the front wheel with steering on the pedal shaft, I pedal with hand pedals and also steer from there too. It has Hope hydraulic brakes on all 3 wheels all operating independently, SRAM AXS shifting to cut down on cable clutter and plenty of suspension travel. Critical as I am unable to use my legs and arms to soak up bumps. As I am in the seated position there are lots of compromises that I have had to contend with when designing the bike. I think I figured out most of them but there are always areas to improve.


How do you feel about the current provisions available for disabled mountain bikers? What areas could be improved upon?

Current provisions for disabled mountain bikers are lacking. I don't think that is surprising though as the sport is only beginning to grow for adaptive riders. Very few people expect to see people in wheelchairs on trails so how can you anticipate that? I do think that the appetite to get more disabled riders on trails is there, otherwise we wouldn't be talking today!

To me there are 2 problems.

1. The cost of equipment. Regular mountain biking is expensive, adaptive mountain biking is stratospheric in comparison. A reasonably capable bike will cost in the region of 15,000 euros and finding parts or making repairs is another story! I am trying to address that part of the problem myself by developing an Open Source Adaptive MTB at NYU as part of my work and research. Without this equipment no one can go anywhere.

2. Trails and facilities. There's no two ways about it, the majority of the trails are off limits to adaptive bikes. I myself can manage on a lot of trails. They will be blue or red graded depending on the location and can include some black or orange depending on the trail centre. The issues are not often because of single track for example but may be more to do with things like boardwalks, bridges or man made features that have been designed for a 2 wheeled bike. There is nothing more disheartening than being very far out on a trail network and getting to a bridge that's too narrow, or not being able to get to another trail due to a rock feature. I think that because there is now initiative in place to do something about this we will see a lot of these problems start to disappear. I don't expect to be able to go on every trail that exists but we can do great work in making a lot more of them accessible and usable without sacrificing the experience for able bodied riders. 


What advice would you give to anyone with a disability who is interested in trying mountain biking but may feel discouraged or unsure about their abilities?

Reach out to other riders, look for facebook groups. There is great buzz about it all at the moment. like any mountain biking, for every one person who is doing crazy stuff there's probably ten regular joe soaps like myself just wanting to get out on the trails. No one should feel discouraged. Finding someone local to where you want to ride your bike is always a good idea as they can give an account of what's possible.


Can you share any personal success stories or challenges you’ve overcome through your mountain biking journey that could inspire others facing similar obstacles?  

My own story is getting back on the bike in the first place given it was a mountain biking accident that left me in a wheelchair. I found the biggest obstacles after taking the plunge were the equipment. It's so expensive. It's why I am working to create a platform that anyone can use to build their own bike. I want to enable others to be able to build a bike in the same way as anyone able bodied could do the same. To that end I started Project Mjolnir : Open Source Adaptive MTB at NYU. So far I have built a bike in NYC and Abu Dhabi. I will follow that up with another bike in Ireland and then in Shanghai. These bikes will start life as simple rigid mtbs but can be upgraded to full suspension beasts like the bike I currently ride. The objective is to give people the ability to build a bike for under 3k and upgrade over time to suit their needs. Ultimately I would like to see one of these bikes at every trail centre in the world.


Where is your favourite trail centre? 

 I have only ridden at Rostrevor a couple of months back. That was my first experience and so is the gold standard. I look forward to trying more locations. We got down Mega mission a few times but it was not without its problems.


What is an important element someone interested in purchasing an adaptive bike should consider before purchasing?

If you can test ride a few bikes, do. There are several variations and layouts of bikes that have different compromises and quirks. I think that everyone that owns an adaptive bike will have a biased opinion on what they have based on their needs and also because no one wants to admit they spent a lot of money on something that is not a good bike. Do some research on reliability and repair lead times and also if there are any specialist components used. I know of adaptive bikes where frames break and they can cost 7 or 8k to replace and could take months. My own objective with on demand manufacture of parts for the project is to reduce that to weeks like a regular bike. Specialist components such as cranks are expensive to change if you need a different size etc


Where can people find you online?

A few places!

website https://adaptivemtbireland.com/

facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/989594418446158/

instagram https://www.instagram.com/noelrolls/?hl=en


Project Mjolnir : https://engineering.nyu.edu/research-innovation/student-research/vertically-integrated-projects/vip-teams/project-mjolnir-gy


Big thanks to Noel for his time. If you have any messages you'd like to share with MountainBikeNI on this topic, drop us an email to info@mountainbikeni.com.


Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

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