Ausnew Home Care | Mountain biking opens to more people with a disabil

Mountain biking opens to more people with a disability as adaptive trail numbers rise

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Richard Williams is all smiles as he proudly displays his competition medal around his neck.

He's spent the morning zooming through the forest racing a mountain bike adapted for his disability.

He's left exhausted but exhilarated. It's a stark contrast to Mr Williams 15 years ago.

"I had three years of dark times when I was really depressed, didn't know what to do with my life," he said. 

A man sitting in a three-wheel adaptive bike looking at the camera and smiling. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Richard Williams says his life changed for the better when he began riding adaptive bikes.     (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Mr Williams was recovering from a car accident that had left him as a T12 incomplete paraplegic.

With limited leg movement, the previously active father was missing something.

That's when he found adaptive mountain biking.

The sport introduced him to a new group of friends who also lived with a disability. Suddenly, he had a new lease on life. 

"Getting out riding my bike is the most fun — the best part of my life since I've had my accident."

A man in an adaptive, three-wheel mountain bike riding across a road while smiling.
Richard Williams about to hit the trails. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

More riders, more trails

Adaptive mountain bikes vary depending on the user's mobility, but many are pedalled by hand and have three wheels.

Due to the modifications there are limited trails that can accommodate the bikes — but that is starting to change. 

The trail Mr Williams rode was built to specifically cater for adaptive bikes. 

Situated near the town of Collie in the south-west of Western Australia, it is one of two adaptive specific trails in the region.

It put Mr Williams through his paces. 

Two sets of of joining trails in a forest with a man pointing down one set.
One of the new adaptive trails near Collie in WA.  (ABC South West: Anthony Pancia)

The newest adaptive trails sit just south of Collie and are within a wider network of tracks in Wellington National Park. 

The network was built by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and is part of a wider push to get more people to explore their backyard. 

"I think adaptive bike trails are going to be part of probably nearly every network we make in the future," said Rod Annear, the assistant director of parks and visitor services.

"It's not a lot you have to do to make it more accessible for more people." 

A man sitting on a rock in a forest with a mountain bike trail sign post blurred in the foreground
Rod Annear visits the new adaptive trails in Wellington National Park.(ABC South West: Anthony Pancia)

Accessible and challenging 

While adaptive trails have specifications around the slope, camber and width, they can still be a challenge.  

"It doesn't mean just because it's an accessible trail that it's not fun and usable for everyone else," Mr Annear said. 

To make sure the trails meet accessibility requirements, guidelines were developed by WA charity Break The Boundary.

Wade Jarvis, the charity's deputy chair, said more adaptive-specific trails were slated for Perth, while some trails had been modified after construction to accommodate three-wheeled bikes. 

"WA is world class because we can have a network now that has very big black lines that people can take really big jumps, then at the same time, we've got our adaptive bikes."

A man riding a blue three-wheel adaptive mountain bike over a log
Some of the fun you can have on an adaptive trail in WA.(ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Try before you buy

With access to trails on the rise, the next hurdle for the charity is the availability of the bikes. 

Adaptive mountain bikes can cost up to $20,000 and are mostly imported from overseas.

Break The Boundary allows people with a mobility issue to test adaptive bikes at their hub in Kalamunda.

"The fact is people have very specific needs with these, so they need to come up and try bikes," Dr Jarvis said. 

A man crouched down next to an three-wheel adaptive mountain bike, looking at the camera.
Wade Jarvis with one of the bikes people can try. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Back on the trail, Mr Williams has begun planning his next mountain bike adventure.

While there are still some courses and mountain bike competitions that require him to ride with a helper, he is just happy to take to the gravel. 

"The fact that a mountain bike community is so willing to accept us is great," he said. 

"But now the fact that they're going out of their way to make [adaptive] courses that we can ride without assistance is just making the whole riding experience so much better.

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