Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic CyclingMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Cycling

Cycling

Cycling premiered at the Paralympic Games New York/Stroke Mandeville 1984. The sport includes two disciplines, road and track (velodromeDefinition: A steeply banked oval track measuring exactly 250 meters (820 feet) and used for all track races.), and some athletes compete in both. The first year, 20 men and two women from nine countries competed in seven medal events. From those humble beginnings, cycling has become the third-largest Paralympic sport, behind track and field and swimming. At the Paralympic Games London 2012, approximately 450 cyclists competed in cycling events.

The rules of Paralympic cycling are almost identical to those of its Olympic counterpart. However, Paralympic cyclists may compete on one of four different kinds of bike—bicycle, tricycle, handcycle or tandem—depending on their sport class.

 

TIMELINE

1984
Cycling debuts at the Paralympic Games New York/Stoke Mandeville, with six men’s events and one women’s event

1988
Cycling events for athletes with visual impairments added to the Paralympic program

1994
First Para-cycling World Championships

1996
The number of Paralympic cycling events expands dramatically, to 23, at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta

2004
Handcycling events added to the Paralympic program

2007
Para-cycling governance transferred from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to the Union Cycliste International (UCI)

 

EVENTS

Individual events in Paralympic cycling include two track events, the individual pursuitDefinition: In individual pursuit events, two cyclists start on opposite sides of the track, set off at the same time and try to complete the race distance in the faster time. and time trialDefinition: In time trials, each cyclist races alone against the clock., and two road events, the road raceDefinition: In a road race, a group of cyclists start together and race to finish first. The distance varies depending on the course. and time trialDefinition: In time trials, each cyclist races alone against the clock.. Team events are also offered, including a mixed team sprintDefinition: "Mixed" means that both men and women compete together. Like the individual pursuit event, two teams of three race against each other, starting on opposite sides of the track. (track) and mixed handcycle relayDefinition: "Mixed" means that both men and women compete together. "Relay" means that several athletes compete on a team and take turns. (road).

Not all bike types compete in all events. Cyclists competing on standard bicycles and tandem bicycles may compete in both road and track events. Athletes competing on handcycles and tricycles may compete in road cycling (but not track) events.

 

EQUIPMENT

Four types of bike may be used in Paralympic cycling: a bicycle, a tricycle, a handcycle or a tandem bicycle. Each type competes in a separate sport class. In road events, Paralympic cyclists are required to wear helmets of certain colors that indicate the rider’s sport class.

Before competing, cyclists must have their bikes measured by officials to make sure they are within the correct size and weight regulations. This procedure is important because many bikes are custom made for the cyclists.

Bicycles for track cycling have no brakes; instead, athletes push back on the pedals and a single fixed gear slows them down.

FAST FACTS

Get your vocab on: In cycling, “cadence” refers to how many times a full pedal rotation is completed in one minute.

Sharing the glory: In tandem cycling events for athletes with visual impairments, both the sighted pilots and the stokers with visual impairments are recognized in the results and with medals.

Keep the change: The average racing bicycle, tricycle or handcycle costs $7,500. The average tandem bicycle costs $10,000. Some athletes ride custom bikes that cost upwards of $20,000.

Athlete Spotlight:

Jamie Whitmore

As a triathlete and mountain biker, Jamie Whitmore is the most successful female athlete in the history of XTERRA. Her off-road career claimed 37 championships in a dozen countries around the world, as well as six U.S. titles and, in 2004, a world championship.

In 2008, at the height of her career, Whitmore's doctors informed her that a nagging pain in her leg was caused by a form of cancer called spindle cell carcinoma. She spent the next year in and out of the hospital battling a sarcomaDefinition: A tumor in body tissue., as doctors removed a muscle from her leg and cleaned out the cancer cells around her sciatic nerveDefinition: The nerve with the largest diameter in the human body, the sciatic nerve starts at the base of the spinal cord and extends down the back of the thigh.. Doctors told Whitmore that she'd never run or ride a bike again—but she knew better. After she relearned to walk, she relearned to ride. She raced more XTERRA championships, using forearm crutches to run and a leg brace to ride.

In 2013, Whitmore launched into the world of Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Para-cycling. She's won multiple medals at the World Championships. In 2014, Whitmore earned an ESPY for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.

Althete Spotlight Jamie Whitmore

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic cycling competition is open to male and female athletes from two impairment groups (physical and visual). Sport classes are based on the type of bicycle used as well as the athlete’s impairment. A system of letters and numbers is used to distinguish the sport classes: “B” is for tandem, “H” is for handcycle, “T” is for tricycle and “C” is for bicycle.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

Athletes with physical impairments may compete in three different types of cycling event: handcycle, tricycle and bicycle. Within a given sport class category (for example, H1–5), a lower number indicates more severe impairments.

H1–5

H

1

H

2

H

3

H

4

H

5

Cyclists who have amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. or limited use of their lower body (for example, a spinal cord injury) use handcycles to compete. To power the bike, these athletes use their arms instead of their legs. Some handcycling athletes compete in a reclined position while others kneel. The first handcycling medal events appeared at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Handcyclists may compete in all road cycling events (but not track).

H1

The most severe of this class grouping, H1 is reserved for the most severe quadriplegicsDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegia</i>. and those who have impairments with equivalent limitations. These athletes compete in a recumbent (reclined) position. Male athletes in this sport class wear green helmets, and female athletes wear orange helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

H2

H2 is for quadriplegicDefinition: A person with a permanent condition in which he or she may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the trunk and/or the arms, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord; also called <i>tetraplegic</i>. (and equivalent) athletes with more arm power than those in H1. These athletes compete in a recumbent (reclined) position. Male athletes in this sport class wear blue helmets, and female athletes wear yellow helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

H3

H3 is for athletes with varying impairments, including paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord., triplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel three of your limbs (arms and legs), usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. and hemiplegiaDefinition: A permanent, congenital (existing at birth) condition in which you are partially or totally unable to move one vertical side of the body, usually due to disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain.. These athletes compete in a recumbent (reclined) position. Male and female athletes in this sport class wear white helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

H4

H4 athletes may have impairments, such as paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord., similar to but more moderate than athletes in H3. These athletes have full or almost full trunk control, and they compete in a recumbent (reclined) position. Male and female athletes in this sport class wear red helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

H5

H5 is for athletes who can compete kneeling. These athletes usually have severe impairments of the legs, such as paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord. or amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body., but have almost full control over their arms and trunk. Athletes with milder full-body disorders such as athetosis, but limited use of their legs, may also compete in H5. Male and female athletes in this sport class wear black helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T1–2

T

1

T

2

A tricycle is a standard racing bicycle with a third wheel. One wheel is located in the front of the bike while two wheels support the back. Cyclists who lack balance use tricycles for road events. No amputees compete in tricycle events. Tricyclists may compete in all road cycling events (but not track).

T1

T1 athletes have severe neurological disorders that mean they can't balance on a bicycle, but they can still power the bike with their legs. Cadence may be restricted. Male athletes in this sport class wear black helmets, and female athletes wear blue helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

T2

T2 athletes have moderate neurological disorders that mean they can't balance on a bicycle, but they can still power the bike with their legs. Male athletes in this sport class wear red helmets, and female athletes wear white helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

C1–5

C

1

C

2

C

3

C

4

C

5

Athletes who can independently balance on a regular bicycle and power it with their legs compete on standard bicycles in the C1–C5 sport classes. All cyclists in these sport classes may compete in all road and track cycling events.

C1

The most severe of this class grouping, C1 is reserved for athletes with a wide variety of impairments, such as hemiplegiaDefinition: A permanent, congenital (existing at birth) condition in which you are partially or totally unable to move one vertical side of the body, usually due to disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain. and amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body., that limit performance. Depending on the impairment, athletes may be required to compete with or without a prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm., or they may get to choose. In road events, male and female athletes in this sport class wear yellow helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

C2

Athletes with a wide variety of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. and spinal cord injuries, compete in C2. Depending on the impairment, athletes may be required to compete with or without a prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm., or they may get to choose. In road events, male and female athletes in this sport class wear black helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

C3

Athletes with a wide variety of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. and spinal cord injuries, compete in C3. Those with leg amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. compete with a leg prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm.. Athletes with arm amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. do not use an arm prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm.. In road events, male and female athletes in this sport class wear blue helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

C4

Athletes with a wide variety of impairments, including amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. and limited range of motion, compete in C4. Depending on the impairment, athletes may be required to compete with or without a prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm., or they may get to choose. In road events, male and female athletes in this sport class wear white helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

C5

C5 is reserved for athletes with the mildest physical impairments that still meet the minimum requirement for competition in the Paralympics—most commonly athletes with arm amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body.. Athletes with an above-elbow amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. may choose to compete with or without a prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm., while those with a below-elbow amputationDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body. must compete with a prosthesisDefinition: An artificial body part such as a leg or an arm.. In road events, male and female athletes in this sport class wear red helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional

Cyclists with visual impairments compete in sport class B using tandem (two-person) bicycles. The bicycle is specifically designed with two seats and two sets of pedals. Only the front cyclist, called the “pilot,” can turn the bike. The cyclist with a visual impairment rides in the back and is called the “stoker.” Cyclists with visual impairments may compete in all road and track cycling events. Read more about athletes with visual impairments in the Paralympic Games.

B

B

All cyclists with visual impairments compete in the same sport class, regardless of the severity of their impairment. As such, athletes in this class range from those with no light perception to those with decreased visual acuity (fuzzy vision), central vision and peripheral field loss. These athletes compete on tandem bikes. In road events, male athletes in this sport class wear red helmets, and female athletes wear white helmets.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional