Whirlwind’s Handcycle Tricycle Development and Testing

January 22, 2013


Many types of hand-powered tricycles are used by people with disabilities around the world, from lightweight sports handcycles for racing and recreation to rolling stores to cargo trikes loaded with merchandise. Whirlwind is applying our experience with wheelchair propulsion, ergonomics, and manufacturing to the development of a cargo handcycle that can be efficiently produced at large scale, compactly shipped around the world, and be affordably and easily maintained in the smallest workshops. We are developing this product with financial support from USAID and in collaboration with our network of wheelchair builders, riders, service providers, and colleges and universities throughout the world.

San Francisco State University and Santa Clara University student interns have contributed to our project research by talking with tricycle riders and builders to gain a better understanding of how people are using handcycle tricycles both for personal mobility and as platforms for mobile businesses.

Ayuba Gufwan, the founder of Wheelchairs for Nigeria, visited Whirlwind this fall to talk about his experiences building and riding handcycle tricycles in Nigeria. He observed, “There is so much poverty, and the trikes help people to get around and provide for their families. There is a whole range of activities that the trikes can solve.”

Tricycle Prototype Testing in Nicaragua

Whirlwind began this project by exploring how different, well-proven designs from around the globe perform when transported to new environments. Working with Whirlwind, Donna Cohn and Bob Cann at the Creativity Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts built a prototype rear-wheel-drive tricycle, similar to the style that is popular throughout India. In August, Whirlwind founder Ralf Hotchkiss and Professor Cohn took this tricycle to Nicaragua to test the prototype with six trike riders in Chinandega, home of long-time Whirlwind collaborator Thelma Ramos.

Having explored many options, Whirlwind’s tech team is now moving forward with a simple and versatile design appropriate to multiple environments. The first handcycle that Whirlwind will put into production will be a hand-cranked, front-wheel-drive trike, similar to those proven throughout East Africa, but with the added ability to push directly on the rear wheels, like on a wheelchair. The bicycle-style, hand-crank propulsion method is comfortable for efficient longer distance travel at higher speeds, while the rear-wheel push rims give the rider increased maneuverability in tight spaces and on rough or steep terrain where it may be too difficult to use the hand crank.

Whirlwind has designed the handcycle trike to be a platform adaptable to the needs of the riders and communities where the trike will be used. Whirlwind will offer standard options for configuring trikes for hauling cargo, selling goods, or just getting around. We will collaborate with wheelchair builders around the world to develop custom add-ons and design improvements. We will also use the Internet to share a library of open-source, tricycle-related products and accessories available worldwide.