I started being interested in handcyles when Mark Silver and Jo Wright came off their tandem on the descent into Leatherhead. They were hit by a car. Mark was OK, Jo had a spine break. I visited Jo in Stoke Mandeville. Mark is a bike designer and builder too. We talked about what we could do to make things for Jo. I got quite involved.

I can’t remember it all, but I was going to see my cousin in Pasadena anyway and arranged to see David Cornelson, the first person to handcycle across the US. He had 2 machines. One was a development of the Freedomrider, a front drive, tilt/rear steer machine. The other was a very neat 2 wheeler, both built by John Waite.

The Freedomrider worked. The original had alternate cranks but David had them together. Would you row a boat with alternate oars? It worked but was very sluggish to turn and not much fun. This type of frame only corners in balance at one combination of lean and speed. Not ideal for people who can’t lean and want to go fast. There may be references to The Menace relating to this at some point.

The bike was different. 2 Moulton wheels and a compact and light frame. It was maneuverable and nice to ride. Here is the bike and David. I think I will have to buy a neg/slide scanner to do this well. My multi purpose scanner does not seem to. I think the pale areas are where the neg is obscured too much, but I need to think about it.

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Another pic has gone astray, but here is the trike with John Waite

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I think my next contact with fast handcycles was at Yreka in ’92. These 3 are Dan Wesley, David Cornelsen and Doug Wight (no relation). Doug and Dan were riding Varna handcycles. I think all 3 set records in the day. That is Mnt Shasta in the background. It is a volcano in the same chain as Mnt Snt Helen. The events were on an airfield 30 miles away. There were huge lumps of rock around from the last eruption. High desert with many goathead thorns.

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My first effort (Mk1) was very rough. It was based on a shopper bike and not modified much. Initially I didn’t have the front foot rests. The lack of them made it impossible to ride as you couldn’t brace against anything. This next is a later version of it.

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This one has a footrest platform, gears, brakes etc and was easy to ride if a bit unaero. By this time I had met Kevin Doran, a Barcelona Paralympic wheelchair racer. He had a machine converted from a racing wheelchair.

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The handgrips on both are things I made. With the low power it is essential to be able to change gear. If you have to take a hand off, you can lose a lot. I was using original twistgrips which had straight cable runs. The Bromakin machine had problems with its  controls on grips, with cable failures, a theme we may see more of. I turned the cable guides 90 degrees, giving a more constant shape to the cable..

Controls on grips are still a big thing for handcycles. Radio transmission is ideal, but not currently alliowed for records. Bike cables are not very reliable when moving round all the time. Hydraulic could be better.

I made another bikes, using another cheap bike frame. This one got raced a fair bit. Protobikes 2. The platform is much lower. Heavy but still a nice bike to ride. Significantly faster.  The platform/seat is 3/8 plywood. On the right is Kevin about to race at Eastway.

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Here is a later development of it with extra inserts to make it a tightter fit for Kevin and a 2 pack foam seat moulded around him. It is important for the rider to have a firm base to crank from. Chevron handgrips here I think. Bromakin did the cables in polythene tubes, but it was never 100%

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The next step was rather typical of my development process. I threw away the bike frame and kept the seat. I had a fair bit of scrap 10mm nomex honeycombe sandwich material. I used to work for BA and scrounged it from the scrap bin. I knew I was going to make the seat from that, so why not the rest? I made a mock up from 3/8 plywood, a method you will see again. Here is Kevin sitting on it next to Mk 2. Kevin can walk with the aid of a crutch, but his spine was damaged by an illness. In some ways he was ideal, small and powerful. In other ways less so. He didn’t have a lot of ability to tell me what was wrong with the bike.

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Here is Kevin again on the mockup. It was fully rideable, though heavy and flexible. The squared up background was intended to help me design a fairing. The position is quite sat up. It was always intended to have a full fairing. The position would let the rider see out, as well as making the best of the power available. I know it is quite like the Cornelsen bike. It allowed the rider to use back and stomach muscles as well as arms. Not available to all, but quite important. Legs can consume all the aerobic capcity that the heart and the pumping of the leg muscles can provide. Arms cannot, so using more muscle groups helps.

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Note the rear suspension. Those little wheels give a hard ride and the wheel is in close. Not great for a damaged spine. The suspension used a pair of pretty normal hinges. Stainless maritime ones. The wide base meant they worked very well. The suspension medium is a windsurfer “bobbin”, used to step the mast. The diablo shape meant it had a good rising rate. When I tried to beg a Moulton bungee from Dr M, he said I seemed to be doing pretty well without help. The forks were made by Helmut Burns of Sonic cycles. The forks were straight, but the crown was offset forward to get the trail right and give good chain runs without extra rollers.

The top of the seat ramped up and down. Adding a bottom skin made it really rigid. The loop over the front wheel joins the paltform fore and aft, so braces it and is braced by it. The right side of the loop is indented to allow chain clearance when steering left. The left is reinforced by another layer.

Next is the bike as first finished. May not mean much to you but it was reasonably light, very compact, stiff and strong. Dr Moulton did give us a pair of wheels. These may be them, with Milliken disks, but the rear one may be the lighter one formerly on Oscar, with a hub like the one I made for the Sonic.

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This one is the bike with the first tail fairing. I think this one is at Castle Coombe. I designed the cusped planform on Loftsman. I used 2 plywood shapes and a hot wire 2 carve the form from styrofoam, then did top and bottom and skinned it in glass. Quite a lot of filling and sanding to get a good surface, then carved out the inside. I have an old Weller soldering gun. I made a new copper tip in a loop shape which allowed me to take most of it out. Smells a bit but much less messy than carving with abrasive tools.


The bike is standing up alone due to the powers of Photoshop. Thanks Andy Forey. It was the machine as used for the first set of world records. We made contact with Manchester Velodrome, which wasn’t far for Kevin. We got a free time to go for it and support from their timing and and Andrea Ingram the track development officer. The dates and speeds are at the bottom of this page. Nothing spectacular but Kevin swept away the standing records at 4,000m, 10.000m and 1 hour. Here he is after and on the track.4-3-2013 20-4-13_0144-10-2013 22-43-58_013

For the track we took some of the cables off and added a drink system. Worked perfectly.


This one didn’t work so well. This is the Rotterdam Wheels Marathon, with Kevin on the left. I think the middle rider is Kees van Breukelen. Able bodied ex wind surfer. He set an hour record on a Varna handcyle, but it did not comply with the record rules. Note the mayor on the right.

It wasn’t a good day. About a K out the gear cable failed. It had failed the day before and I could not buy the same quality to replace it.  Kevin quit and rode back.

We had another go the next year, with Andrea, who was coaching Kevin by that time. Here are Andrea and Kevin before the race. The bike has changed a bit. The tail fairing is raised to follow behind Kevin’s shoulders and tapered in more below. It has gained a level floor, so the underside of the platform does not hit the air. There is a small slightly aero nose in front of the feet. I would do it differently now, but the ideas were quite current at the time. The bit you can’t see is the 3rd wheel. By this time the race required machines have 3 wheels. I added an arm with a skate wheel. It could be locked as landing gear, but when released it just trailed on the ground. The race organisers did not like it and Kevin was demoted down the field. He got round but missed all the fast breaks.

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This was also the bike as used for the 2nd set of records at Manchester. I have more pics somewhere, but here is Kevin celebrating his record from the bottle. The young woman in the jersey dress has a cyclists tan on her arms.

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Here are the records from the IHPVA website.

 Alt. Speed
Type Name Designer Rider Location Date
>L 18.42 29.64 8:05.841 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 12/05/98
>L 19.75 31.79 7:32.967 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 06/19/98
Alt. Speed
Type Name Designer Rider Location Date
>L 18.48 29.75 20:10.0 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 12/05/98 1
>L 20.28 32.64 18:22.8 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 06/19/98 1
 Alt. Dist. (mi.) Dist. (km) Type Name Designer Riders Location Date
>L 19.55 31.47 -14 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 12/05/98
>L 20.58 33.11 -14 Protobike J Woolrich Kevin Doran Manchester, England 06/19/99

Kevin and I fell out. He reckoned he was the best in the world. I never thought so, but he was good enough to set HPV records. He wanted a 3 wheel machine to race. Against my better judgement I got involved in converting a Lightning Handcycle from rear to front steer. I designed and John Lafford did the work. Here is roughly what the original looked like. It was very poorly made, but quite light.

Lightning Handcycle

I don’t have pictures of our version It seemed pretty good, but was too flexible.

Though the cause was our different aims, Kevin and I fell out about money. He told me the cheque was in the post. It wasn’t. I’m quite generous with people and did not see Kevin was a bit of a fantasist. It was a matter of time. I did make a slightly unfortunate remark intended to reflect on my lack of judgement, but the project had run its course with Kevin .

I designed an adaptable composite handcycle and might have got it into production if I had stayed with Carl Douglas Racing Shells, but that is another story.

I still have the record bike and a 406 wheel trainer in the workshop. Some day I would like to do the faired version, but probably not until I retire in 3 years. Tanni would fit in easily….

The current 200m record is held by the Avos Arrow Avos Arrow

I am writing on 02/08/16. If/when I work on another handcycle I expect it to be more like this, with a fairing. This is Kees van Breukelen on Bram Moens M5. It has gone faster than the records set by my bike, but not as an official recorded ride.

2 Responses to Handcycles

  1. Liz Denton says:

    Does anyone know the whereabouts of Kevin Doran. We have some medals belonging to him which were on display in our offices in Halifax (White Knight). We would like them to be returned to him or his family.

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