Adaptive Riding

What is adaptive mountain biking?

Adaptive Mountain Biking (aMTB) encompasses a broad range of events and riders who typically cannot ride a standard mountain bike and require adapted equipment and/or trails to suit their physical, intellectual, neurological and sensory abilities. (Definition courtesy of Break the Boundary)

What is an adaptive mountain bike?

There are a variety of adaptive mountain bikes available, each designed to meet different needs and often customized to suit individual riders’ abilities. Readily available adaptive equipment you’re likely to see out on the trail include hand-cycles (both seated and kneeling), recumbent leg-cycles, bucket bikes, and tandem bikes.

Many aMTBs also possess a small electric motor, either pedal assist or throttle, to help expand the terrain they can access and experiences they can facilitate. These machines are also considered electronic mountain bikes (eMTBs) – visit our dedicated page to learn more about eMTBs. 

What makes an adaptive-friendly trail?

  • Many existing trails are already well-suited to aMTBs. Two major factors determine whether or not a trail is accessible to commonly used 3-wheeled aMTBs: trail width and turn radius.
  • Average trail tread must be a minimum of 4’ wide – with pinch points no narrower than 40” – with wider trails better suited for intermediate (5’) and beginner (6’) adaptive riders. Because of this, bridges often present barriers to adaptive riding and can make what would have been a well-suited adaptive trail inaccessible for aMTBs.
  • Turns should have a radius of at least 20’ – again, appropriate for advanced adaptive riders – and ideally banked to maintain momentum and minimize rollover potential.
  • There are many additional trail design aspects to consider, including surface, camber, grade reversals, and technical features – all of which are well described in the Adaptive Trail Standards published by the Kootenay Adaptive Sports Association (KASA). In short, many modern ‘flow’ trails are well-suited to aMTBs – though modifications may be necessary.
  • It’s also important to remember that ‘adaptive-friendly’ covers a broad range of user abilities, and standard ratings are being refined to help clarify what constitutes a beginner, intermediate, and expert aMTB trail. The Unpavement has an excellent scale associated with the level of assistance required (adaptive riders often ride with a support rider), and KASA includes a rating system based on a host of trail design parameters in their Adaptive Trail Standards publication.
  • Lastly – and critically – an ‘adaptive-friendly’ trail does not mean ‘boring’, ‘dumbed-down’, or ‘easy’. There are design requirements as noted above, but many expert-level trails meet these criteria. And while every trail cannot be made adaptive friendly, oftentimes only modest changes to a few corners or bridges can unlock an entire trail to a previously excluded user group.  

What can I do to help support trails for everyBODY?

We are incredibly fortunate to have Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports based here in the Green Mountain State, leading the charge on expanding access and creating opportunities for adaptive riders. VT Adaptive makes equipment available to and hosts events for adaptive athletes through the state, supporting trail groups in our efforts to make more trails accessible for everyBODY.

You can donate directly to VT Adaptive, or you can add them as a Community Builder to your 2022/23 Membership. All proceeds from this program will be split 50/50 between an adaptive equipment fund and adaptive trail project grant program.

You can also be sure to be friendly and respectful to adaptive riders out on the trail, making sure everyBODY feels welcome irrespective of the equipment they use. A smile and a wave goes a long way. And keep in mind that adaptive eMTBs are permitted on all public-access trails, irrespective of their eMTB policy.

Where should I ride?

  • VMBA’s Plan Your Ride tool includes ‘adaptive friendly’ designations for trail networks, indicating they have trails that meet the minimum requirements noted above concerning trail width, turning radius, etc. 
  • We are also preparing a list of adaptive-friendly trails in Vermont by difficulty level (using the KASA rating scale) and support requirements (using the Unpavement scale), which we plan to make available before the riding season begins and add to Plan Your Ride so that it is a more useful tool for adaptive riders
  • When in doubt, visit the local Chapter website and contact them if you have specific questions or concerns.