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Liz Carr

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Liz is a crip activist and actor, now trying to gain experience as a stand-up comedian. Originally from the North West, she recently moved to London, lured by the bright lights and the promise of fame and fortune. She's still waiting.

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On your bike

8th September 2010

The London Bike Scheme has recently arrived in the capital and with it cycling fever. Liz Carr wants some of that pedalling action but will her legs cooperate?
Liz Carr trying to access a bike.
I’ve never had a particularly strong love for cycling. Like most kids, I learnt to ride a bike by falling off and getting back on again. I was 6 and not disabled at the time. Once I became a crip a couple of years later, my joints ceased up and cycling became less about childhood fun and more like a regime of physiotherapy to help me maintain my mobility.

Since then the world of cycling has pretty much passed me by. Until this summer ... when, almost overnight, London became colonised by bicycles.

I woke up one morning to find rows of identical blue and grey contraptions at the end of my road. Three hundred metres down the road I found even more of these cycle like clones. What was going on? Was the earth being taken over by two wheeled aliens? Was I in the middle of my very own episode of Dr Who? Or was I just ignorant of the new scheme in Central London where thousands of bikes are available to hire at locations throughout the city to encourage us to leave our cars at home, go green and get some exercise?
Liz with a London cycle hire scheme bike
I suddenly began to develop surprisingly strong opinions on cycling. I wondered if having more bikes on our roads and pavements would make getting about increasingly dangerous for people with visual impairments, wheelies and wobbly walkers? What would life be like if, instead of bikes, there were wheelchairs and scooters available to hire every few hundred metres?

Back to reality, I began to consider having a go myself, daydreaming of being able to cycle beside my partner on long leisurely summer bike rides. So I bit the bullet and decided to look at how I might get back in the saddle after all these years.

Unfortunately, the identical bikes at the end of my road are all identically inaccessible to me. But I was determined. I logged onto the internet, typed 'cycling for disabled people’ into the search engine, and within minutes was on the phone to a very helpful chap called Oliver from the bike hire place at Dulwich Park.

“I’ll have you cycling around the park in no time”, he enthused, undaunted by my list of impairments. I looked down at my stiff and unbending self and wasn’t so sure.

The hire place was scattered with all sorts of bikes for all sorts of bodies. There were multicoloured recumbents - cycles that you rode whilst lying down, tandems, three wheelers and even one where, in place of a basket on the front of the bike, was a big blue and yellow plastic seat. It looked like a baby seat for adults. It looked 'special’.
Liz in the oversized baby seat
“Let’s start with the easiest and work our way up”, advised Oliver as he pointed to the overgrown baby seat. My heart sank as I was lifted into it but once we started to move, all self-consciousness melted away.

It was a beautiful summer day, I was cycling through the park, getting a new perspective and going at a speed that I could never have experienced from my electric wheelchair. I felt like ET as he hid from the baddies in the basket at the front of Elliot’s bike, like Kate Winslett as she flung her arms wide on the bow of Titanic, like a stuffed toy on the bumper of a lorry.

By the time we returned to the hire place, the person peddling was shattered but I was on a high.

The next bike I tried reminded me of an old fashioned car; myself and my co-pilot sat side by side and were both expected to peddle and pull our weight ... until they tried to bend my legs to make a cycling motion.

Like a pair of obstinate teenagers, my knees would not do as they were told. No amount of force would work. Instead, Oliver replaced my pedals with a footrest and off we went on 'our bicycle made for two’ - my partner peddling furiously whilst I sat back and enjoyed an ice cream.
Liz trying a recumbent bike.
Oliver remained determined to find a way for me to cycle without the assistance of someone else, and I remained intrigued to see if there was any way that this unconventional body could ever pilot a bike again.

He wheeled out a sleek, black, designer recumbent wheelchair. Screws were loosened, new pedals were fitted and I was moved into place. Lying back was strangely comfortable but as one foot bent easily onto the pedal, the other knee remained stubborn and unbending.

I didn’t feel disappointed. I’d ‘cycled’ around the park twice and had a Mr. Whippie. I’d been introduced to a world of adaptations that I never realised existed - an expensive but accessible world of lying down bikes, cycles you propel with your hands, even models that you can ride in while remaining in your wheelchair.

Oliver has an infectious belief that cycling can be for everyone. He’s even managed to convince cynical old me that, if he had smaller pedals, extendable hand grips and a neck rest in stock, there would be no reason why I couldn’t ride a bike on my own.

Maybe one day I will follow the thousands of newly pedaling Londoners and trade my four wheels for two. For now though, I’ll just sit back, enjoy the view, and let someone else do the work.

Comments

    • 1. At 5:08pm on 08 Apr 2010, Chris_Page wrote:

      Ahh, the Elswick...one of my fellow students at Hereward College (in Coventry, not surprisingly) had one - and we called it The Cheese Wedge.

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    • 2. At 10:56am on 12 Apr 2010, Wheelie_a_Nurse wrote:

      >> Time travel is all very well, but if I’m honest, all I really want from futuristic crip transport is a wheelchair with a comfortable seat, a powerful battery and a reasonable price tag. Is that too much to ask?

      Apparently.... much too much.

      I'd just like a wheelchair service that assesses people based on clinical and social need, not on how big their front doorway is:
      WCS: Do you need a w/chair?
      Me: yes. But I can't propel because my shoulders and upper back are involved.
      WCS. Ok. So you need a power chair?
      Me: Yes.
      WCS: Will you use it at home?
      Me: No, as I live in a tiny house, and can easily wall-walk (use my hands to support me) my home is not w/chair accessible and I can't afford to move. I can still walk a bit, but its limited.
      WCS; Ah. if you will only use it out and about, we can only give you a self propel chair, which since you can't use it, we won't give you anyway as you really do need a power chair; You only get a power chair if you use it in your house, even if you never go out... Have a nice day.
      Me: Wait! How can I go shopping, go to work....? all the places I need power chair to get to, because I dont have help?
      WCS: Have you considered sitting on a skateboard?
      ---

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    • 3. At 3:11pm on 16 Sep 2010, Paul Taylor wrote:

      Cycling can be for all. In Blackpool there are now hand cycles which my wife as a wheelchair user can cycle with. She said she never thought she'd be able to hand cycle but she found it very straightforward and fun, as well as great cardiac exercise. There is a single hand cycle and a double. I tried the double one with my wife and found it exhausting but great fun. They also have cycles that a my wife in her wheelchair can ride on the front, with me pedalling behind! Again great fun. What I like is as that as a family we can cycle together and have a great day out. Well done Blackpool Council and their cycling for all project! Which is truly 'for all'.

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    • 4. At 7:02pm on 11 Oct 2010, U14259457 wrote:

      Boris should provide bikes for those who don't have the energy and balance that blue bike riders have.

      We might start getting somewhere then. There is no alternative.

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