Rory McCarthy has muscular atrophy in his legs and needs
crutches to walk, but that doesn't stop him from cycling. He uses arm
power to crank a 21-speed, three-wheeled handcycle.
McCarthy, 43, lives in West Bath, Maine, and has cycled across the United States and all over the world. He was one of six disabled people on the AXA World Ride '95, an eight-month, 15-country tour organized by World TEAM.
Handcycling "definitely was an oddity when I started 16 years ago," said McCarthy, who was looking for a way to keep active after he began using crutches as a teen-ager. "I rarely ran into anybody else doing it except the guy I bought my first bike from, a guy in Boston named Bill Warner. He had been an MIT student when he began making handcycles."
But loneliness was not the prevailing feeling. "It was incredible, just the freedom to go out and cruise around," said McCarthy, who is self-employed in electrical design and computer graphics. "I was hooked, absolutely."
Nowadays, four cycles later, McCarthy can find a handful of disabled and able-bodied buddies to join him on a weekend handcycling ride. And he's breaking into racing.
Eight handcyclists competed in an exhibition race July 19 during the U.S. Cycling Federation's Masters National Road Championships in Tallahassee, Fla. McCarthy finished second in the 5-kilometer criterium, behind Australian triathlete John Maclean, who was the first paraplegic to complete the Hawaii Ironman, in 1995, and did it again last year.
McCarthy was exhilarated to have bike racers from all over watching. "This is the year World TEAM has been trying to promote handcycling at USA Cycling events, with the aim for it to become a Paralympic sport," he said.
Handcycles have become lighter and more aerodynamic over the years, and a number of manufacturers are competing to gain a foothold in the market, McCarthy said. The machines can cost about $2,000 to $4,000, he said.
Handcycles suit people with a variety of disabilities, including those with spinal cord injuries, and they're being sold to able-bodied riders as well. "It's a great upper-body workout," McCarthy said.
"I got to handcycle on the World Ride and got enormous enjoyment out of it," said bicycle racer and cycling trainer Paul Curley of Taunton, director of cycling programs for World TEAM, who is not disabled. The Tallahassee event included two nondisabled handcylists, helping to promote World TEAM's mission of integrating athletes with and without handicaps.
McCarthy finds handcycling more appealing than wheelchair racing, because push-driven wheelchairs have no drive train and no gears. Wheelchair racing is more like running, and competition usually takes place on the same courses runners use, while handcycling is more like bicycling and belongs with bike races, he said.
Curley said the large fields and prize money in wheelchair racing indicate there could be great demand for handcycles -- World TEAM's list of handcyclists from the World Ride and sales records from two manufacturers is up to about 200 -- but there have to be racing opportunities for the sport to develop.
A handcycling category has been added to the Dividing Waters race Aug. 22-24 in Greenville, S.C., and handcyclists are lobbying to include their sport in USCF national championships next year.
The masters nationals included the national road championships for bicyclists with disabilities -- blind tandem stokers with sighted pilots, amputees with and without prosthetics, and riders with cerebral palsy or related disorders. Blind rider Ray Collins of Plymouth, Mass., riding with Dave O'Neill of Cambridge, won the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes men's road race title. Collins, 36, was USABA time trial champion in 1994, national tandem track cycling champion in 1995 and a member of the 1996 U.S. Paralympic team.
TIP OF THE HELMET -- To Tyler Hamilton (U.S. Postal Service) for his tenacious performance in the Tour de France despite bone spurs in his heel just before the race. Hamilton, who hails from Marblehead, is believed to be the only New England native to ride the Tour. Hamilton's Tour by the numbers: 69th place overall out of 198 starters and 139 finishers, on one of only three teams to have all their riders complete the 2,405-mile, 21-stage race; one of six Americans in the Tour; top American finisher, in 27th place, in the uphill time trial July 18; 22nd place in the final time trial July 26.
Hamilton had the week off after the Tour's conclusion last Sunday in Paris, and starts a stage race in Spain today. He plans to be back in the United States Aug. 10.
Rebecca Cooke (Minuteman Road Club) of Boylston is leading the Category 3 women in the New England Women's Challenge Series sponsored by Stonyfield Farms, after winning the Harvard Classic race last Sunday. Meg Ryan of Worcester, a bike patrol officer in the Worcester Police Department, won the Category 4 women's race and Queen of the Mountain title.
Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page