Enabling greater participation in cycling

Many readers familiar with Parkinson’s will have seen the video taken in a Dutch hospital showing a patient with mobility issues, struggling to walk even a few steps but then getting on his bike and cycling freely, seemingly unimpaired by his Parkinson’s. The contrast shown in these video clips seems extraordinary; at first a hesitant, slow, shuffling walking movement, followed directly by cycling with a balanced fluidity of motion where one would not guess at any impairment at all. Many PD patients will be familiar with this miraculous, freedom of movement offered by riding a bicycle.

There are other equally extraordinary aspects of movement that can be seen in PD; walking is often extremely difficult and very slow, each step feels like moving through treacle compounded by balance issues. But, within a second one can then run fast, without effort, in a straight line and with complete balance and control, arms swinging freely. In fact, running in a manner indistinguishable from that of a healthy person.

Stairs or steps can represent a challenge for some patients at a certain stage of this progressive condition, whereas for others they highlight a further baffling aspect of movement in Parkinson’s. Walking on the flat is problematic whereas once stairs are reached, free-flowing steps can be taken without hesitation or the need for any support. This applies equally whether climbing or descending a staircase. A friend recently suggested to me that if this is the case, I should get some modifications made to my house incorporating the design principles of MC Escher.

When tired or when late in the evening, or when one’s medication is wearing off, each forward step can seem interminable, waiting, hoping for sufficient motive force to build and allow one to lift then place one foot in front of the other. Such frustrating efforts may result in the gaining of just a few inches, leaving one to consider if the bedroom, or bathroom will ever be reached that day. The psychological factor of anxiety can then intrude to further increase hesitancy, and slow progress. Under these circumstances, I often find it useful to turn-around and walk backwards. I can then move at near-normal walking speed, although the risk of encountering unseen objects on the floor and the laughter of loved ones needs to be endured. And of course it’s hard to see a neurologist or physiotherapist recommending this approach.

It seems truly bizarre that walking backwards, climbing stairs, or running at full-speed should prove to be significantly easier than walking normally, on the flat, in the forward direction. But that is the case for myself, at my current stage of this disease.

Returning to cycling and looking to benefit from physical exercise that is so important for PD sufferers, there is one important obstacle to overcome: getting on and off the bike. For casual riding keeping the saddle in a lowered position works fine. But to gain maximum benefit from exercising hard, a saddle needs to be at a sufficient height that the legs are more of less straight when the pedal is at the bottom of its stroke. The required seat height to achieve this inevitably increases the fear of toppling over when stopping at junctions or when cycling slowly up a hill. Getting on and off the bike also becomes very challenging with stiff Parkinson’s legs.

An invaluable solution for these problems was suggested to me by my sister, a keen mountain biker. She proposed using a gadget familiar to the mountain biking community, known as a dropper post. Its purpose in mountain biking is to allow the saddle to be lowered on a steep descent enabling the rider’s weight to be shifted backwards. Whilst not excluding this purpose for Parkinson’s patients, it also proves fantastically useful to help getting on and off a bike and increasing confidence when approaching road junctions.

Dropper posts operate quite simply through a button on the handlebars allowing the saddle to be raised or lowered 10-15 cm. This adjustment of seat-height can be operated whilst in motion or when stationary. It greatly assists getting on and off the bike and gives confidence when cycling slowly, in the lowered position, then raised once some momentum has been gained, allowing powerful cycling strokes.

This simple device could allow many Parkinson’s sufferers to return to cycling, or take it up, and provide physical exercise shown to be so important. Equally important in facilitating greater participation in cycling is the huge psychological benefit that it provides, entirely removing the limitations and frustrations inherent in walking, giving a great sense of freedom and autonomy.

See link below for my video showing the dropper post in action.

Please contact me for further information on how to select a suitable dropper post and how to best configure for each individual’s circumstances edited by admin to remove email address.


Thank you for the recommendation but also for your very lucid summary of the difficulties we can face walking on the flat while still being able to move normally on stairs or running or bicycling. When I am doing the Parkinson’s shuffle in the house, I can climb stairs normally, bicycle normally, but also I can often walk normally outside the house.

Thank you for your comments. I think it’s the presence of so many doors, corners and furniture which psychologically inhibits free movement indoors. Maybe open-plan accommodation would be helpful but certainly decluttering one’s home must be a good idea (especially if walking backwards)!
Are you tempted to try the dropper post?

I won’t be using the dropper post because my own solution to the problem is to ride a Dutch style bike which is very easy to mount.

Unfortunately, issues with balance and stiffness put paid to my cycling, but I have bought a tricycle and got some freedom back

the big question is how much and are the easy to fit?

The good quality ones start at about £200, which is not cheap but if it gives you back your freedom and provides valuable exercise, it’s a bargain!
Some cyclists choose to buy a tricycle, or even a specialist bike, which would obviously be much more expensive.
The ease of fitting depends on the type that you buy, which I will provide more detailed information about if you would like. The most important factor is getting the seat pillar diameter to match the downtube on your bike - there are a few standard sizes.