Cycling design for all

What are the design challenges for developing a fully inclusive cycling solution? Few would know better than Mark Harrison of Triple Tread.

It is well established that regular exercise is beneficial to a healthy lifestyle. Regular activity can reduce the risk of coronary disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, maintain a healthy weight and improve self-esteem for a positive quality of life. Add to that additional benefits like stress release and the opportunity to socialise, and there should be no reason not to take an active interest in staying active. Cycling is a great aerobic exercise to get outdoors and keep active and should be part of social prescription recommendation for all. This could reduce health care costs for both the NHS and the individual. Electrifying bikes has created new opportunities and options for many to access and enjoy the many benefits of cycling.

Despite all this; what if you still couldn’t go out riding with your friends? Or on a family ride? What if you couldn’t ride a standard bike due to accident, injury or disability? Maybe this is too many ‘what ifs’ but what happens when you get older?

For people living with a physical or neurological disability, who can’t ride a two-wheel bike due to poor balance and for many older adults who have not ridden a bike for many years, have lost confidence and have a fear of falling, cycle options have been very limited. A shopping experience for a new bike should be all about bright colours, vibrant cool brands, exciting technology and lightweight materials. For the disabled rider, the experience can be like going into a sweet shop and the only offer being colourless candy. The main cycle option, if any, has been limited to an upright tricycle design that has not really changed in very many years, with a single front wheel and two wheels on a fixed rear axle; The Delta Tricycle.

Upright Delta tricycles come in a number of design flavours. Those seen at UCI paracycling events are built on a standard racing bicycle frame design with a high cross bar. This design is not good for those who cannot comfortably lift their leg high. Riders and racers on this style have to hike themselves out of their seat when navigating corners, particularly at speed, in order to stop tippling over. Again this is not an ideal option for someone with limited balance.

The other main Delta design is typically seen in a traditional, childlike design which although is easier to step through, the swooping frame style makes this more difficult to elegantly build in a electric motor system. Batteries need to be carried or installed in a rack or shopping basket rather than integrating them into the down tube.

Mark Harrison, Co-Founder of Triple Tread,, understands both the user and designer problems all too well. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2004. MS is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. Common symptoms are reduced strength, muscle stiffness and spasms, difficulty walking, vision problems, speech, bladder and bowel problems.


Mark is one of about 1 Million people in Europe with MS and one of the 15% of the European population that are disabled. That's over 100Million people!

A huge market! Disabled people and their families in UK have a spending power known as Purple pound of £270bn. Yet less than 10% of companies develop product or service solutions to support this market.

Harrison continues “As my sensory pains and sensations were progressing, I started to investigate products and services that might help me. It concerned me how many products made for the disability market looked so NAFF! I could only see poorly designed, heavy and ugly products that seem to enhance the disability and increase the stigma”.

“Many designers seem to look purely at the function of the product or service but do not understand how the person with a disability FEELS when they use it. Basic Human Centred Design principles seem to be ignored. If this continues to happen, inequalities will deepen.

“The London 2012 Paralympics provided a seminal moment and gave me hope. The athletes demonstrated amazing determination and celebrated great success. The games also profiled the technological possibilities and materials available for modern mobility aids. My past association with cool brands and technology planted the idea that I could use my commercial and technical experience in a new career; providing great products that could benefit many people with disabilities. My goal was to develop products that would be both functional and have great aesthetics.”

“I knew I had to maintain some exercise and wanted to keep cycling but wasn’t motivated to ride existing tricycles. I needed an alternative! Something Cool! Something to motivate me to use it when exercise can sometimes cause me pain and fatigue. A trike I could feel proud to ride. One I could ride and engage with others and feel included.”

Finance is probably the biggest hurdle. All start-up businesses need capital to progress the development of their customer offer. For some, start-ups can make early introductions and sales of their product to test the market. Software beta testers fully accept early failures and crashes; its part of the development process. If an ‘app’ crashes it is unlikely to cause personal danger to the user. This is not the case for a physical product being used potentially on a busy road. Says Mark: “It was important that Triple Tread design was complete before selling. I openly share my distaste of current disability products looking ugly and poorly designed. It would be hypocritical of me to offer something that was poorly designed and unfinished to the market, especially to early adopters whose product feedback was very important and could make a huge difference.

Innovate UK acknowledge this with the statement that 97% of companies developing innovative hardware/ physical products FAIL. This compares with a failure rate of just 70% for digital tech startups.

“I have found starting a business to have many parallels to living with Multiple Sclerosis. They both have many challenges and balancing issues. Each step has to be taken carefully so not to make a mistake, trip up or fall before reaching a goal. Steps are easier to take with the help of family, friends and a supportive network. This includes design support from Morson Projects who developed the composite lay-up for the carbon leaf springs used in the independent front suspension.”

Design Brief

Overcoming the long list of concerns with existing tricycle designs formed the basis of the Design Brief for Triple Tread.

- Tadpole design (two front wheels and one rear) has many benefits including improvements to dynamic stability, braking, aerodynamics and integration of a standard bicycle drive chain system for easier servicing, repair and modification.

- Low step-through frame for easier mounting.

- Independent suspension for its two front wheels.

- Strong down tube to enable integration of battery.

- Share the same floor plan of UCI compliant design to ensure easy storage and transportation.

- Design appearance to look similar to standard bicycles to aid market positioning in standard sales channels.

- Desirable design to encourage regular use and inclusion on other rides with family, friends and cycle groups.

During the development, it became apparent that one of the main reasons that Tadpole solutions were not commonplace, was overcoming a complex geometric problem. On steering into a corner, the frame leans the wrong way and away from the corner being steered into. This ‘leaning wrong way’ issue creates a strange and unsafe rider experience. Positioning smaller front wheels much further forward than the handle bars, as seen on a cargo bike or using a negative angle head-tube are solutions to overcome this issue. It was important that Triple Tread looked and felt like a standard bike.

Says Mark: “I spoke with a number of experts including at Eurobike and eventually took the trike to Taiwan. I had some great meetings with Taiwanese bike designers but unfortunately came back home without a solution. One designer commented that he had been trying to solve the ‘leaning wrong way’ problem for 20 years!. I brought the trike back home and working with my dad, a technical design engineer with 45 years experience solved the problem. Our solution ensures the frame tilts towards the steering corner in a more natural bicycle rider motion. We submitted our patent and Triple Tread’s application was granted.”

The Triple Tread frame has an Shimano motor positioned at the crank and a battery integrated into the down tube. It also benefits from independent carbon leaf-spring front suspension. The trike will sit upright on its own or with a rider. This means that the rider does not even have to put their feet down on the ground or apply a ‘suspension lock’ at traffic lights while waiting for them to change to green.

Multiple Sclerosis was the initial motivation to create Triple Tread®. Mark’s increase in MS Symptoms and reduction of strength and dexterity now drives Triple Tread to seek expert manufacture. A manufacture partner who aligns with goals and shares the vision of a need for inclusive cycling for all.