By Frankie Butler @_frankie_butler
There is no other way to manufacture the feeling of joy that running on trails gives you. The feeling of elation, achievement and wonder for the world around you can only be emulated by getting out in nature and exercising. So, why should all the fun be reserved for runners?
‘Trail wheeling’ is hitting the trails in your wheelchair, adventuring and appreciating the nature that surrounds you, helping to give you a moment’s peace in the busy world we live in.
When I first began my journey into the discovery of trail wheeling, I could not wheel very far. My 300m tarmacked road by my house was tricky enough! I feel that training is important to build up the fitness required for self propelled trail wheeling. I train short speedy wheels, longer wheels, hills and gym sessions. However, if you cannot self propel- you are still a trail wheeler!
It is good to start small; find a local towpath and check out the ground conditions, presence of steps/ stiles, length and footfall (it is best to go when it’s quietest on your first time). Even practising offroad, wheeling on grass in your local park is brilliant resistance training and a great start.
It is always important as a wheelchair user to plan any of your adventures ahead of time, I use Google Streetview/ Google Earth to check the conditions and distance of trails. Some apps offer similar eg. AllTrails and OS Maps. Your local visitor centre often has local walk booklets and can answer questions you may have about the area. When on your wheel you must always be prepared to turn back, but remember that’s not a failure, you’ve still been out on a wheel and it’s great reconnaissance!
I often go with company when first checking out a trail, in case I need some help opening any gates or getting over some obstacles, it can be great fun to go with your mates out on a trail and bring a packed lunch for the halfway point- make a day of it!
Some trail wheeling location types:
And there are many more!
I have compiled a list of useful information on trail wheeling along with the required and extra kit that I use.
Kit is as, if not, more important for us wheelchair users than for runners. Any outdoorsman or woman will have a stupendous volume of kit accrued over many years and if this is your first year out and about you may not have quite as much (yet)!
An essential piece of kit would be a day wheelchair that fits you well and that you feel comfortable in, preferably custom fit by an NHS fitting service. However, you can source some brilliant standard wheelchairs online that are suitable for trails (links are below).
My wheelchair is like an extension of my own body. It allows me to do amazing things and has taken me over 500 miles in the last 2 years- I love it! It is important to not be precious about your wheelchair, mine has taken many bashes on various adventures and I like to see them as ‘battle scars’, I also tend to get quite muddy and I’m lucky to have family members to help me clean the chair before I trail the mud indoors.
Depending on the trails you plan to wheel on, MTB tyres might be appropriate, however, compact towpaths normally only require standard wheelchair wheels. I would recommend using ‘Marathon tyres’ as they do not puncture!
A front wheel of some description is really important to lift your front casters from the ground. This allows you to travel on undulating terrain at a quicker pace than your casters would allow. I use an RGK Front wheel, but I know others use a FreeWheel and have found them to be very beneficial.
However, a front wheel is not required if you have large enough casters- trial and error will help you decide if a front wheel is necessary. I use mine all the time- not just for offroading, but also for getting around town and bumping up kerbs. It is a very worthwhile investment.
A good pair of grippy shoes are important to keep your feet on your footplate, as they can move around without your control. I use standard trail running shoes to maintain grip and for me mentally it’s important to feel like a trail runner, putting on those shoes gets me in the zone!
None of these kit recommendations are sponsored or affiliated.
Remember most importantly you’re out there to have fun!