U.S. Handcycling works with event organizers, promoters, and other entities to provide competition opportunities for handcyclists all across the United States. These racing opportunities are open to any handcyclist, but there is a lot of information out there, and sometimes it can be intimidating to jump in to your first race. Below is some useful information to help new racers get started.

Race Disciplines

There are four disciplines in handcycle racing:
- Road Race. A mass start race typically between 10 and 50 miles,  run on a course that includes one long circuit, multiple shorter circuits, or point-to-point.
- Time Trial. An individual, timed event, typically between  3 and 20 miles, run on a course that includes an out and back road, a circuit, or point-to-point.
- Criterium. A mass start race typically between 20 and 40 minutes, run on a short circuit no longer than 1 mile in length.
- Team Relay. A mixed event (men and women) that includes multiple teams of three athletes each, who each race 1 or 2 times on a short circuit, approximately 2 kilometers in length.

The official disciplines recognized by the UCI for Para-cycling include Time Trial, Road Race, and Team Relay. Although the Criterium disipline is not a Paralympic event, it is a very popular form of American racing, and is included at many U.S. Handcycling Series events. USA Cycling awards National Champion titles for handcyclists in the Road Race, Time Trial, and Criterium disiplines, but not the Team Relay.

Membership and Licensing

Almost all U.S. Hancycling events are sanctioned by USA Cycling. Most (but not all) USA Cycling races that include handcycling are part of the U.S. Handcycling Series (USHCS). Although it's possible to purchase a one day license at most races for $10 per day, it is actually more cost effective to buy an annual USA Cycling racing license, for $60...particularly if you plan on racing at more than one event. Racers who compete at USHCS events earn points towards their national ranking. In order to receive points however, you also have to be a member of U.S. Handcycling, which costs $20 annually.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) now governs Para-cycling (which includes handcycling) globally. Beginning in 2013, there will be a UCI, "P1" race conducted in the United States every year.  In order to compete at P1 events, athletes must possess an international license, which costs $150 through USA Cycling. Athletes who already possess a domestic license can upgrade it to international if they decide to compete at a UCI event.

Membership and Licensing Recommendations:

STEP #1: Join U.S. Handcycling via the online membership form ($20)

STEP #2: Purchase an annual, domestic USA Cycling License online ($60)

STEP #3: Upgrade your USA Cycling license to "international" if you decide to compete at a UCI event.


All Para-cyclists fall in to a classification, which -- unlike USA Cycling categories -- is based on level of physical function rather than race experience. There are 8 classes for handcyclists, H1, H2, H3, and H4, men and women. H4 is the "most able" classification, while H1 is the "least able" classification. As of this writing, there is a shortage of both National and International classifiers, although that is changing soon. In the meantime, new racers are asked to "self classify" when registering for new events. Athletes will race under that classification provisionally until they can be evaluated by a classifier. There is a lot more information about this on our classification page.


Now that you're "legit", there are some basic racing skills that all bike racers -- including handcyclists and Para-cyclists -- need in order to jump in to an event. You can aquire a lot of skills by riding with other handcyclists, by hiring a coach, or by reading up about racing in general. Here are some common mistakes we've seen new racers make:

Most new racers have no idea just how difficult it is to jump in a handcycle race nowadays. Even the top domestic guys – the guys who aren't quite on the Paralympic Team – are drilling it at 23 mph, which can be prettty intimidating. Competition is tough in this day and age, and athletes are serious. It's not likely you will win your first race, in fact, you may end up getting lapped or dropped because you just aren't fit enough...yet.

We see a lot of new racers play their entire hand in the first five minutes of the race, blow up, get dropped, and limp in at the back of the field. On the flip side, some racers who have a little experience and are actually fit, allow themselves to get dropped during the first two minutes of racing, and finish at the back....not realizing that it's not actually that hard the whole way and that the top guys were just trying to "trim the fat" from the gun so they could settle in to a small group.

In the end, it's bike racing, and it's a lot different from a triathlon or a running race...it's not always the fittest athlete that wins...you also have to be smart, which usually comes with some experience.

It's also important to learn how to handle your bike, learn some of the "etiquette" that you need to know about on the race course, as well as how to best fit your bike to you. A lot of that information is covered in this article.


U.S. Handcycling partners with the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, Disabled Sports USA, and U.S. Paralympics to run an annual "Learn to Race" Para-cycling camp at the Olympic Training Center. These camps are a great way to get started. The next camp is May 1 through May 8, 2013, in Colorado Springs. To find out more about the Learn to Race camps, and how to submit an application, contact Pam Fernandes: (781) 449-9563, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

There is also a new organization, that is conducting talent identification camps, called Cycling without Limbits. To find out more about their programs, you can visit their website.


There are a lot of great cycling coaches who have developed an expertise in coaching Para-cyclists. Not only is hiring a coach a great way for you to improve your handcycling, it's a great way to *get started* in handcycling. Why make all the mistakes of a newbie, when you can do it right from the start. We have a list of Para-cycling coaches right here on our website!

Copyright, 2012, United States Handcycle Federation. Please do not reproduce any content without obtaining permission.
US Handcycling  |  P.O. Box 3538  |  Evergreen, CO  80437  |  Ph: 720.239.1360  | Fax: 303.674.0533  |  Email: store at ushf dot org