15 January 2024

As Adelaide gears up for the biggest cycling race in the southern hemisphere – the Santos Tour Down Under – a group of lycra newbies will be celebrating their own success on wheels.

Twenty young adults living with an intellectual disability have recently learned to cycle with the help of University of South Australia researchers, BikeSA and local NDIS-supported organisations.

Using an indoor fluid trainer to provide pedal resistance and simulate real life cycling conditions, integrated with immersive virtual reality footage of local bike riding environments, the cyclists are proof that cognitive impairment is no barrier to riding a bike safely.

Guided by UniSA exercise physiologists, UniSA social work students and cycling mentors, intellectually disabled people have been fitted out with the appropriate gear and safety equipment to learn how to handle a bike confidently and with minimal risk.

Lachie Kelly, Dr Patrick Faulkner, Lachy Woollett_500x500.jpg
Lachie Kelly, Dr Patrick Faulkner and Lachy Woollett in the training room.

UniSA exercise physiologist Dr Patrick Faulkner, one of the project leaders, says the support of partners like BikeSA, Barkuma and EM Therapy & Support has been invaluable since the project’s inception in 2021.

“By combining cycling technologies, digital applications and virtual reality technology, we have taught individuals with a disability how to safely cycle in the community,” Dr Faulkner says.

“Not only has it improved their motor and cognitive skills; it has also increased their physical activity and social connections with other able bodied people in community cycling groups.”

Group rides are now being organised at various reserves and parks around Adelaide, a feat not possible two years ago.

“The beauty of this program is that it is designed to be malleable,” says joint investigator UniSA Professor of Ageing and Disability, Caroline Ellison.

“People progress at different rates and are not pushed into joining community bike rides until they feel confident and ready to move from the indoor fluid trainer to outdoors, Assoc Prof Ellison says.

The fluid trainers are used with VR to enable cyclists to specifically practise riding routes they would like to tackle – for example, riding from home to work. They are used in place of static indoor exercise bikes to train the participants because the latter do not replicate real life cycling conditions.

“Practising on a static exercise bike in an unnatural environment is unlikely to give them the skills to successfully navigate around the streets with other cyclists,” the researchers say.

“We believe the integration of VR and a fluid trainer is the most effective and safest training method for people with an intellectual disability looking to bridge the big skill gap that exists between riding on an exercise bike and riding outdoors with mates.”

Notes to editors

The project involves multiple partners: UniSA; the SA Department of Sport, Recreation & Racing; EM Therapy & Support; Blackwood Uniting Church, Barkuma Elizabeth, Novita; Minda (Brighton):Empowering Wellness Exercise Physiology: Jettblack; and Fulgaz.

Photographs and raw video footage is available for this story. Please contact candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au for a link to these assets.


Media contact: Candy Gibson M:  0434 605 142 E: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au

Researcher contacts: Dr Patrick Faulkner E: patrick.faulkner@unisa.edu.au; Assoc Prof Caroline Ellison E: caroline.ellison@unisa.edu.au



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