Isabelle Clement feature – director of Wheels for Wellbeing

A spinal tumour at the age of ten months left Isabelle Clement with severe mobility impairments for life.

Now 48, Isabelle is the director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity offering disabled people the chance to experience cycling through specialist equipment.

Here she recalls how discovering handcycling in her mid-30s got her to where she is today.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing

I had my son when I was 32. He doesn’t have any disabilities. My wheelchair was fine until we got him a bike when he was four. I thought ‘I’m going to be stymied here’. I couldn’t keep up in the chair on the same terrains. I was really worried and didn’t want to be left behind.

Then I came across an ad for an attachment to your wheelchair, which turns it into a handbike. You’ve got a wheelchair at the back and a hand-crank at the front.

Before this discovery, all I could think of was to get an electric scooter, because they’re what I’d seen. I didn’t really fancy it because that’s definitely a granny look, and I was only 36. But I’d thought I might just have to bite the bullet.

In a wheelchair, though you’ve got large wheels at the back, with any uneven ground your casters, the small wheels, slow you down. With the handbike attachment, you’ve got a much bigger wheel at the front. It’s a smoother ride, and unbelievably easy.

At the time, and it’s the same for most people who come to our charity, I thought ‘it probably won’t work for me’. You’re so used to coming across barriers and coping with the fact that there are things you can’t do. I was sceptical.

For my tenth birthday my parents got me a bike. I can still visualise it – bright, white and shiny. We gave it a go, but my feet wouldn’t stay on the pedals and I couldn’t balance. So we put it down as ‘no’ and got on with other things. That was my only experience of cycling as a child. As far as I knew I couldn’t cycle, so I didn’t try again.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing

Isabelle using her hand-cycle

The first time I used a wheelchair was in my mid-20s. Until then I saw wheelchairs as something you don’t aspire to. I was going to meetings across a university campus and probably could have walked, but I would have arrived in a complete state. Somebody suggested a wheelchair and I thought, ‘I’m not sure about that’. Then a rep came with a bright pink, lightweight wheelchair. I could put it in my car, get to meetings and cross the campus quickly. That was my first experience of thinking mobility is fun.

The first time I used the hand-bike, I went to see friends near Banbury. These were friends from university so they’ve known me a long time. It wasn’t a long ride, but I put this thing on and off I went.

I’d left them behind. Kids go off and leave their parents behind, but I’d never experienced that. I just thought ‘oh my god this is great, this is such fun’.

For the first time ever I felt the breeze in my hair and my heart was really pumping under effort. I felt the whoosh of energy and endorphins that you get from exercise, which I’d never experienced. It was just really pleasurable. Now that I knew it, I wanted more of it.

That first cycle was like crashing through like a glass door. The distance in front of me was always very limited in terms of how far I could go, but suddenly I went right through that. It was fantastic and it’s really changed my perspective on what’s possible. Now I don’t have a limit. I’m not going to cycle to the other side of London, but I could.

But even then, and for quite a few years, I didn’t think of it as cycling. I just thought of it as a better mobility aid.

Wheels for Wellbeing was set up in 2006, about five years after I bought my handcycle. I knew the woman setting it up and she knew I had my bike, which I still didn’t call a bike. She asked if I’d mind being on the board. I helped the governance side of things, but didn’t think I knew anything about cycling.

As we grew the organisation, I started going to the sessions we ran. You know how you sort of re-look at yourself and your identity sometimes in life? I suddenly realised ‘I’m a cyclist, of course I’m a cyclist’. I’d never put that word to it.

I’d been taking on other people’s point of view – that unless you’re on two feet you’re not mobile, and unless you’re on two wheels you’re not a cyclist. I call it my bike now. It’s not a bicycle in the purest sense but I call it my bike because that’s what it is, and I want people to see it as that.

Find out more about Wheels for Wellbeing at their website:


3 thoughts on “Isabelle Clement feature – director of Wheels for Wellbeing

  1. Have you ever thought about writing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would
    love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers
    would value your work. If you are even remotely interested,
    feel free to send me an e-mail.


  2. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be
    running off the screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to
    do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The style and design look great though! Hope you get the issue fixed soon.


  3. Reblogged this on Dulwich & Herne Hill Safe Routes To School and commented:
    I love this reminder from Isabelle Clement that mobility is fun and useful and there are lots of ways of getting around under your own steam.

    As well as being an inspirational local mum, Isabelle is also the director of Wheels for Wellbeing which runs sessions at the Herne Hill Velodrome on Monday mornings, helping all sorts of people discover cycling, whatever their disability.


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