Project Echelon, in a joint venture with Wahoo RGT, raised the bar for adaptive athlete inclusion and representation even higher.
In 2020, Project Echelon Racing, in a joint venture with Wahoo RGT, broke new ground in virtual cycling and led the charge toward disabled athlete inclusion. The first-ever in-game virtual handcycling bike with lifelike avatar integration marked a momentous step forward for disabled athlete representation.
The partnership produced the first virtual event dedicated to handcyclists in collaboration with the 2021 edition of the Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD). In 2022/3, the expanded calendar will include real-life races with para events and unique courses like the Marine Corps, Boston, and Chicago Marathon.
RGT and Echelon First Handcycles For Adaptive Athletes in 2020
Project Echelon Racing received UCI Continental team status for 2023 and will use the elevated platform to foster and share its mission with a wider audience. One of the few professional non-profit sports organizations of its kind, the entity gives sponsorship dollars, time, talent, and community resources to educate, equip, and empower veterans through physical activity and self-discovery.
“In 2020,” states Echelon’s co-founder and director Eric Hill, “when we first started our work in the esports space, we captured the interest and excitement of a broad audience who saw the possibilities of esports and how we could use it to bridge the accessibility gap to the sport.”
One of those audiences was their veteran athletes with disabilities. Hill and his organization partnered with the PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America) through the Department of Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports grant to create representation and accessibility for disabled athletes and others like them.
“We started with the handcycle because it was the most visible exclusion of accessibility and inclusivity in the esports cycling space,” Hill explains, “with all other adaptive bikes still being powered by the legs.”
Zwift Followed in 2022 Without Leagues
Zwift followed suit in September 2022 but fell short of the organization of handcycle-only events or leagues. Despite the efforts of the major platforms, there was still a gap for the disabled-athlete community. The members of the virtual adaptive-athlete community spoke, and this is what they said.
In 2018 para-cyclist Ken Talbot became the only hand cyclist to go over 50mph in history with a time of 51.86mph. He explains: “A hand cyclist’s power is severely limited. When a leg rider gets on the virtual handcycle, they gain a massive advantage.” Basically, a rider’s legs are stronger than their arms, and it reflects in-game.
Adaptive Athlete Community Needed More
Something was missing for para-athletes like Ken and other members of his community. Wahoo RGT and Project Echelon are changing that and leveling the playing field for disabled athletes, as Hill explains.
“This year, we have focused on developing the recumbent and upright trikes to expand the inclusive nature of esport further.”
Introducing the recumbent and upright trikes to virtual cycling will create an opportunity for all athletes to experience the beautiful sport of cycling while being accurately represented. That’s not lost on the athletes, like recumbent trike rider Andy Shuttleworth.
RGT and Echelon Change the Game with Trikes
“The introduction of recumbent and upright trikes might seem trivial for many upright riders, but it means so much to those adaptive riders who use these machines in real life. We want the world to know we are here and we are not ashamed of what we ride and why we ride them. We want to use that increased visibility to encourage others to take up cycling in some shape or form.”
It isn’t trivial for Wahoo RGT and Project Echelon. They have big plans, according to Hill.
Bright Future For Disabled Athletes on Wahoo RGT
“We have the vision to work with the UCI to facilitate the first ever Paracycling Esports World Championships, to work with the Para Olympics, and to bring more exposure and accessibility to cycling to people with disabilities from around the world.”
The future is now for disabled athlete representation and inclusion. The recumbent trikes are live and in the wild. Upright trikes are in development, and riders will have access to them in the Spring.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!