"It's not a major undertaking," says Phil Hall with some northern understatement. "It's just a few tweaks." He's talking about his dogged campaign to adapt Forestry commission mountain bike trails so he can use his £6,000 bike – one of only four in the country – on them.
Phil runs Rough Riderz, a mountain bike club for wheelchair users which he started in 2007 after breaking his back in a motorbike accident. Last Saturday the club joined up with Ae forest – part of the 7Stanes mountain biking trail in Scotland – to host an all-abilities day, the first of its kind in the country. The aim was twofold: to improve facilities for disabled riders, thus encouraging more into the sport, and to boost investment from vehicle providers.
"We've been working with the Forestry commission in Scotland and north England for two years and giving them feedback on trails," says Phil. "It doesn't usually take much to adapt them. For example, step-offs are dangerous and challenging on a four-wheel bike because it's much harder for us to lift the front end up. So on the Amoeba trail at Ae forest, we've just levelled out the run around some obstacles – it doesn't really affect the more hardcore riders and in fact makes it more accessible for more nervous mountain bikers in general."
Phil rides a four-wheel bike custom-made in Canada by the company R-One. It has 20 inch BMX wheels on the front and 26 inch mountain bike wheels on the rear with disc brakes and suspension like a regular mountain bike. The only real difference is that there are no pedals.
Riders roll on to the track using manual propulsion, and from then on, it's all about gauging speed and maintaining it. This is a difficult skill which, if you've ever tried to "no pedal race" your mates on a track, you will appreciate. But if skilled, like Phil, you can find yourself hurtling around at up to 30mph, primarily on downhill trails rather than cross-country routes which require a lot of pedalling.
The major hurdle for most potential riders is the price – at around £6,000 you've got to be pretty dedicated to invest.
"I was a motorbike rider before my accident, I love going fast. I went to the USA and tried the sport of four-cross [not to be confused with 4X racing] there. It's so much more established there that disabled riders race with able-bodied riders. There are very few sports that offer this level of adrenalin and danger to wheelchair users."
Rough Riderz currently has 120 members. Phil's plan is raise enough money to purchase another R-One bike which can then be shared among members through a series of taster days. Colin Williamson, the organiser behind the all-abilities day at Ae forest, said those who took part had access to a range of different machines to try out. "We know Phil's type of bike is quite rare and very expensive but he is a great inspiration for people to get on to our trails and enjoy our forests," said Williamson.