Just like any other hobby, getting into “cycling otherwise” can lead to the acquisition of a wide range of equipment.  By far the heaviest and most bulky will be the bike/ handcycle/ trike or whatever form of wheels you have chosen.  In addition, unless you live in an ‘ideal’ location or are happy to keep your travels local, there will be many occasions when your machine has to be loaded into the back of your car.  For most people this is no big deal, but if you are less than able bodied, there may come a time when some assistance is required.

The simplest solution is the humble ramp.  However, this needs to be quite long to provide a loading gradient that is easily manageable.  This in turn makes the object quite large and starts to pose difficulties of transportation.  When we had a four-wheel electric buggy we used a pair of telescopic ramps which were about 1.5m in length when folded.  They were quite heavy to manipulate, awkward to fit in the car and rattled like pebbles in a tin can.  We were happy to stop using them when we moved on to lighter handcycles.

When the time came to change our car recently, it seemed a good idea to investigate electric hoists as a possibly more versatile form of loading assistance.

Choosing a Supplier
In the UK there seems to be a small number of brands of hoist available (see panel).  Under the general heading of wheelchair hoists there is a somewhat larger list of fitters around the country as well as the manufacturers’ own fitting service.  On the basis of that, we had expected that we could find a fitter, arrange to visit him/her, and then view their range of models.  In practice this was not possible.  The fitters to whom we spoke mostly did not keep the hoists in stock, nor did they have displays.  They simply fitted to customer orders.  However, we did find one fitter who had a couple of ‘demonstration’ vehicles fitted with hoists.  

Making our approaches to the manufacturers for showroom viewing, we were met with the suggestion that they only did ‘home’ visits where their expert would assess the potential customer’s needs and his/her vehicle.  As that sounded suspiciously like ‘pushy salesmen’, we declined the opportunity.

In the event, we made our decision on the basis of the manufacturers’ website information and, perhaps crucially, the brand used by the fitter with whom our new vehicle dealer normally worked.  In this case the manufacturer was Brig Ayd.

What size hoist?
There seems to be around three or four sizes of hoist, albeit with the specified lift capacities varying between brands.  The smallest hoists are for lifting folding wheel chairs.  The next size up is for lifting fixed wheelchairs and small electric buggies.  The third size is for lifting the heavier electric buggies and electric wheelchairs.  

We dithered between the first and second size since our handcycle is not that heavy and the idea was to supplement the usual manual manipulation.  If that kit were to be loaded by the user alone, then we would probably have needed to go for a bigger capacity.  In making a choice it might be useful to seek out those fitters with demonstration vehicles and see how easy it is to use with the cycling kit that one owns.  We were able to do this after placing the order as the vehicle supplier arranged for us to meet the fitter with the new vehicle at the fitter’s premises.  We were then able to engage in a debate over the position of the hoist in the vehicle and whether our suggested model was sensible.

It was agreed that we would have a 40kg hoist fitted to the left hand rear quarter.  The fitter would, I think, have normally fitted it to the right hand rear quarter if not asked. Also, I suspect, he would have preferred to sell us the next size up.

The 40kg Hoist
The hoist is mounted on a steel bed plate 170mm by 150mm with six mounting holes through which it will be bolted to the floor of the boot or other location.  On this is welded a 40mm square section tube 43cm long.  Near the bottom of the square tube is pivoted a length of round tube that can be locked into the upright position with a locking bar.  Into the tube fits the vertical shaft of the hoist which is 115cm long.  When the locking cross bar is unhitched the vertical shaft of the hoist can be lowered flat, effectively lying across the width of the boot.  This is useful for hatchbacks and the like where the vertical shaft in its mounted position would prevent the boot from closing.

The rear of the square tube has a stay attached near the top that is bolted to the vehicle body in a position that relieves some of the lateral pull of the loaded jib of the hoist.  At the bottom of the square tube is mounted the electric motor, gearbox and cable drum.  From this come two wires.  The first is the power feed that is connected to a fused line from the vehicle battery.  The second is the control cable of the expanding curly type with the control switch box on the end.  The box has a magnetic base so that it can be clipped to the hoist when out of use.  The box has just two buttons; up and down.  There is also a fixed switch on the square tube that has the same functions.

The vertical shaft of the hoist is a round tube which has the jib arm mounted at its top with a bolt.  The jib is rectangular ‘u’ section steel and is 52cm long. Near the end of the jib is a further, smaller, piece of ‘u’ section steel that can slide out and extend the jib by an extra 85mm. Inside the arm closer to the pivot fits the diagonal stay bar.  When the jib arm is raised the stay bar unfolds and provides a support for the jib.  It is pivoted at the bottom and can be fitted into one of three slots in the jib arm which give a horizontal position or two raised positions.  Once in position and secure, the jib is ready for use.

Using the Hoist
The first step is to swing the jib into a position that is approximately over the item to be lifted.  As the jib on the 40kg hoist is only 60cm long, it will not protrude far out beyond the boot.  Similarly, it will not reach that far into the vehicle.  However, if it were longer it would take the load more to the side of the vehicle.  Whether this is a problem depends upon the vehicle and the load to be lifted.  Nevertheless, it is worth marking the arc of reach of your proposed hoist with (say) chalk on the floor of the boot.   That will allow you to check that the reach of the hoist is satisfactory.

For us, the 40kg hoist reaches just beyond the centreline of the available boot space and just clear of the rear bumper.  That is fine for use with our split handcycle as the hoist can be used to drag as well as to lift.  The cable ends in a form of carabina, a hook with a spring loaded clip that prevents that which is hooked from slipping off.  For the front of the handcycle the cable can simply be wrapped around the centre of the machine and clipped onto itself.  Using the left hand to operate the control box it is possible to drag the front of the hand cycle to a point where it can be lifted.  The right hand can be used to control the direction of the lifting motion.  Once the load is clear of the boot sill, the jib can be swung in and then the load can be lowered and pushed into place.  Once again control of the hoist with the left hand and control of the load with the right seems to work.

The seat section of the handcycle is more of a problem as there is no convenient lifting point.  We need one or perhaps two custom slings that will clip into place and provide a lifting point for the hook.  Using temporary bodge ups it is possible to load the seat section quite easily by tipping it up and placing the fixed foot rest on the boot sill.  The hoisting hook is then clipped to the lifting sling (bodge up!) and lifting drags the rest of the machine up into the boot.

The hoist can be used for loading and unloading other things besides handcycles.  We have loaded a machine that was too heavy for one person to lift, but was simple with the hoist.  The main issue seems to be one of finding an appropriate way to attach the lift hook to the object to be lifted.  The other issue is speed.  The loading process is slower than manual lifting because the hoist needs to be assembled for use, then the cable needs to be wound out to the right length, then the slings must be attached to the load and the finally the hook attached to the slings. Lifting is necessarily slow too, as is lowering of the object into the vehicle.  Once the lift has been completed, the hoist then needs to be stowed away again.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The provision of a hoist in one’s vehicle is a real boon.  It makes loading and offloading handcycling kit and other heavy items an easy and safe process once the method of operation has been understood.  The Brig Ayd 40kg hoist is a robustly built piece of kit and the control box on an extendable cable is very easy to use.  Whilst it is designed for lifting folded wheelchairs it can cope with other kit within its weight range.  We discovered, accidentally, that it could actually lift above its stated capacity, but that is something that we would strongly advise against.

The disadvantage of a hoist is the time it takes to set up and then lift or lower the load.  Specifically for this particular lift, there is a tendency for the folded machine to rattle when the vehicle is on the move. To counter this we have added a nylon washer to the adjuster bolt of the jib stay bar.  Similarly, all the other bolts in the hoist assembly were tightened or had shims added to reduce the amount of play.  Finally, when stowed the hook is attached to a luggage tie down next to the base of the hoist and the cable tightened by pressing the ‘up’ button.  This has been successful in stopping rattles.

Other Points to Consider
When a hoist is fitted to your vehicle it will require holes to be drilled through the floor of the boot.  This will not damage the integrity of the vehicle, as fitters are careful to ensure that no key components are underneath when drilling is carried out.  However, if they are under time pressure, they may not take the time to coat the bare metal of the holes.  Left uncoated, the metal will rust and the boot floor will deteriorate over time.

If you think that there will come a time when you wish to remove the hoist from the vehicle, it may be worth asking the fitter to modify the installation somewhat.  The default mounting method is with bolts facing down, i.e. heads on the hoist base and the nuts on the backing plates under the vehicle.  This can make the removal of the hoist quite difficult as the nuts are bound to rust onto the bolts over time. An alternative is to insert the bolts from below, secure them with nuts and washers on the boot floor, creating ‘studs’ onto which the hoist can then be mounted.  This is just as secure are the default method, but removal is easier as the nuts and bolt ends in the boot will not have rusted.  If this approach is used it might also be worth having the power supply for the hoist end in a 12v socket in the boot, and fit a matching plug to the hoist wiring.

If you need a hoist to help you with loading your cycling otherwise kit into a vehicle then the Brig Ayd 40kg is worth adding to your shortlist.  It works well, it is robustly built and appears to be widely available.  The only down side seems to be the rattling from the pivot bolts.  However, either the ‘handy’ user or the fitting organisation can easily cure that problem.  Is it good value for money?  We cannot offer an opinion on that as we have only tested the one hoist.  The hoist cost £700 including the fitting.   Not cheap, but it looks sufficiently robust that it should outlast the life of the vehicle and possibly the purchaser.