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At the Adaptive Bike Clinic, there’s truly a bike for everyone

Posted by on June 8th, 2016 at 3:25 pm

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Adaptive bikes allow people to ditch their walkers and wheelchairs for something a lot more efficient and fun.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Demo days” are a common thing in the bike industry. It’s where a company parks their truck and tent at a trailhead and offers free test rides. They bring all the sizes and models so that everyone can try out a bike. But as we’ve learned recently in a robust conversation about access to the city’s bike share program, “everyone” often only includes people who are physically able to ride a common, two-wheeled bicycle.

On Sunday a host of organizations — including the City of Portland — hosted the 12th annual Adaptive Bike Clinic. It was an opportunity for anyone — including people with disabilities — to test ride the bike of their dreams.

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When I rolled up the scene was bustling: Volunteers helped people onto bikes while riders whirred around the test track on all manner of wheeled-vehicles. There were three-wheeled recumbents — some you pedaled with your feet, others with your hands; high-end trikes with racing wheels; and even a hand-powered tadpole trike meant for off-road riding.

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Adam Amundsen from Different Spokes was there help with bike repairs.
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Lauren Fields (below) came with her mom Sonda Fields. She’s been riding a handcycle that doesn’t fit her and they haven’t been able to afford a new one. Sonda hoped they’d find one to borrow at the clinic.

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Meghan Fletcher had her eyes on her nine-year-old daughter Emma who was happily pedaling laps on a metallic red handcycle. Emma was born with spina bifida, a condition that impacts the lower back and can cause weakness and paralysis in the legs. “We tried a regular bike with training wheels,” Meghan said, “But she just didn’t have the strength. It was difficult to keep up with friends.”

Emma Fletcher.

Emma Fletcher.

Emma has borrowed a handcycle from Shriner’s Hospital for the past year and the Fletchers were hoping to go home with another one. “She loves it,” Meghan said, as Emma rolled by on another lap.

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30-year old Michael Trimble wasn’t at the event to try out a bike. He made his own because there’s not exactly a booming market for a bike that can be ridden by someone without arms. Yes, Trimble is a daily Portland bike rider despite being born without arms to steer with. He was born in an orphanage in Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, the same year (1986) the town experienced the worst nuclear disaster in history. He came to the United States in 1992 and tried biking as a kid in boarding school when he was 12.

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“But I was told it was impossible to do what I wanted to do, that I was a legal liability,” he shared. Ten years went by before he tried it again. “I just woke up one day and said, ‘Goddamnit!, I want to bike!'” Biking has become one of Trimble’s passions since moving to Portland a year ago. He lives on Southeast Hawthorne near 33rd and commutes by bike up to the Lloyd Center every day. “I bike about 17 miles a day,” he said, with a strong sense of pride. “Last month I did 502 miles.”

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Trimble’s bike is a marvel. He designed with a big assist from Adam Amundsen at the Different Spokes bike shop in southeast Portland. Instead of a handlebar that’s perpendicular to the top tube, Trimble’s bike has a bar that comes straight up toward his shoulder. He uses the small appendage on his shoulder to steer the bar. Braking is done with the inside of his right knee via a custom lever attached to the top tube. The 11-speed rear cassette is shifted with an electronic, push-button Shimano Di2 system that he operates with his chin. To expand the gear options the Schlumpf crankset can be shifted with a tap of the foot.

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Michael Trimble.

When he mentioned something about his tires, I asked what happens if he gets a flat. While he definitely tries to avoid them, he didn’t seem too afraid of the prospect. “I just change it,” he said nonchalantly, “it takes me about 20 minutes.” He was also happy to demonstrate how he locks up with his bike with his lightweight titanium Tigr lock.

Jutting out from the front of Trimble’s bike is a GoPro camera so he can video all his rides, some of which he shares on his YouTube channel.

Trimble loves talking about his cycling experiences. He’s even pitched The Ellen Show in hopes of hitting the talk-show fame jackpot. He says his goal is to show that anyone can ride a bike, “Whether you’re deaf or blind, or even, forgive me, Donald Trump.” And he plans to keep putting in the miles in hopes of making it to the Paralympics someday.

The next person I met was Richard Fletcher. I didn’t realize it at the time but he’s the uncle of Ms. Emma Fletcher from above. Richard is 44 and also has spina bifida. He looked to be having a great time on a handcycle when I asked him if he rides a lot. My jaw dropped when he replied, “This is my first time.” Richard said the only reason he showed up was because Emma was coming so he figured he’d tag along. What else do you for physical activity I asked? “Not a lot,” he said, “Except play video games.”

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Richard Fletcher.

Richard lamented how slow his wheelchair is, and how hot it gets while using it. “This is great,” he said with a smile during a brief stop on his test ride. “I can actually get some wind going… I’ve gotta’ get one of these. I’d ride every day if I had one.”

Adam Amundsen from Different Spokes said Richard’s experience is common. And wheelchairs aren’t just slow and inefficient compared to a handcycle, there’s another big reason people want to give cycling a try. “On a chair people don’t talk to you much, it can be very isolating socially. On a handcycle everyone wants to talk to you. It’s a real conversation starter.”

With the recent conversations around the accessibility of Portland’s Biketown system, PBOT’s bike share program manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth was busy at the event talking with people, testing the bikes, and taking notes. “I’m here to learn more and listen to what people in the community need and how the city can serve that need.”

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PBOT’s Bike Share Program Manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth tried out a trike.
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Hoyt-McBeth talking with David Griffiths, a local adaptive bike advocate.

I’ve known about adaptive bikes for a long time, but it’s been eye-opening to get know more about them and the people who ride them.

“Everybody here is a cyclist,” Amundsen said. “We are all on the same team. We all want to move around under our own power.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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michael trimblekelly tadlockHello, KittyChris IAlex Recent comment authors
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Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I truly hope I never need an adaptive bike, but I am totally jazzed by the creativity and clever designs on display here, and the happiness I see on the riders’ faces.

anon
Guest
anon

Ugh.

This continues the narrative that persons with disabilities are worth less than non-disabled persons. why take a nice story (thank you, Jonathan, for covering it by the way) and taint it with a bigoted statement that essentially is tantamount to “I don’t want to be like these people.”

In what other context, with what other subset of the population (race, gender, LGBTQ, etc.) would this be ok?

I can’t imagine anyone with a disability wants to read that you “truly hope” you never need an adaptive bike. the story is not about you.

anon
Guest
anon

just to be clear – my comment is solely directed at “hello kitty”, not the overall piece. i appreciate the coverage.

Esther
Guest
Esther

You said it perfectly, Anon. thank you!

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Really? My statement was bigoted? I said (or implied) that disabled people are worth less? I think you have hugely misinterpreted my posting. Your accusations are highly insulting, and, frankly, you owe me an apology.

AC
Guest
AC

What about the above commenter’s statement made you read that disabled people are worth less? I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying you hope you don’t need an adaptive bike. It would mean you had some sort of catastrophic accident that most people would want to avoid. Pretty reasonable in my opinion.

Michael
Guest
Michael

dear hello Kitty and AC

let me explain:

The story was about people with disabilities getting attention they deserve and support they need to cycle. It’s an important story, and follows nicely with the coverage and discussion about Portland’s bikeshare from last week.

By saying you hope you don’t need an adaptive bike, you are in effect saying, you hope you aren’t like people who use adaptive bikes, i.e. you hope you never become a person with a disability. In other words you are saying there is something wrong or less about being a person with a disability. This is equivalent to you putting yourself above any and all persons with disabilities. this is the textbook definition of ableism.

if you don’t see this, try substituting any other group of people (concept called rotation of nouns from Bertrand Russell) and see how it flies. Imagine the story had been about people of color getting access to bikes. now say the same thing (i.e. ” I truly hope never to be like them”). I hope we can agree that would be racist.

here’s the thing I don’t understand – why did you need to preface your remark with “I truly hope i don’t need an adaptive bike”? there was absolutely no good reason to voice that. why not just appreciate that people with disabilities are finally getting some attention and access to services we want and need?

people with disabilities have been discriminated against and have been seen as being less than non-disabled persons since the beginning of time.

Other forms of discrimination are recognized as reprehensible (see, Trump, Donald). yet,discrimination against persons with disabilities tends to be seen as basically acceptable, though usually not so explicitly.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

No, it is not saying that. By saying I hope I don’t need an adaptive bike means I hope I remain healthy and able to ride my current bike into the future. It says nothing about whether people who ride adaptive bikes are like me or not; that would be impossible to say without knowing them. Saying I hope I never get cancer doesn’t mean I am different than people who have it; saying I hope I never get in a bike crash doesn’t mean I am different from people who do crash. You have put words in my mouth that I never said, never implied, and cannot be derived from the context in which I posted.

I do not condone discrimination against any group, including people with disabilities. It is highly unfair for you to suggest that I would, and I really feel you have twisted my words into something I do not recognize.

Perhaps I felt the need to express the hope that do not become disabled in a way in which I am required to use an adaptive bike because looking at the bikes reminds me how easily it could happen, because, contrary to your assertions, I know that people who are disabled are like me, and that I could, in an instant, find my life changed in a way I do not want to happen.

Esther
Guest
Esther

Hello Kitty, One thing I don’t think you get is that people who have disabilities hear this kind of comment ALL. DAY. LONG. Online and from strangers on the street. “I could *never* do what you do,” ‘I could never live like you,” “If I had your disability I don’t know what I would do,” “You are so inspiring” [subtext: for bothering to get out of bed in the morning and live your life], etc.
Maybe to you it just sounds like “gosh I hope I never get in a car accident,” but to people who hear it all the time, it reads as “why do you even bother? the rest of us able-bodied people think life has less value if you live in a body like yours.” Anon and Michael are spot on: why does this have to be the first thing you say? It is a value judgment on others’ bodies.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It was not at all a value judgement. I really don’t know where you get that from. I do not deem someone with a disability to have any less (or more) value as someone who doesn’t. I don’t. Let me say that again. I don’t.

Would it be demeaning to say “I’m sure glad I don’t have a broken leg, but these are cool bikes, and I appreciate their ingenuity and the value they bring to people who have broken their legs?” Maybe that’s what I meant when I said I hoped I didn’t need an adaptive bike. I never mentioned disability or disabled people at all (though someone with a broken leg is disabled, arguably) — that was an inference added by others.

I feel that some of the posters here were just waiting to pounce, and so they did.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I’m going to add that I do not define people by whether they have a disability or not. The logic in your post seems to suggest that you do.

Neil Self
Guest
Neil Self

What nonsense is this? Are you seriously disputing that people without serious physical handicaps would like to remain as such? Do you think it’s weird that I hope I don’t end up losing the use of my legs?

anon
Guest
anon

No, i am not disputing that non-disabled persons may want to remain non-disabled. I would like you to have empathy, though, instead of just expressing gratitude that you are not like “them.”

here’s my question: why do you and hello kitty feel compelled to express your hope that you don’t lose your legs when you see a photo of a person with a disability? Are you likewise grateful that you are not (fill in other minority category) when you see a photo of them?

I think your comment, hello kitty, means very much that you recognize people with disabilities since you started your post with the expression that you hope you don’t acquire a disability.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The notion of “them” came from you, not me (or Neil Self). As I said earlier, seeing adaptive bikes is a reminder of how tenuous good physical health can be, and how any of us could become disabled with just a bit of bad luck.

My answer to answer your “minority category” question, is yes. I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago who told me he had cancer. I most certainly did think that I was grateful I did not have to suffer what he was suffering. I don’t think I am a lesser person because of that.

Of course I recognize/see disability — who could not? What I said was I don’t see that as a defining characteristic of a person, any more than I see a person’t sexuality, skin hue, or nationality as defining who they are. It’s a facet of them, and it can be an important one (or not), but it’s far from the whole story.

You are reading a lot of negative meaning into comments, and it just isn’t there.

anon
Guest
anon

Kitty

let me try one last way to explain this to you.

Imagine there was a story on bike portland about you. and it had your photo. and in the photo you were happy.

and the very first comment that you saw was “I am truly glad I am not like that.”

how would that make you feel?

Jeff S,

I’m not sure what SJW means, but you presume to know a lot about other people. That must be nice.

Anon

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I didn’t say “I’m truly glad I’m not like that”. I did not refer to anyone but myself, except to say people looked happy. For someone who doesn’t want people presuming to know them, you’ve presumed an awful lot about me. And all of it wrong.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

Why yes, I do know a lot about people. Thank you for noticing.

anon
Guest
anon

one last question:

was your very first statement to your friend with cancer, “wow, I am truly glad I am not like you” ?

because thats what you did with people with disabilities

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

No, it was “oh, crap, I’m really sorry to hear that”. Would that have been appropriate for me to lead with here? Or is it a different context, a different type of interaction, and not really relevant to our dialog here?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

And let me say again — I don’t think people with disabilities are “not like me.” That notion is coming from you, not from me.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I think you got in trouble here because you made a silly, obvious statement that adds no value to the discussion. Of course people want to stay healthy, so why bother saying it? You just open yourself up to criticism.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed your frantic defense of it. Even the PC police get busted themselves every once and a while.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I don’t feel like I “got in trouble”. Rather, I think my statement hit a sensitive point with someone who was just waiting to vent, and rather than explaining why they found my innocuous statement offensive, and perhaps engaging in a positive discussion, they pushed the nuclear button and jumped right to insults of “ableism” and bigotry, both of which are way over the top and inflammatory.

And why on earth should a statement like “I hope I stay healthy” open one up to criticism? Sure, the sentiment may be obvious, but it’s not exactly offensive.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

In my mind, you’re the person who ruined this thread, not Kitty. Another example of the SJW being vicariously offended.

And since it’s already ruined:
Find me someone who wants to wake up tomorrow less able than they are today and we can talk. Just one. That they don’t want to doesn’t [automatically] make them any more an “ablelist” than a white person saying they don’t want to wake up black makes them a racist.

Your message, instead, is that people should self-censor themselves lest the obvious truth offend the eagerly offended (the only minority I can think of that’s worthy of my derision).

Trikeguy
Guest
Trikeguy

Very cool. Adam is a great guy, I’m glad he’s doing well.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

Wonderful article, Jonathan! Michael Trimble’s bike in particular is a marvel of creativity and engineering. It’s exciting to see the many possibilities of human powered vehicles beyond just the standard bike.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble
Bill Stites
Subscriber

Very inspiring post – thanks for sharing this Jonathan.

And kudos to Steve Hoyt-McBeth for diving in and learning more relative to Biketown.

Esther
Guest
Esther

Great coverage!

Serenity Ebert
Guest
Serenity Ebert

Hey! That’s me in the top photo!

Kipp Wesslen
Guest

And that’s me x2 sporting the CAF shirt! Thank you for the great coverage of this amazing event, Jonathan. #imnotdeadyet #teamcaf

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

These people are true heroes, both those who have the drive to get out there on a bike that they can ride, and those who help them build those bikes. Trimble’s in particular, is sheer genius!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble
Adam
Guest
Adam

Fantastic!

How is the event advertised? Who is it marketed to? I have never ever heard of this event, and am amazed to find out its been running for 12 years here. How have I lived here for six-plus years and never heard of it?!

Do they have a Facebook page? What’s a good way to find out about next year’s event?

Reminds me a lot of that senior citizen three-wheeled bike program Portland had years back. Anyone find the link to that?

Adam
Guest
Adam
Audrey
Guest
Audrey

Awesome story. Every kid should get to ride a bike with their friends, I really hope that the Fields family was able to come away with a bike. I’d be happy to chip in if there is an affordability gap.

Kipp Wesslen
Guest

Hi Audrey,

I’d be happy to get you in touch with some possibilities if you’d like to help out financially. Researching non-profits and grant sources for myself (I have multiple pieces of equipment to purchase), it’s a bit murky as to what is possible, non-profit regulations have become more picky making it so in general, you’re not able to make a tax deductible donation that will benefit a specific person, but donations can be made to the non-profit which then awards a group of individuals rather than specifics. All sorts of legal mumbo-jumbo in there. There’s always a gofundme campaign, but that is a bit of a legally grey, might not want to write it off area.

I just received my first equipment grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation, google them, amazing organization. Other local options that stand a good chance of helping out Lauren (she’s also into wheelchair basketball, and more recently, which I’m really excited about, getting into wheelchair racing):

Different Spokes
Adaptive Sports NorthWest
Athletes helping athlete (roadrunner sports)
RAFFA

The all have established websites and a quick google search will get you in touch. Thank you for your interest and help!

~Kipp

peejay
Guest
peejay

This is fantastic, and a great display of creativity that makes a difference. Designing a bike that’s slightly lighter or faster has some utility, but the person who gets it doesn’t exactly need it. Building a bike that works without hands or without legs is completely transformative, and makes a difference between being able to do something and not. Yet the people who shave grams off a road bike are more enumerated, and the people making these amazing devices are working against small numbers and economies of scale. they need our support, and I would love to kick in so someone who needs a special bike can get one.

Kipp Wesslen
Guest

Hi Peejay, See my above reply to Audrey if you’d like to help! Getting in touch with Different Spokes might be the best/most direct way to help some of these kids achieve the adaptive bike of their dreams!

~Kipp

Alex
Guest
Alex

I know I am late to that game, but if you are interested in supporting adaptive bikes, may I suggest donating to the Friendship Circle’s Great Bike Giveaway for children who need adaptive bikes? https://www.friendshipcircle.org/bikes/
It’s national, not sure if there is anything more local. Great article!

kelly tadlock
Guest
kelly tadlock

Thank You Adam Amundson and Jonathan Maus and all involed in this effort. Nice to know people who are kind, have imagination and see that we have more in common than not.