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Meet Michael Trimble: The gay, armless, bike-loving former Russian orphan who wants to be Oregon’s next governor

Posted by on March 11th, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Michael riding in southeast Portland on March 10th.
(Photos and video by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Michael Trimble is impossible to forget. Ever since I met him in 2016 I wanted to know him better. I finally did that yesterday when I spent the afternoon with this 35-year-old, gay, armless, bike-loving former Russian orphan who wants to be Oregon’s next governor.

Michael’s story is about much more than his obvious physical challenges. He’s a survivor who refuses to be defined by circumstance.

Michael at Sellwood Riverfront Park on Wednesday, March 10th.

Michael’s mom lived in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 when the world’s worst-ever nuclear disaster unfolded. She had Michael one year later and he was born without arms. As a child he bounced from orphanage to orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia and was taken care of by a loving woman he remembers fondly as Babushka (Grandma) Rita. Just before his ninth birthday he was adopted by an evangelical Christian couple from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The way Michael tells it, they were monsters guided by God’s word to “rescue” him, but they never accepted who he really was.

With a fierce sense of independence forged by a life lived by his own rules, he never felt at home with his adoptive parents. “It was always an icey relationship, partly because I blamed them for taking me away from her [Babushka Rita]… When I came to America I lost my childhood,” Michael shared.

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“They say if you have it, flaunt it. Well I have my own saying: If you don’t have it, flaunt it even more!”
— Michael Trimble

Michael was sent to Christian boarding schools; a move that backfired when he connected with new friends and began to learn about American culture (through secretly watching R-rated movies when school counselors weren’t around) and about himself. The more he learned, the more he wanted to escape the crushing rules and beliefs of his adoptive parents, who he says abused him, starved him and forced him to work “dusk to dawn”. “On the surface it looked like I was in a wonderful, loving family. But beneath the surface it was anything but.”

His journey away from that life included getting kicked out of boarding school and finding social workers to help him navigate the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system. Michael was ultimately granted asylum based on his religious beliefs (he’s an atheist) and was finally free.

“I wish I could remember the names of those counselors who helped me,” Michael said, “Because they were heroes.”

Lest you get the wrong impression, it’s not easy to keep Michael serious for more than a few minutes at a time. After sharing his difficult childhood, he immediately switched into humor-mode.

When I told him I felt a bit vulnerable he wasn’t wearing a mask, Michael replied, “Don’t worry Jonathan, I’m unarmed.” And with a light view of his dark past he said, “They say what doesn’t kill you makes you happy, and after all that money they spent to change me in those boarding schools, as you can see I’m still very happy. I’m very proud to be dancing on rainbows with all my beloved unicorns.”

He’s been dancing on pedals ever since he first started biking in 2013. Michael loves cycling for the same reasons you and I do: It’s fun, healthy, and exhilarating. He says he picked it up “pretty instantly” after first trying it (probably owing to his flexibility, core strength and excellent balance). By the time he moved to Portland in 2015, he was ready to upgrade his bike.

Michael’s first bike was a single-speed cruiser with a coaster brake and a modified handlebar. As he biked more, he wanted gears and more speed. Michael connected with local adaptive bike expert Adam Amundsen to create “Black Mamba 2.0” — a lightweight aluminum Scott Matrix with several customizations.

To steer his bike, Michael grabs a u-shaped bar (at the end of a long handlebar) with the “nub” of his arm (watch how he gets ready to ride and more in the video below). A few inches in front of his bar is another attachment with two buttons that shift his 11-speed rear cassette electronically (he also usually has a two-speed front crank gear made by Schlumpf he can change with his foot, but it was in the shop). Midway down the top-tube is another handle that Amundsen fashioned into a dual-brake. Michael pushes the handle with the inside of his right knee to engage the front and rear v-brakes simultaneously.

Because getting a flat would be a serious hassle, Michael uses solid, puncture-proof tires. “If you don’t want to change tires and you don’t have any arms like me. Get them,” he recommends with his trademark wry smile.

Michael recently started wearing cleats to clip into his pedals. “I wanted to go faster and have a smoother experience,” he said. When he bought them the shop was so concerned he’d hurt himself they made him sign a legal waiver. “I biked off the lot with no problem and haven’t had any falls because of the cleats,” he added proudly.

Michael’s two favorite accessories are his deluxe Garmin GPS unit (he’s obsessed with ride stats) and his bluetooth speakers. Blasting music helps people step out of the way when his favorite paths gets crowded. “It’s not enough not to have no arms these days,” he says sarcastically. “You really have to amp it up!”

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Asked why he doesn’t use an e-bike, Michael says he wants all the exercise he can get. He also doesn’t like the heavy batteries.

Another quirk about Michael’s bicycling set-up is that he always wears sandals. Even in winter. “My feet are my hands,” he explained. “When I put my feet in shoes, they get sweaty and stinky. I need my feet to be pristine.”

Once on his bike, Michael is hard to keep up with. He averages about 13 mph on a good day. Asked if he gets scared on downhills or at high speeds, he seemed surprised at the question. “Why would I be scared? When I’m going downhill I shift into the hardest gear! It’s so very exhilarating and freeing, especially with the wind blowing in my face.”

I found that with many questions I asked, his answers weren’t really all that different than someone with arms.

Just like some of you, he loves sharing his ride statistics. In fact, his favorite hobby is creating large, detailed graphical images to present them on. Michael combs the internet for political graphics from news stories (he’s a news junkie who loves talking politics) or movie stills and then painstakingly manipulates them in Photoshop into bold creations several gigabites large. He takes extreme, Where’s Waldo-like pleasure in hiding his numerical stats somewhere in the image.

He has a lot to be proud of too. 2020 was his best riding year ever (thanks to the pandemic that freed up so much space for him on the paths) and he notched over 10,868 miles of riding. That’s more than twice the mileage he had in 2018.

Many of you have seen him on his go-to route that includes the Hawthorne Bridge, Springwater Corridor, and loops through Sellwood. Asked if he gets bored of doing the same route every day, he said, “No way! Because there’s always cute cyclists to stare at and interesting comments and interactions from people. Every day is different.”

Some of those comments are annoying, Michael admitted, but he takes them in stride. Nothing will keep Michael from doing what he loves. Not even serious crashes.

In 2017 someone in a car cut him off while he biked on SW Washington. “The guy gets out of his car and says, ‘Oh my god you have no arms!’ and I was like, yeah dude you shouldn’t have cut me off!” He laughs about that crash, but the one on June 18th 2016 was no laughing matter. He nearly died after falling on his head while biking on North Interstate Avenue. He was in a coma for nine days. The crash had such an impact on Michael, he made a video about it titled, “Doomed, the 18th of June“. This was also the crash that turned Michael into a staunch believer in helmets. Before it, he never wore one.

Then there was the time in March 2018 when he says a TriMet bus operator nearly ran him down. The incident was reported to the police and led to a tweet from @PDXAlerts that read, “Bicyclist is now leaving the scene, riding away – caller reporting cyclist is “steering with his mouth and doesn’t have any arms.”

On Wednesday we rode from his apartment near SW 21st and Burnside, over the Hawthorne Bridge and then down to Sellwood Riverfront Park.

A few blocks into it a construction project forced him off his usual route and back onto West Burnside, which is busy and full of potholes. He was irked. “I absolutely hate riding on Burnside,” he said as our bikes clanked over bumps and our tires crackled over gravel. As we zig-zagged through downtown streets on our way to the bridge, I realized how he can’t signal intentions like you and I can.

I felt myself getting anxious on his behalf as dangerous scenarios played out in my head: He can’t turn sharply. He can’t signal his turns. What if he hits a big bump? What if he has to stop suddenly? None of this even occurred to him as he smoothly navigated everything. In fact, I was the one who nearly crashed when I rolled off a high curb unexpectedly while filming him.

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Even though he’s a very confident rider, I sensed a sigh of relief when we crossed over that “Springwater Corridor” sign and were finally on the carfree path.

Free from urban biking hazards, the conversation got easier. He told me all about how he plans to run for governor (“If I can bike 10,200 miles, why can’t I be the governor?”) and shared his platform to eradicate homelessness, establish rent caps , expanding Medicaid, and of course bicycling. He promised, if elected, he’d be “The most bike-friendly advocate the state has ever seen. I want to make Oregon a cycling mecca.”

Michael definitely has politician vibes. He has an unforgettable backstory, he’s smart, funny, charismatic and seems to relish attention and publicity. When I pointed out how he liked to be filmed, he said, “Well why not?! They say if you have it, flaunt it. Well I have my own saying: If you don’t have it, flaunt it even more!”

He also doesn’t shy away from being a role model for other people who face physical challenges (a term he prefers over “disabilities”), “We all have our limitations and we need to acknowledge reality. But don’t let that hold you back. Go for it! Don’t let others determine your fate or destiny. After all, you steer your own bicycle.”

Get to know Michael better in this video I put together after our day together:

Connect with Michael (and his cat “Tiger”) via his Facebook page and check out his videos and artwork on his YouTube channel.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Andy Stowmichael trimbledraw2build architectureGeoffrey HillerTom Howe (Contributor) Recent comment authors
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Maria
Guest
Maria

Michael is one cool cat. I love his spirit. I see him riding all over town. He’s got my vote when he runs for Governor!!!
Also, I wanted to mention, for his next helmet, he might take a look at one of the Bontrager wave-cells, because they have a magnetic clasp that is super easy to connect/unconnect.
Happy Trails, Michael!!!

ADD
Guest
ADD

I have one of those helmets and (aside from the supposedly increased concussion protection) the clasp is my favorite part! Wish my kids’ helmets had them, would have saved so much screaming.

Matt
Guest
Matt

A magnetic clasp is also available on helmets from Nutcase (a local company).

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

Thank you! Maria. Do these helmets come with a GoPro mounts attachment? Well I don’t film like I used to (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAS-B5CM0-I) I still do attach my goPro from time to time. Where around town have you seen me biking around like a cool cat cruising for a bruising? And speaking of cool cats my very own feline valentine will be turning 18 in May (https://youtu.be/WzlqtaLFTyk).

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Such an awesome guy. Yet another reason why we should have safe, separated infrastructure. Wonder if he’d ever consider tubeless? Solid tires got to be rough.

Also, if anyone is/knows someone who wants to try out adaptive bikes, Kerr bikes is an amazing place. Had a friend who was recovering from surgery. They helped figure out what he needed and even reinstalled adaptive pedals, all for about $10. Really amazing we have this in town.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

I’ve heard tubeless tires come with their own biking nightmares. What I love about these solid tires is that they require absolutely no maintenance whatsoever. I have biked over glass. I have biked over tar that was just poured on the road. Not having to pump these bad boys either is a godsend. Where these fail miserably is around tracks and cracks in the pavement. I am always getting caught in those goddamn tracks and as a result I will be spearheading an engineering commission as to how we can make Cycling and train tracks compatible. There is no reason that in 2021 train tracks should be the nightmare that they are today.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

You don’t want tubeless. It is great for high-performance or fat tire bikes, but it’s more fussing and maintenance than a traditional tube tire. You can still get a flat, and you wouldn’t be able to field repair it.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

That’s basically the negatives I’ve been told about tubeless tires whereas with my solid tires no maintenance whatsoever no pumping up no punctures no flats no nonsense just beautiful Biking!

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Well, yes and no. If you have close to plus size tires, you’ll likely never get a flat (never have on my 3.0 tires), and RR tracks, glass, even pieces of sharp metal, are a non-issue. Periodic pumping might be the main issue though. I wonder if there are any adaptive pumps out there?

ADD
Guest
ADD

I have seen him around so many times, and yes he is FAST. Great article and video, thanks Michael for sharing your experience.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

Absobikinglutely https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAS-B5CM0-I where have you seen me biking around?

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

Great profile! Love it! What does Michael think of a recumbent to help him get more aerodynamic?

Tom Howe (Contributor)
Subscriber

That’s an amazing bike, and the 2-speed Schlumpf drive that is out-for-service is a likewise cool item (named for its unicycle-riding Swiss inventor Florian Schlumpf). I install it when I need a two-speed fixie for loaded touring.

Michael, what service is your Schlumpf getting – bearings, gear wheels, or both? Mine has about 10,000 miles and may be due soon:

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10154320525808326&set=a.10152319324023326

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

The entire thing just collapsed while I was biking. I was told that it should be maintained every 2 to 5000 miles but it lasted 27,000 miles before it just collapsed on me, literally and figuratively.

Tom Howe (Contributor)
Subscriber

Good to know. I’ve heard of getting 18,000 miles before service, but 27,000 miles must be a record!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

If only I could get in touch with them to let them know how amazing their gear is!

Tom Howe (Contributor)
Subscriber

Years ago, Florian himself replied to an email question I sent on the Schlumpf Drive. He now spends his time on MAD which stands for Mechanical Art devices:

https://quillandpad.com/2017/05/10/artistengineerclockmaker-florian-schlumpfs-deconstructed-time/

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

Well in the PNW it’s possible! As Washington State had a ‘fully blind’ Lt. Governor until last year.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Habib

[Portlanders may not know that since Washington State news has difficultly passing through the Mount St Helens – Mt Hood / Columbia River news force shield.]

David Guettler
Guest
David Guettler

Awesome article. There is something about the bike that brings out the best in people. I’ve seen Michael on Springwater- now I can say hi and chat

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

I can’t wait David! You can usually hear me biking with my very alternative music blasting on my speakers.

Marvin Himmelfarb
Guest
Marvin Himmelfarb

Very cool guy and inspiring story. Glad he’s pro-helmet too.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

In my first nine days as governor I will pass a law mandating helmet wear for all and by all cyclists Marvin. On top of that I would also like to enforce DMV rules were motorists have to yield to bicyclists and I can tell you from first foot experience they do not yield to me at all but certainly don’t waste a second to honk at me when I bike in front of them. I am definitely open to any ideas and feedback as to how we can make biking a lot safer in Oregon.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Okay. Ranks right up there with Matthew McConaughey running for governor of Texas. Maybe there is hope for America after all?

Scott Kocher
Guest

Nice to meet you Michael. I see you ride past my office. 11k miles wow! Do you know Alexander Supertramp? He is the only person who rides more miles but he does it the easy way… on a fixie! #Michael2024

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

I do not no Scott. I tried riding my bike on an indoor trainer 2019. Never again. I would rather miss days biking then have to bike inside. Where is your office located? Maybe I could visit on one of my mid day breaks?

buildwithjoe
Guest

Thank you bike gallery by Trek for doing modifications. Michael is a lot more honest and transparent that our speaker Kotek or Gov Brown. They cut human services in a Pandemic and keep adding money to expand freeways. The budget for that is about 15 billion give or take a few years. A lot of that bank profit from bonds. Call up Kotek and ask what are the top 3 measured goals of the RosE Quarter freeway expansion (503) 986-1200. See if you get an answer you can measure now and when the project is done. Gov Brown is (503) 378-4582..

Nice work Mr. Maus.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

I will definitely curtail this run away never ending spending on highways and very anti bike anti pedestrian transportation methods. I will steer funding away from ODOT and into localities and municipalities that actually know how to spend the money and what they actually need it for. Unlike Brown boy only do I encourage your ideas and feedback but I actually want them. I want to work with communities and scrap this endless bureaucratic nonsense. I will be a the kind of governor that uses the available powers to him for the betterment of all Oregonians.

Michael
Guest
Michael

FYI web devs, on mobile this page displays horrendously to the point I can’t even watch it. Don’t do full page video embeds; you need to css this puppy correctly to fit all devices.

ivan
Guest
ivan

FitVids is the way to go (I say this as a web dev myself). There’s a drop-in WordPress version here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/fitvids-for-wordpress/

PS
Guest
PS

I have three daughters who will love to know his name now. Michael, we see you on the Springwater and right by our house on 19th all the time, and you are our daughters favorite rider we see regularly. I greatly appreciate the perseverance they have been taught by seeing you out riding so often.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

My biketastic pleasure! Maybe we all could go for a bike ride one of these days?
https://youtube.com/watch?v=pLS0-jzfYWE I think your daughters will get a kick out of my feline valentine purring upon me much-needed love

Sam
Guest
Sam

Michael has my vote!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

Tytytytytytytytytyty do you let me know if there’s anything you would like to see happen once I become governor for the wonderful state of Oregon

Bstedman
Subscriber
Bstedman

I had a boyfriend back in Germany who only had arm stumps after an accident as a child. We started out riding together on a tandem, but he wanted his own bike. He got a recumbent trike and never looked back! And defintely wore only sandals…

SD
Guest
SD

Great story. I have seen Michael on the spring water a countless number of times. I really appreciate learning more about him. So many cool people on bikes in Portland!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

Let’s definitely go on a bike ride one of these days together. But if you fall I won’t be able to catch you, I hope you can understand.

Whyat Lee
Guest
Whyat Lee

Theses are the stories that keep me coming back. So much awesomeness. This will be a good motivator the next time I bog down and feel like I can’t finish a ride.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble
Sio
Guest
Sio

Laugh-crying! As an avid cyclist here now for over a decade, I’ve loved this human from afar. Thank you for doing this piece. I hope to hear more from Michael and he better run for office! He has my vote!!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

We should go for a bike ride sometime this century to get to know each other a little bit better Sio.

Peter Koonce
Guest
Peter Koonce

Just rode by our future Governor on the Springwater and waved like a fanboy! Thanks for the connection BikePortland, you’re truly the glue that makes our community better!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

I would have waved back Peter but as you can probably see or maybe you were biking too fast to notice I am a bit shorthanded. Would you be up for biking with me one of these days? Would you prefer 35 miles or 50 miles? Bike’s choice.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Outstanding story and dude. I’ve always wondered about solid tires. How do they ride, Mike?

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

They are solid treaded workhorses…No pun intended, never ever of course!

ag167
Guest
ag167

Michael,

It’s great to hear your story. I see you a lot on the Springwater–almost every day last summer! Happy riding!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

And you’ll be seeing me every day this summer on my beloved springwater corridor trail

Geoffrey Hiller
Guest

Thanks for featuring Michael! I’ve seen him many times on the Springwater and was curious about who he was.

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

Now the cat is out of the cycling candidate’s hat!

draw2build architecture
Member

Super inspiring story. Thanks for sharing, Michael and Jonathan!

michael trimble
Guest
michael trimble

It was all Jonathan risking life and limb to capture those biketastic moments!

Andy Stow
Guest
Andy Stow

We just visited Portland a few weeks after reading this article, and spotted Michael cycling on the riverfront. So cool to see him out there!