RAD-Innovations and the Birkelbikepro
Written by Beth Hudson:
Because I am retired and my husband is a teacher, we literally shut down our house and travel during the summer in our fifth wheel. This year we started out in Cornwall, VT at RAD-Innovations – ate our way through eight states, and ended back at Cornwall in the middle of August. I found RAD-Innovations after I received a grant from C.A.F. (Challenged Athletes Foundation) for an adaptive recumbent bike. I started off thinking a Hase adaptive recumbent bike would be the ride for me, but it became apparent that I couldn’t even pedal up the smallest of hills with one. Thought about an electric assist with it, but they are very expensive. The bike shop that sold the Hase recumbent line closest to me was of very little help, and their customer service left a great deal to be desired (it was NOT an exclusive Hase bike shop – no harm/no foul for Hase), so I hopped onto Google and started looking around – and that’s how I found David Black, Anja Wrede, and RAD-Innovations – good karma!
Dave and Anja live on a farm in central western Vermont – absolutely breathtaking. The two met while working on an adaptive stroller project together, hit it off, and the rest is history. Dave’s engineering skills along with Anja’s bicycle mechanical skills are beyond compare. ALL THEY DO is adaptive bikes, and if there is something an adaptive rider needs but doesn’t exist, Dave just goes into the shop and manufactures whatever is necessary to get that person moving.
RAD-Innovations has every kind of adaptive bike there is, including push-bikes without pedals, tandem recumbent bikes and trikes, ICE bikes (for mountain/snow biking), Hase recumbent bikes and trikes, and Birkelbikes, to name a few. They also have every imaginable piece of adaptive equipment known to biking, and if it doesn’t exist, Dave will build it. And you know what they say, “Build it, and they will come.” RAD sells around 300 bikes a year – which keeps them very busy, as every bike must be fitted for the rider; my fitting in June took three hours. Because my left leg (LBKA) only has about 10% use of its hammy and glute, I am unable to pedal with it. Anja, along with her college-age interns and assistance from Dave, worked tirelessly to match my body to the trike. I needed a special foot plate, a calf support (to keep my leg from folding into the frame) and a crank shortener. The seat also had to be adjusted for both length from the pedals and tilt – all to make sure that my left leg did not wobble (which would cause problems all the way up to my hips) and that it did not hyper-extend. – lots of moving parts that all needed to be adjusted – to perfection. They also attached crutch holders onto the back!. All of this is done with smiles and laughs, in a very relaxed atmosphere. They only fit one person at a time and you receive their full attention; they truly love what they do!
My first “ride,” up to the end of their driveway and back – about 2/10 of a mile – was pure joy for me. I have always felt the need for speed; I was on the ski team in high school and loved water skiing as well. My favorite sports involve anything in the water, snow skiing, and biking. When you walk with crutches all the time, the feel of the wind in your face and moving faster than a snail is incredibly cathartic.
My real baptism was on the bike path in Montpelier, VT when we picked BB up in August. Yes, I give everything a name! I did a whopping three miles. Not like a regular bike – it was quite a learning curve! This trike is unique in that it is a foot pedal bike with a hand cycle assist. It is specifically made for SCI folks who are paralyzed below the waist. You can pedal it if you are able, but if you need help, you start hand cycling – but the legs always stay engaged, so the pedals rotate with the hand cycle. This allows SCIs to keep muscle tone in their legs even if they can’t physically pedal. Because my left leg goes “along for the ride,” this was the perfect trike for me. As a bonus, the back wheels pop off just like the wheels of a wheelchair does, and the frame detaches the front from the back. This is possible because all of the gearage is to the front wheel. This bike fits in my Equinox with room to spare for my husband’s foldable bicycle. I am able to go up steep hills, whereas on a regular recumbent, with adaptations, even the slightest hills were impossible for me. And as an added bonus, what a workout!
Psychologically, it has been a game changer. My husband and I can ride together on the myriad of bike and rail trails that abound in the Northeast. I hear, “Cool bike!” and “Wow! I like your ride!,” whenever we go out. Earlier this week, we decided to see if I could make it around the block, which is a one mile loop with some crazy steep hills. We leashed up the dog and went for it! My husband walked up those hills faster than I could bike, even in the lowest gear, but I did it. Cash, my dog, was very, very confused at first. You see, I have not been able to walk with him for four years (because my pace is that of a snail, remember?), and once he realized that I was “walking” with him, well, dogs absolutely do smile! I’m surprised he didn’t wag his tail off. Fall is coming, the foliage is starting, and the rides are going to be spectacular. I literally will ride until the snow flies – and it will get me in good shape for the winter sit-skiing season. Win-win!
Now, I’m not going to lie – these bikes and trikes are expensive. If you don’t have a wealthy relative, apply for a C.A.F grant or any other local or national grants that cater to adaptive athletes. Without the C.A.F grant, this trike would be totally out of my pay range. The C.A.F. grant process is now open for 2022 grants, and if there is a piece of equipment you want, training you want, or travel you need for training – apply now. The application process is tedious and complex – you have two months to apply, and if it’s your first time, it can be daunting. It is not something you can apply for the day before it is due. You will need letters from the medical community as well as recommendations. Totally worth the effort.
Although other bike dealers sell the Birkelbikepro, RAD-Innovations has customers who travel from all over the world to get the service that Dave and Anja provide. It’s not just the ride, it’s the whole package. These two are savants in the biking industry, and I recommend them to anyone who is looking for an adaptive bike. There is no one they cannot fit. Check out their website (RAD-Innovations.com) to get their whole story. And check out my new profile picture to see what BB looks like. Tell them Beth sent you. You’ll be glad you did!
And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.