Above Elbow Amputee Back on Bike After 14+ Years!
My wife is amazing. I knew that from the moment I met her, but she never neglects to remind me this. Today was one of those days.
Long before I met her, just before her 14th birthday, she fell from a ride and broke her elbow. X-rays revealed a cancerous tumor had eaten away at her elbow structure and eventually required amputation. Shy of 14 years old was the last time she had ridden her bike. She tried following her amputation and was unable to master balancing herself with just her right arm. She gave up.
When I met her, I was already a pretty avid cyclist. While I was disappointed she could not ride a bike, we had plenty of other interests we shared. I simply accepted that she wouldn't ever ride a bike with me.
Last year, I started down a different path in terms of my lifestyle and overcame obesity. My exercising and healthier eating seemed to open doors for both of us. In April, a friend posted a link on Facebook for a discounted tandem skydive. I just about flipped my lid when my wife said she wanted to do it. As confused as I was, I think she was nearly as confused by the inner voice telling her to do it.
Many people say jumping out of an airplane is a life changing event. For me, it was a lot of fun and not nearly as frightening as I expected, but still I taught me that letting go is sometimes the best thing to do. For her, it removed the words "can't" and "don't" from her vocabulary.
Shortly after our jump, she started running with plans to do a 5k and eventually a half-marathon. Then, she said she thought she wanted to do a triathlon. So, that posed to me the challenge of finding her a bike she can ride.
Initially, I thought she might need a prosthetic arm. Her left arm was amputated about half way up from her elbow, so I figured whatever she go would serve mostly to support to left side of her torso and provide some stability with the steering. There are ways of combining all of your shifting functions onto the right side of the handlebar and I have seen brake levers that allow you to operate 2 brakes with one lever. I still think that is a viable option down the road, but the process of choosing and fitting a prosthetic is not only lengthy, but potentially expensive depending upon how much insurance will cover.
Recently, a light bulb went on in my head and I realized that a simpler bike would be more appropriate not just for my wife, but for anybody coming back to cycling after so many years. Specifically, the Electra Townie and other similar semi-recumbent comfort bikes came to mind for their low seat height and long wheelbase that provides stable handling. There is a model available with a single shifter, so all that needed to be adapted was the braking. A $20 dual-cable brake lever allowed me link both front and rear brakes to a single lever on the right side of the handlebar.
The only other issue that I saw with her riding one-handed was steering stability. I have ridden motorcycles for years and know about steering stabilizers which use hydraulic dampers to slow down steering motion. I didn't expect to find something so complex and quickly recalled seeing coil springs mounted between the fork and down tube of the frame. The primary function of this is on a bicycle that has racks mounted to the handlebars or front fork which keeps the steering from flopping back and forth both while riding and when the bike is parked. Crazy thing is that such an item is not easily found in the USA. I managed to order one from France for a reasonable sum.
Yesterday, after a lengthy 1 day search for a used Electra Townie or similar bike, I decided to surprise my wife with a brand new one from the shop. This morning, we went shopping for riding gear and she took her first stab at it this afternoon. It was hot, so we only spent about 20-30 minutes. In that time, she went from shuffling along with her feet on the ground to me holding her up while she pedaled. Initially, there was a lot of heaving back and forth left to right, but she quickly started improving. By the end of our first session, she was almost there in terms of being able to balance herself.
This evening, we went back out for some more practice. I was absolutely amazed how quickly she progressed. Within just a few minutes, I was letting go and jogging along side. She wanted to go faster, so we shifted the bike to the next gear and man did she go. I had to run to keep up with her. She was yelling out like a little kid. It was incredible!
Tomorrow, more practice...