August 13, 2005

    I used to love cycling when I had both legs. I lost my right leg 15 years ago to a bone tumor and haven't been on a bike since (I have about 1-1/2 inches of my femur bone left). My husband and prosthetist both said I should get back on a bike. So my husband bought a bike for my birthday with a shoe & clip system. I can't ride with my prosthetic leg, so I'm just using the one leg to pull up and push down. I tried the pedals with straps and those were pretty awful!
    I am really struggling with holding my balance while getting 'clipped' on—the whole thing is just scaring me. I have one good leg left and the last thing I want to do is get stuck in the clip, fall over and break that leg.
    Do you know of anyone who would make strong, but slim/sleek/"cool" looking training wheels to attach to my 26" wheels? Or do you know anyone who sells such a thing? Without my leg I weigh a little over 100 pounds, and am 5’5" tall. I looked at Fat Wheels, etc., and I don't really want two huge wheels on either side of my back tire—yikes! I don't need that much support and balance. I just need a little—training wheels that are more slender, less noticeable, yet fairly strong. You know what I mean?
    Anyway, any info you could provide me would be very, very much appreciated by myself and my husband. Thank you.

Kelly M.

    I know what you mean about training wheels. I’ve got some ideas about that and about a couple other things.
    First, lemme list your options as I see them: a standard bicycle with training wheels, a standard bicycle alone, and a hand-powered cycle.
    The bad news about training wheels: I haven’t found any like the ones you envision. Wald makes the smallest for adult bikes that I’ve seen, the 742—but at least one dealer doesn’t consider these wheels quite strong enough for a full-sized bike.
    Which describes exactly the problem with the size of training wheels you want. This doesn’t mean, however, that you couldn’t get someone to make them for you. More on that in a minute.
    Let’s go back to the option you rejected: Using a regular bike without training wheels. I know clipless pedals seem scary (I won’t use ‘em)—but many above-knee amputees swear by them. These folks have the same problem as non-amputees: When getting use to clipless, they fall a lot. You can minimize your chances of injury by getting on the bike, leaning against a wall, and practicing clipping in and out quickly. Then work up to slow rides along a wall—putting your foot on the pedal, clipping in, starting, stopping, clipping out, then putting your foot down, all while having the wall to support you.
    A stopping method on which to concentrate: Come to a gradual, rolling stop so you’ve got enough time to unclip, let your foot dangle, lean the bike over just a little, stop, and put your foot down.
    You didn’t ask for all this clipless advice. But from what I’ve seen of others in your position it seems very viable, and perhaps I can help make it so for you. So humor me while I wax more on keeping stable when riding clipless:

  • Clipless or not, get your bike fitted to you properly. With only one leg your butt and other limbs have to take on more weight, and if you’ve got a bike with an overextended handlebar or improperly positioned seat you’ll suffer unnecessarily.
  • Speaking of which: Most adults who have their bike’s seat at the right height can’t put both their feet flat on the ground while seated on the bike. For you this would make clipless starting and stopping even trickier—so consider having your bike’s seat lower than normal. If this creates undue strain on your knee you could try equipping your bike with a shorter (125 mm) crank arm.
  • Consider equipping your bike with a granny gear (a really large rear gear or really small front gear). Novice riders often start in too high a gear, and the difficult pedaling makes them start slowly and wobble. You might find it easiest to start and stop in your granny gear, tho with time you might not need it. (Mr Bike recommends that everyone start and stop in their lowest gear.)
  • Having your foot clipped in lets you pull up as well as push down. But some clipless mavens say you’ll pedal more easily if you concentrate not on pushing and pulling, but applying a smooth, even force to the pedal during its entire 360 degrees of movement.
  • Some above-knee amputees report more comfort and flexibility sitting with the residual leg over the center of the seat, rather than with their pelvis centered on the seat. According to Brett Wolfe, a long-distance endurance racer and above-knee amputee, it takes a while to get used to but makes a difference. Mind you, Brett races mountain bikes (clipped in!), so you might not find the benefit he does.
    Had enough of that? OK, lemme talk about hand-cranked cycles. The wide array of available brands have become very popular among amputees, but I suspect they won’t appeal to you: Most have low-rider, three-wheel configurations. You can find a list of these at the site of the U.S. Handcycling Federation.
    You can, however, find some hand-powered two-wheelers. Check out a brand that intrigues me, the Rowbike. Further, Richard Reis, a contributor to my book, Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips, has described a student-designed, hand-powered bicycle retrofit initiated at at Stanford University. Which gives me an idea: What if you found a professor to create this sort of student engineering project for the training wheels you want?
    Finally: Get a tandem! Once you do, you and your husband will bike together in no time. But before you ride, learn starting and stopping protocols, the ignorance of which gets many beginner couples into trouble.

Mr Bike

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