This column is a particularly nice one for me to write because of my love of bicycle riding. I began to bike in 1988. I was 29 years old and looking for a better way to stay active while enjoying the months of nice weather in Chicago. Stationary bicycles are fine, but boring as all get out!
I remember going to the bike shop in town and buying a black 10-speed. It was very similar to the last bike I had owned at age 14 or 15, before I got my driver’s license at 16. The bike was simple but nice, and it was all I needed to get started.
That evening, I took a short ride around the neighborhood. I can’t lie: It was exhilarating. Over the previous 15 years, I had completely forgotten this feeling. I loved how it felt to have the breeze blowing in my face as I pedaled around the streets. Little did I know at the time, but a new passion was emerging. That summer of 1988, I only pedaled a few hundred miles, but I was moving into a new phase.
After a few years of riding, I was ready to set a big goal. As I described in a column on pushing my limitations, in 1992, I set a goal of 3,000 miles, the distance from Los Angeles to New York. By this time, I had graduated to a nicer racing bike. I even tried my hand at bicycle racing in a velodrome.
This love of riding a bicycle continued even as I began to have symptoms of muscle loss from my muscular dystrophy (LGMD2L). My bicycle was good enough, meaning lightweight and efficient. This probably gave me a few extra years, but by age 47, I needed to explore other options.
My recent column on assistive technology focused on the advancements in this field. I bring this up because I’ve discovered that electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are used for many different situations. One of the growing uses, especially in Europe, is as an assistive technology for those with disabilities and for the aging. It is an effective way to continue bicycle riding despite diminishing capabilities.
Back in 2013, I did a blog on e-bikes. I actually tested various models and purchased one that I thought best fit my needs. This bike gave me another five years of riding before I began to experience difficulty. This week, I tested a new bike. Prices have come down, while extra features have expanded. These features can help those of us with disabilities, and I am happy to talk to anyone interested in learning more. Let me list some basic things to look at:
- Stepping in: Think about what you need now, but also in the future. My first bike had a bar that I had to step over. With time, that became difficult. The new bike I looked at was a step-in model, without that bar.
- Throttle vs. pedal assist: The first e-bike I had was pedal assist. The bike had lots of power, so this was all I needed. If you have a progressive illness, however, you need to think ahead and get the throttle. You can take periodic rest periods while hitting that throttle to keep going.
- Weight: As I said, the bikes are getting better. My old bike weighed almost 90 pounds. The new one I looked at weighs 50 pounds, and it folds up. I can fold it, and I can still lift it into the back of my SUV. The old bike was difficult even to lift onto a bike carrier. I’m sure there are even lighter ones on the market.
- Seat: Here, you may have to be creative. The trouble for me was that prolonged contact with an uncomfortable seat created blood supply issues. I don’t have the strength in my legs to push up from the pedals and get off the seat to relieve the pressure. I found a spring-loaded seat that I could raise while I rode, allowing me to simply shift my weight onto my feet. I could also lower it quickly if I needed to stop.
- Other: Do your homework and look at all the possibilities. There are ways to add the electric assist to your current bike. There are also recumbent e-bikes. As manufacturers get more and more creative, I know we will see more amazing options.
I have written previously about the idea of starting something new in life. This is about finding your passion, which is the general theme of my column, Living, Learning, Thriving! Future columns will focus on other ideas for finding this passion. E-bikes are a phenomenal way for many of us with disabilities to get out into the world.
Remember, it’s all about Living, Learning, Thriving!
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.