I got to ride.

For two whole laps! And yes, I looked like a bit of dork while I did it. Jeans? Classic Print Star Wars shirt under a sweater? Let’s just say this was an unexpected treat that I was NOT dressed for.


Demoing a Top End Force hand bike at Lyndhurst
Demoing a Top End Force hand bike at Lyndhurst

So let me back up a bit first.

Anyone who has read me over on the old site has seen me lament how much I’ve missed my riding since the chair came into my life. Those who I once rode with have wanted to see me get back to it almost as much as I’ve wanted to bloody well do it! I’m looking at you guys  Bruce, Albert and Andrea! It’s been almost four years since I was last on a bike. Four years since I last felt the thrill of going too fast down a hill, the pounding of my heart as I tried to push up a hill and the “oh shit!” of losing it followed by the inevitable “I’m down! I’m okay!”

During this time I’ve looked up hand bikes, had friends send me YouTube clips of various kinds of bikes, skinny tire, fat tire, experimental, competitive, even *shudder* recreational ones. It’s always been on my radar, even while I was laying in rehab at West Park in 2011, hoping against hope that just maybe my legs would start to work properly. I wanted to damn well get back on a bike. I just had no clue how to start finding a bike…and hooking up with people who knew what to look for. You can research as much as you want on the Intertubes, but really…nothing beats feet on the ground with experience.

That’s where, once more, finally getting on board with a rehab facility that knows its stuff came through. Lyndhurst (the spinal cord and nerve damage rehab facility here in Toronto) has an amazing side program called recreational therapy. They treat this therapy as important to their patients as any other. It’s all about getting back out into the community, doing things you once loved, or variations on them. They introduce you to groups that can help find what you need, to help socialize people who may have been stuck in a hospital for months on end…or in cases like mine, hook me up with people who can help when I am finally ready to do more then just have home…and work. A wonderful therapist named Charlene hooked me up with a former therapist (and fellow paraplegic) named Rich who helped found handbiking.ca. They brought out the bike you see above, a Top End Force CC (I believe that was the model). Actually, he also teased me by bringing out his new personal bike. A super high end, carbon fibre, reclined racing cycle…that cost $11,000. I was drooling over it. Literally. Before I even got on the other bike. Trust me Bruce, Andrea, Albert…you guys would have wanted to try this thing to. The damn thing weighed only 25 lbs! I could lift it easily with one hand and it was about the same size as what you see above!

I’m getting ahead of myself…but that’s how enthused I was about this and when they gave me the chance to even take just a few laps around the hospital…well I was in second heaven. You can see it on my face and that picture was just from rolling out of the lobby. Seriously, I wanted to roll out of the parking lot, out to Bayview, down south during rush hour until I hit Pottery Rd. and could do the old paved tail down the Don (don’t worry if you get lost non-Torontonians, just stick along for the ride…trust me I’m a good guide). I think if I’d had more time I might even have been able to convince them to let me try it.

That being said, these bikes are a huge change from what anyone is used to riding any kind of bike. The seating position alone is a bit odd, yes surprisingly very comfortable. The seat is angled to support riders who may have poor abdominal strength, and can even offer a head rest if the problems go higher. The legs stretch out front as you see, which was a bit of an issue for me with the tone I have (long explanation of what that is to come…I’m no longer tone deaf!) but again it ends up being comfortable. The big change is found at the right hand, if you look in the picture you’ll see that all the control rest right there.

The brake, the thumb click gear shifters for the primary cassette at the front wheel all rest at that one hand. You steer as you are “pedalling” and you very quickly learn that it does NOT turn on a dime. You can lean into the turns to help, but you have to plan your turning radius carefully. There are a ton of little quirks that I’ll have to figure out when I eventually get the bike I want…not the least of which is going to be lowering from my chair to the bike and back up again. Give it time and I’ll get it down to an awkward, spastic ballet of legs and arms all akimbo. That doesn’t even get into changing out of granny gear on the secondary cassette or the parking brake. Yep, the bike has a parking brake…makes sense really. Oh and if you have to ask what a granny gear is…well just come riding with me once I’ve got it…I’ll show you how little I need to use it.

My hope is that I’ll get this lined up before the snow falls for a few rides, but at least I’m going to have this by spring. There is a 10k race down Yonge St. in May that I would love to be a part of. I’m not kidding myself…I won’t be able to compete…but just to be in it is now a goal. I am also going to be looking for more of an offroad style bike that can handle urban trails as well…but we’ll have to see how this all adds up in the end.

Charlene was out with me, at one point actually running after me taking some videos of the ride that I’ve included below. It’s amazing what is out there when you look for it. So take a gander, and don’t mind my breathless joy at just being able to ride once more. Trust me. You’ll hear it in the last vid. Damn, I had missed it.