Cycling for all

Program gives people with disabilities chance to bike on greenway

Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling founders Caito Bowles-Roth and Tommy Dixon. Submitted photo courtesy Bill Belknap, Hennepin County Public Health
Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling founders Caito Bowles-Roth and Tommy Dixon. Submitted photo courtesy Bill Belknap, Hennepin County Public Health

Caito Bowles-Roth moved from New York to Berkeley, California, in 2014 to take a job with an adaptive cycling program.

Last year, the South Minneapolis native moved back home to start her own program, Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling.

Bowles-Roth, an occupational therapist, co-founded Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling in late 2016 to increase access to bicycling for people with disabilities. She said biking can be a cost-prohibitive activity for people with disabilities, noting that the average cost of an adaptive bicycle is over $2,000.

“We are here to kind of fill that gap, (to) just really make cycling truly accessible for everyone in the Twin Cities,” Bowles-Roth said.

Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling co-founder Tommy Dixon and program participant Robert Gregory prepare for a ride on the Midtown Greenway. Submitted photo courtesy Bill Belknap, Hennepin County Public Health
Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling co-founder Tommy Dixon and program participant Robert Gregory prepare for a ride on the Midtown Greenway. Submitted photo courtesy Bill Belknap, Hennepin County Public Health

Bowles-Roth worked as an occupational therapist in the medical setting before hearing about the Berkeley-based adaptive cycling program, run by the nonprofit Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program. She reached out to the organization’s adaptive cycling program director and subsequently got an interview and then a job.

Bowles-Roth said she thought about starting an adaptive-cycling program in the Twin Cities during her first day on the job. She spent three years working for the Bay Area program, learning everything she could about adaptive bikes, before she founded Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling in winter 2016.

The program began operating last July, utilizing space in Urban Ventures’ parking lot along the Midtown Greenway and a mobile box truck to store the bikes. Bowles-Roth and co-founder Tommy Dixon held open riding hours twice a week, reaching 45 people with disabilities in about four months.

This year, Bowles-Roth was able to get a shipping container donated to the program, allowing easier storage of the program’s growing bike collection. She said the goal this year is to reach 100 riders and facilitate 200 rides. She and Dixon have expanded open riding hours to three days a week and have also added a group ride for youth on Saturday mornings.

Bowles-Roth said her ultimate goal is for the program to operate out of its own building, which would allow it to be open year round.

Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling offers recumbent tricycles that users can pedal with their hands or their feet. The organization can modify bikes for people who only have mobility on one side of their body. Submitted photo
Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling offers recumbent tricycles that users can pedal with their hands or their feet. The organization can modify bikes for people who only have mobility on one side of their body. Submitted photo

Cycles for all abilities

Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling allows people with disabilities to go on solo or tandem rides with a volunteer rider, a friend or family member. Bowles-Roth schedules a fitting with new riders on their first day, helping them find the right type of bike and ensuring they’re comfortable riding on their own or with a partner.

Riders have had a wide range of disabilities, from serious strokes to cerebral palsy, visual impairments and amputated limbs. But the program has bikes that will allow everyone to access the trail.

“People with disabilities and injuries aren’t aware biking is a possibility for them,” Bowles-Roth said. “When they get on a bike, they can really experience a lot of mobility and freedom.”

Many of the bikes have a low center of gravity and are hard to tip. They can be adapted for people who can’t use their arms or hands and for people who have limited mobility on one side of their body.

“Virtually everything can be adapted,” Bowles-Roth said.

Bowles-Roth said she encourages people to come as many times a week as they can, noting that the program is a great way to build community. She said the program’s mission is not only to get people with disabilities physical activity but also to empower them to try new activities.

“We’re really trying to break down those stereotypes among the general population and among people with disabilities,” she said.

Bowles-Roth added that having people with disabilities biking on the same trail as people without disabilities fosters integration and helps build tolerance.

Retired physicians Dale Hammerschmidt and Mary Arneson volunteer three times a week with the program. The couple, both biking enthusiasts, began adapting recumbent tricycles for people in need about 15 years ago.

Arneson and Hammerschmidt started their efforts by finding bikes for specific people, such as friends of their friends, but eventually started watching Craiglist to see if they could find new bikes. They noted the bikes are great for people who may have back pain or visual impairments or who may be recovering from an illness, among other ailments and disabilities.

Hammerschmidt also noted how the cost of the recumbent and adapted bikes can be prohibitive for people. He added that it’s fun and rewarding to be volunteering with Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling.

“The grins are pretty big, and that’s pretty reinforcing,” he said.

Program participant V Shattuck comes down to the greenway three times a week, often biking on a two-wheel tandem. Shattuck said she loves biking, meeting new people and meeting new friends.

“I could bike every day,” she said.

Shattuck, who bikes about 15 miles per ride, said her goal is to bike upwards of 30 miles per ride by the end of the year.

Program participant James Almen, who is blind, said he heard about Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling when Bowles-Roth presented at Vision Loss Resources, the nonprofit at which he works.

Almen said it’s great to be able to ride outside like everybody else. He noted the freedom the program provides as far as going longer distances and exercise.

“Most of the time, moving fast as a blind person isn’t always easy, especially outside,” he said.

Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling has served people with a range of disabilities, from visual impairment to traumatic brain injury to multiple sclerosis, balance disorders and cerebral palsy. To learn more about participating or volunteering, visit tcacycling.org.

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