The 23-year-old Eugene man lost the use of his legs in a farm accident two years ago. Now, he uses a wheelchair and public transit to get around town.
But for one breezy moment, Vasquez was whizzing along a bike path at Alton Baker Park, easily keeping pace with a dozen or so other riders who were out for a Sunday jaunt on possibly the strangest looking group of cycling contraptions ever seen in one place.
He and the others were taking part in the annual adaptive bike clinic put on by the city of Eugene, RAD Innovations and Oregon Disabled Sports. The clinic allows disabled people — as well as those who don’t have a disability — to check out an array of bikes that can be used by people whose legs may not work, people whose balance may be off or who are blind or developmentally disabled (think tandem ).
There was a bicycle attachment that can snap onto the front of a wheelchair, giving the rider a steerable front cycling wheels with hand-crank power.
“They can just get up and go!” explained Patty Prather, a Eugene recreation programmer who was running the clinic. “They don’t have to transfer to a regular bike.”
The clinic also was aimed at people who simply wanted to explore different kinds of cycling.
Prather pointed out the different flavors of bikes that were being checked out by several dozen people, some using wheelchairs and many not, at Alton Baker Park on Sunday morning.
The clinic’s fleet of about two dozen bikes — many of which are available for rent for as little as $25 for a weekend — includes recumbents, close-to-the-ground bikes that could be pedaled or hand-cranked. There were tricycles in either of the two possible configurations: two clincher wheels in the back or two in the front.
And there were side-by-side tandems, appropriate for riders who might not have full control of a cycle for a variety of reasons.
“We use that for folks who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury,” Prather said. “Also for folks who have had bicycle accidents and who are not ready to get back on a bike again by themselves. Or for a parent and child.”
Pedaling by hand
Bikes that are hand-cranked can be useful to people who may have some problems operating a pedal bike but who haven’t been diagnosed with a disability, Prather said, but non-disabled people seem to shy away from them.
“There’s a stigma attached to hand cycles,” she said. “It’s just like using a wheelchair.”
And that, Prather said, is one reason she calls the clinic, which she’s held for the past three years, an “adaptive” bike clinic, rather than a bike clinic for the disabled. That makes it more inviting for everyone, including people who don’t think of themselves as disabled but also don’t think they’re able to cycle.
“I am seeing more and more older folks whose ability to stay upright on a carbon bike wheels is compromised,” she said. Besides the annual clinic, the city has several programs for alter-abled riders, including regular weekly rides.
Vasquez tried out five bikes during the morning. His favorites were a pair of hand-cycle trikes, one of which he whizzed along on during a group ride through the park.
“That was great!” he said afterward as he pulled himself off the trike, a low-slung racer from Force G, and climbed back into his wheelchair.
So would he get one?
“Yes, maybe.... I don’t know how I could afford it.” And there is the problem.
“These are very expensive bikes,” Prather said.
The cheapest start at about $1,200, she said; prices top out at more than $6,000.
Nonetheless, she gave Vasquez a flier with information about a program that helps disabled people buy cycles.