Regaining Balance, Alabama Houndstooth

The Marines’ spirits can never be broken. When they set their sights on something, they’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. Outside of combat, most civilians don’t see the battles wounded Servicemen and women fight daily. This perseverance is in a class all in its own. I’ve had the privilege of working with a few Marines during my time here and have seen it first hand. When I started working with John, he was no-different.

Some quick back-ground about John. John was seriously wounded over seas. While it’s not my place to discuss his injuries, he’s been through numerous surgeries and is continuously working to rehabilitate his mind and body. However, notice I didn’t mention “spirit”. That’s because after you have a conversation with John, you understand he’s a fighter. Cycling is an important part of rehab. John’s recovery continues to progress forward and he’s working his hardest. Due to his injuries, he’s rebuilding and relearning systems like his muscular and vestibular. He started off riding a recumbent bicycle because he lost his balance. Imagine how tough it is when the classic phrase “it’s just like riding bike” doesn’t apply to you. However, with his continued focus on rehab and amazing support from his fellow Marines and organizations like Hope for the Warriors, he is now riding an upright bicycle.

As he continued to improve in his riding, there were still issues on the bike that cause him discomfort and pain. Cycling is a beautiful activity and it should be enjoyable, but when we’re in agony, we tend to make excuses to avoid riding. That’s where we came into play.

Bike Technology Helping Wounded Veterans

Issue 1:

Due to John’s injuries, after a short period of time riding his wrists and arms would start to hurt and ache. This was due to his limited wrist movement. In addition, shifting wasn’t always simple. This resulted in his rehabilitation exercise being uncomfortable due to the shifting issues, which did not provide an enjoyable experience.

Bicycles have used cable shifting for decades, but electronic shifting has emerged. John is a prime example of who can benefit from technology like this. With mechanical shifting, you have to rotate your wrist and push your hands/fingers to shift. For people with full wrist motion, this isn’t a problem, it’s second nature. However, when you don’t have full use of your wrist, every shift can be troublesome.

As a result, we used the Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting system with a custom thumb shifter. The benefits of electronic shifting are that it allows a rider to simply push a button to shift instead of wrist and finger rotation. Thus, John is able to easily press a button to shift. This reduces the strain and effort his wrists have to go through. As a result, he is able to shift easily, ride pain-free/comfortably, and increase his safety.

shimano remote shifterThe thumb shifter was a surprise for John. He told us he likes placing his hands on top of the bars, not on the hoods or drops. With this position when he wanted to shift, he would have to move his entire hand to the hoods. This could cause a balance issue. Thus, we used a Shimano remote climbing shifter and positioned it on top of the handlebars so he would only have to move his thumb. This keeps both hands on the bars and maintains balance.

Issue 2:

John’s limited arm/wrist movement affects his hands. They go numb. As a result, he had been double wrapping his handlebars with extra tape. To help alleviate this issue, we had to find a handlebar that would help combat that. Our first move was to migrate him from his aluminum bar to a carbon fiber one for two reasons: 1) It is an ergonomic bar that stretches out his hand grip. 2) The carbon fiber reduces the amount of road vibration that goes into his hands. I use the analogy of an aluminum fork versus a carbon one. When you hit an aluminum fork you feel it reverberate into your hand. With a carbon fork, you hear a thud and barely feel anything because it absorbs the vibration. Therefore, the less his hands, arms, and body have to absorb, the easier and more enjoyable it is to ride. Our hope is that after a few more months of riding on his new bike, we can reduce the handle bar wrap.

Issue 3:

As I’ve mentioned, John couldn’t ride an up right bicycle right away due to his injuries — he had to relearn his balance. When his body started to regain its muscle memory and his vestibular system came back online, he graduated to an upright bicycle. Riding an upright bicycle is something many of us take for granted. For John, it was a hard fought battle with lots of support. An important aspect of his bike are his wheels.

There are numerous types of bike wheel rim depths. A lot of marketing pushes deeper rim depths for aerodynamics. While we certainly believe aerodynamics play a role, our job is to be practical first and understand what each rider needs. Rehabilitation is about being sensible. A critical downside to a taller rim is that it can “catch” the wind and cause a bike to swerve. For John, that could be disastrous. He’s still honing in on his balance. Therefore, we chose a rim that had a minimal rim profile. Thus when a cross wind blows, the risk of him being pushed around by the wind is minimal. Here’s an example, Wind Pushes Pro Cyclist. If you want to see an extreme version of wind and cycling, Strong Winds and Cycling (opens to YouTube). Notice how they all have low profile rims.

The Design, Houndstooth, and Special Handlebar Tape

John is a die-hard Alabama fan.

The paint job is inspired by the football team’s helmet and Bear Bryant’s iconic houndstooth hat. The white stripe on the top tube represents the stripe on the helmet. Inside the front fork and rear chain/seat stays have the houndstooth pattern with exposed 3k carbon fiber. The “teeth” were laid by hand and then each tooth was individually unmasked. We made sure to keep the pattern classy and not gaudy.

Custom Handlebar Tape and the Alabama “A”

When I met John and learned about what he’s been through and his obsession with Alabama, I knew I just had to find the perfect accent to his bike. I wanted to have custom Alabama handlebar tape made for him. I reached out to Hope for the Warriors and told them my idea. Anne Barnwell took the reigns and we got down to business.

After asking our Kane Bicycles Twitter, I contacted a company called Zevlin. They make custom cycling handlebar tape. Drew H. was my main contact and he did everything he could to accommodate this project.

That was the easy part. The Zevlin guys are superb. The hard part was asking permission from Alabama to use the “A” for the tape. I can tell you this, it would not have happened if it weren’t for Anne and Hope for the Warriors. She worked with the administration and proper departments to allow this one time project. John is the only person the world that has this tape. While it’s just “tape”, there’s symbolism behind it too. My hope is that whenever John looks at the tape, he is always reminded that there are people who will work relentlessly to help him and that he isn’t alone.

I’ve worked with Hope for the Warriors for almost four years now and this organization is the real deal. They are there for our Servicemen and women. They fight for them. They care for them. They will not be denied. If there is ever an organization to support when it comes to our soldiers and veterans, look no further.

Learn more about the Hope for the Warriors organization on their website: http://www.hopeforthewarriors.org/

Other organizations that have helped John along the way are Road 2 Recovery and Team Semper Fidelis.