In June 2017, Caito Bowles-Roth was standing in a parking lot beside the Midtown Greenway when she saw Robert Gregory roll by in a power wheelchair.
Bowles-Roth, the program director of Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling, took off running, intercepting and introducing herself to him.
It had been 20 years since Gregory, who has cerebral palsy, had been on a bicycle. But when Bowles-Roth explained that Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling could outfit him with a recumbent bike, Gregory agreed to give it a shot.
Since then, he’s rode multiple times, often pedaling 15 to 20 miles per pop.
“There are all of these green bikes available all over the city,” Gregory says, when asked why initiatives like Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling are important. “But what about people with disabilities? … We can’t use them.”
Robert Gregory, Minneapolis resident with cerebral palsyThere are all of these green bikes available all over the city. But what about people with disabilities? … We can’t use them.
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Bowles-Roth, an occupational therapist, previously worked for the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) as a cycling instructor.
BORP is a leader in adaptive sports, fitness, and recreation — and it was through her affiliation with the California nonprofit that Bowles-Roth honed her passion for the community aspect of occupational therapy.
“The day that I started working at BORP I thought to myself … Minneapolis needs a program like this,” recalls the Minnesota native, who’d long planned a return to the Twin Cities and desired to “bring something back to my community that wasn’t there already.”
In 2016 Bowles-Roth made true to that intention, returning to Minnesota and founding Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling with her husband Tommy Dixon. Dixon is a life-long cyclist, and supports the nonprofit as a lead mechanic and tandem pilot.
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Today, Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling is located a few feet from the Midtown Greenway, in the CityKid Farm parking lot at 2841 5th Avenue South.
The nonprofit’s drop-in cycling center is open Tuesdays and Saturdays, late May through late October, and offers a large lending library of adaptive bicycles, including handcycles, recumbent foot tricycles, and tandems.
Staff evaluate each rider to determine which style of bike is most appropriate, and the nonprofit offers both a drop-in rate and a seasonal membership.
Bowles-Roth says Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling helps increase access and participation in biking for people living with a disability. It does this by helping people overcome barriers to riding, including cost (adaptive bicycles can be prohibitively expensive) and storage.
Another barrier is lack of awareness. Many people living with a disability simply assume that biking is outside their purview, but Bowles-Roth says she’s never encountered a person they couldn’t get on a bike.
“I think there’s always a way [to fit someone],” she says, explaining that, in the worst case scenario, they’d just have to order an additional bike part or expand their fleet to accommodate a rider.
She adds that people often find the process of getting back on a bike emotional, and that many cry.
Since Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling launched in 2017, participants have included amputees, people with congenital birth defects, and those with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and progressive neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.
But even those without a physical or cognitive disability can benefit; adaptive cycling can be a rehab alternative for people recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery and is useful for those with minor balance issues.
“When we [in the adaptive cycling world] use the phrase ‘individual living with a disability’ I think it definitely shuts out a lot of people who don’t identify with the word ‘disability,’” Bowles-Roth explains. “So, I like to tell people that they’re welcome here. We’re a program for people who can’t ride an upright two-wheel bicycle.”
In addition to its physical fitness benefits and ability to impart a sense of freedom and autonomy (especially to those who never imagined they’d bike again), there’s a social connectedness value to adaptive cycling. Unlike some other adaptive sports, it can be done alongside family and friends.
Additionally, Bowles-Roth hopes that Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling becomes a place where people forge new connections and build community. She envisions organized group rides and people who meet to train for races.
On a sweltering day in late July, Gregory arrives at the CityKid Farm parking lot aboard his power wheelchair.
Because of cerebral palsy, Gregory speaks with a communication board. Today, he taps keys on the board and a robotic-sounding male voice emanates from the machine:
“My name is Robert Gregory. One day I was speeding down the Greenway when Caito caught me and asked if I’d like to try an adaptive bike. I figured why not. I hadn’t been on a bike since I was little. Well, after strapping my feet down and getting me ready, I took a spin.”
There is a pause, and Gregory taps more keys. Then:
“If people want to try something new, there are people around who are willing to make it happen. The magic words are ‘I want to try’ and the rest comes natural.”
With that, Gregory puts aside his communication board, and Bowles-Roth and Dixon lift Gregory from his wheelchair to an in-line tandem recumbent trike. After strapping Gregory in, Dixon takes a seat at the front of the bike.
Then the two head east on the Greenway, toward the Mississippi River. Both are pedaling.
Written by: Lori Imsdahl