Bike Summit Was Inspiring

It was inspiring.

Most of us who enjoy riding bikes are pretty fit and relatively nimble. But what if we were partially paralyzed, or born with one leg shorter than the other or have a cognitive disability? Could we still ride a bike? Could we enjoy the freedom of movement that bikes give us?

The answer is a profound YES!

We learned that in just one session at the 2016 Wisconsin Bike Summit in La Crosse, last weekend. Gerise LaSpisa, of Variety, demonstrated special adaptations that made bicycles meet the specific physical needs of riders with disabilities.

“Variety – the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin through our Freedom Program provides adaptive bicycles for Wisconsin children (birth – 21) who have a primary physical disability,” said Gerise.  ”Our goal is to ensure that all kids, regardless of ability have the opportunity to experience the joy, freedom and independence of riding a bicycle.  Emery’s and specifically, Brent Emery, is our partner and lead bike shop.  We work with Brent to identify the best commercially manufactured adaptive bike.  Then, with Brent’s ingenuity we customize these bikes to the unique needs and abilities of each child.  Brent is a leading authority on bike fitting, and has a gift for customizing these bikes.  He is our bike whisperer who helps us ensure that each bike that we give is specially customized for that child’s needs.”

One bike stood out as especially ingenious. It was built for a young man who could steer with his hands but could not use them to pull caliper breaks. Brent outfitted his recumbent bike with a “back break.” By pushing back on his seat the rider operated the breaks. Beautiful.

Terry Esau’s presentation was equally impressive. Working with FB4K – Free Bikes for Kids – in Minneapolis, Terry has given away 32,000 bikes to kids who didn’t have one. Terry creates a pop-up nonprofit every year by finding a generous donor to lend a warehouse for 60 days. He collects about 5,500 used bikes, refurbishes them with the help of a crew of volunteers and then gives them away through local nonprofits who identify kids in need. His model can be replicated anywhere in the country.

That itself would have been worth the price of admission, but there was a lot more in the 15 workshops and the lunchtime discussion, which featured University of Wisconsin – La Crosse history professor Jim Longhurst sharing stories of the forgotten bicycle “side path” movement. At the turn of the twentieth century there was a push to create dedicated paved bike paths on the sides of roads, much like what we refer to today as cycle tracks. When cars took over, they ended up being paved over and now we fight to restore the same kind of network. If you missed the Summit you can read his account of side paths and other interesting history related to cycling in his new book, “Bike Battles.”

Not content to just write about bicycling, Jim led a tour up and down Grand Dad’s Bluff in the late afternoon. And we finished the day with a happy hour at the rooftop bar of the lovely Charmant Hotel in downtown La Crosse with a spectacular view of the Mississippi.

Thanks so much to our sponsors: Pacific Cycle, Candlewood Suites, the La Crosse Community Foundation and Toole Design Group.

If you missed it, never fear. The Summit will be back next year, better than ever.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

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