I knew I really should have felt happy for the 170 kids with special needs who did win an adaptive bike in the Great Bicycle Giveaway. It was a privilege to be a part of this three week contest, and I am very grateful to all my family and friends who supported by donating and promoting the contest.
But it did hurt not to see my son’s name and picture amongst the winners. This was the second year that we participated and did not win. Adrian has always loved anything with wheels and movement. So far he has not been able to learn to ride anything, a bike, skateboard, or scooter on his own. Somehow though, we have always found a way to have something for him to ride.
But now he had completely outgrown his last bike trailer and it looked like we would be facing a spring and summer without bike rides. The adaptive bike we were trying to win is called the Buddy Bike and costs over $2,500 with delivery, assembly, and taxes. The Buddy Bike is a specially designed tandem bike that allows the adult to ride in the back and steer while the child rides safely and happily in front with his/her own set of pedals and handlebar. Having an autistic child is financially crushing for a middle class family and there was just no way I could afford it, although I was very tempted just to purchase it and then deal with financial chaos it would cause to our little family budget. Adrian has autism, is non-verbal, has some trouble with coordination, no impulse control and ADHD which makes bikes difficult but not impossible. It was my disability to purchase a bike that would keep him from riding.
It was with these thoughts and sadness that I sat down at my computer two days after the contest had ended. I also had a saved craigslist national search set up for over a year that had found only three Buddy Bikes. One in Maryland with no picture for $900 last year, one rusted out in Miami for $500 in January, and one for $1,500 in Oklahoma. There have only been a few hundred Buddy Bikes produced so the odds of finding one were slim. But suddenly I was staring at one listed about 4 hours away that looked to be in good condition. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I really couldn’t believe the timing just two days after the contest ended. Those who like stories where the pieces fit neatly together will also appreciate the fact that it happened to be World Autism Awareness day. It was in the Cobb Antique Mall, of all places, in Marietta, GA and they were closing in a few minutes. I managed to get someone on the phone there to look and confirm that the bike was still there and then convinced her to hold it for me until they opened in the morning, while my wife hurriedly starting packing.
As I ran to the car with the last bag for our trip my wife Maggy said to me, “You know we are crazy right?” I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess it is a little crazy to be thrilled to drive two states over for the chance to drop $500 on a used kid’s bike, but we march to the beat of a different drummer.
The next day, I was standing in front of a bike that I had only seen in pictures and my imagination. I still had one more nagging worry before my quest would be over. Would it even work for Adrian? Or would it by like so many other expensive gadgets that seemed like a great idea but Adrian just didn’t have a use for them.
We took the bike to an empty school parking lot. I got on the bike alone and starting riding around to get the feel of how it handled before putting Adrian on it with me. The whole time he was running behind me chasing wanting to get on. After a couple of laps I stopped and had him climb on. But he got real nervous with the large handlebars coming back past his head and the pedals moving under him. He started fussing and wanted to get off. I made a few adjustments to the position of the handlebars, but he got nervous again and refused to get on. A few more laps around the parking lot without him, and then he came running over wanting to get on. And that’s when the magic happened, he got on and rode happy as can be.
We are so happy that everything worked out for Adrian. I do feel for the other kids who didn’t win a bike and are still seeking a bike. I hope to use this bike and my experience to help other families find adaptive bikes. I know there are much more pressing issues in the world, but this cause is meaningful to me.