Joy Riders program will provide bike rides to people with limited mobility
Duet bike vid
As soon as Karen Primm of Smithton saw the video — about an Australian man who designed a tandem bicycle with a wheelchair in the front, so that his disabled wife could go out on rides with him — she knew she needed to bring something similar to Pittsburgh.
Luckily for her, that exact piece of equipment — the Duet Bike — is manufactured in Western Pennsylvania at Mobility & Access Inc. in Oakdale.
“When we went and saw the bike, it was everything I hoped for and more,” Primm said.
Primm is a member of the Mighty Tri Girls, a Pittsburgh-area group that trains women to compete in triathlons. Along with men’s triathlon group Total Chaos, they have partnered with the Veterans Leadership Program in Pittsburgh to form the Joy Riders, a community biking program for people with limited mobility.
“I approached (VLP community engagement director) Dan Blevins because I knew we’d need a sponsor, and they have a big service component to everything they do,” Primm said.
Blevins said he was on board immediately, as Primm has been a big supporter of the VLP’s organized bike outings “as well as our efforts to get veterans back out and enjoying life.”
“It kind of just naturally fit with what we’re already doing,” he said.
In New England, Darcy Creech Marelli founded the Nantucket Wheelers a little over five years ago, with a similar goal. She has been amazed by the results.
“It has been a huge success for both the volunteers and the passengers,” Marelli said. “Every season we have about 24 volunteers and we take (local nursing home) residents out five days a week.”
Volunteers and residents have regularly scheduled days, “so we’re also building relationships and bonding,” Marelli said. “One of the nurses said she’s really seen an elevation in people’s moods after the program started.”
Blevins said the group is about 70 percent of the way toward its $20,000 goal, which will enable them to purchase two bikes for use on the Great Allegheny Passage.
“We’d like to have one in the Smithton area of the trail and one in Pittsburgh,” Primm said. “We’ll have a process for people to sign up for rides, and we have ideas for how to market the rides.”
Primm also has about 15 volunteers lined up to be trained on using the bike.
“We’ll have a fairly extensive training process because it’s important for them to know how to handle the bike,” Primm said. “We’d like to have two volunteers working at a time: one on the back of the Duet bike and one on a (separate) bicycle.”
Primm worked with Duet officials to develop ideas on how to train volunteers and said she expects the program to be rolled out gradually.
“We’d rather do it right than do it fast,” she said.
The program will be in place in time for the VLP’s annual “335 Miles for Veterans” summer cycle ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage.
“This year for the run, we want to have those bikes out on the trail,” Blevins said.
In addition, a group of 13 cyclists will come all the way across the United States, starting in San Diego, before setting out on the Pittsburgh-to-D.C. ride.
Blevins said he has heard nothing but positive reaction from people who’ve seen or used the bikes.
“People say they can’t believe it’s taken this long to bring this sort of program to the community,” he said.
Sue Waldrop of Greensburg, who founded the Mighty Tri Girls and Total Chaos teams, said the bikes are “really special.”
“I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t get to feel the sun and the wind,” Waldrop said. “And I can’t wait to get started.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .