12 August 2019

My First Two-Wheel Ride Since My Spinal Cord Injury Five Years Ago


Yesterday, Janene took me for my first ride on a two-wheel bicycle since my injuries in 2014. I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to ride a two-wheel bicycle that I had enjoyed so much before the accident. It has been over five years since I've been on my mountain bike and the ride was glorious!

Some people have said to me, 'But you have been out riding since then, how were you riding if this is your first two-wheel ride?' This is true, I have been out riding in the last five years, but not on a two wheel bicycle. I actually have a three-wheel bicycle. Let me explain.

My Three-Wheel Bicycle

For some people with a spinal cord injury (SCI), depending on the severity of the damage, it can completely compromise one's sense of balance. Sometimes this is a permanent change and sometimes it is temporary. You just don't know until you wait long enough for the shock to calm down in your body (this takes about six months typically) and the healing has begun. But, as I have learned, spinal cord injury healing can go on for many years and some things can take longer than others to repair themselves and return movement and sensation. Anyway, because we were not sure if my sense of balance was going to be compromised or not and, because Janene was well aware of my passion for cycling, she wanted to get me back on a bicycle as soon as possible back then.

So, sometime within the first year after my injuries, Janene got me the most amazing three-wheel bicycle I have ever seen. It is a Mission Cycles Tribrid shown in the image to the right. This bicycle has disc brakes and gears similar to a two-wheel bicycle and although it's heavier than a two-wheel bicycle, it's actually pretty light compared to other three-wheel bicycles I've seen in the past. (In a previous life, I probably would have conspired to jump this three-wheel bicycle off a ramp or something!) However, the first big challenge that I had to overcome with even the three-wheel bicycle was finding a seat that I could sit on for any duration of time.

My Bicycle Seat Saga

Because my SCI occurred mainly in the lower lumbar spine, it also affected the sacral spine and therefore the nerves in that area. The sacral spine controls much of the movement and sensation below your waist. One of the issues I encountered was the nerves that control all my gluteal muscles and, to some degree, my perineum were all compromised. This meant that the muscles controlled by these nerves stopped working which caused tremendous muscle atrophy resulting in the muscles shrinking to almost nothing. So, the muscles in my butt and my crotch were compromised which made sitting on just about any surface very painful and difficult. Fortunately, these muscles just barely began working within five months of my injuries and have now recovered to some degree today. However, to this day, I still have special cushions to sit on and even with them I cannot sit still for very long. This made sitting in general very difficult for me, let alone on a bicycle seat. In fact, I need to wear two pairs of cycling shorts now for my stationary bike and my mountain bike. Even then, I can only make it for about an hour. But, at least I am able to ride now!

Prepping For the Ride

Internally, I have been excited but nervous about getting back on my mountain bike. Long before my injuries back in 2010 or 2011, I had purchased this really nice Yeti mountain bike (see the photo to the right). I have had several other mountain bikes, but not one this nice. It made riding off-road trails sooooo much nicer due to the full suspension and the general geometry of the frame. It's a superior uphill climbing cycle. Anyway, I have been thinking about riding this bicycle for a long time. I even hopped on it once before but was in such pain from the seat that I had to get off it within 30 seconds. So, I knew what I was up against with the limitations of my body and I had already been thinking about how I would overcome these long enough to get in a real ride duration. But getting my mountain bike ready for the ride was quite comical. It was as if all the forces in the universe were conspiring against me.

My mountain bike still had the original seat and clipless pedals on it, so I knew that I had to change these out. But before I could start on those, I had to fix the flat tire that I had on the rear. I had pumped up the wheels a couple weeks prior and realized I had a flat. Pretty easy to fix. So, I got a tube last week and swapped that out pretty quickly yesterday. Then I started working on the seat.

We had found a seat for the three-wheel bicycle that worked well enough for me to ride it for about 30 minutes. So, I decided to grab the seat off the three-wheel bicycle and move it to my mountain bike. What I remembered as I was trying to mount the seat on the Yeti seat post was that the seat rails were a non-standard width and didn't exactly fit on the seatpost. Hmm, well I now remembered that I had to do the same thing on the three-wheel bicycle, so I just did the same thing on my mountain bike. With Janene's help, I got the seat mounted. Next, I moved on to the pedals.

In working to remove the clipless pedals on the mountain bike, I realized right away that I had to find my allen wrenches. After a hunt around the house, I found a different set but it didn't have an allen key big enough to remove my pedals. So, I called one neighbor and there was no answer. I called another neighbor and he said come on over and let's figure it out. He loaned me the correct size allen wrench. Then I had to actually break the seal to the pedals to remove them. This was no easy task, but we eventually conquered it. Now I needed to find one of my helmets.

This is where things get tricky. Since my accident five years ago, we have moved our master bedroom twice (once to the main level and once back upstairs). Additionally, last year we had to pack up everything on the first floor of our house and move out due to the remodeling. So, finding my cycling tools, helmets, cycling clothes, etc. required me to dig through many boxes before I was able to locate what I needed. I could not locate the helmet that I was searching for, so I still need to find that one. But anyway, two hours of prep work and we finally got ready and out the door for the actual ride!

The Actual Ride

Once we got rolling, I realized that I can still ride! Getting on and off the bike is not so easy for me and I had to lower the seat because I cannot move my ankles at all with the braces on my lower legs. But once I got moving, everything went great and we had a really good ride.

One thing that I used to love about cycling was climbing hills. I could climb for hours and I loved it. But yesterday I quickly realized that even small hills were quite the challenge for me. Actually they are a very good challenge and I really want to do more of it. But I'm far from being ready to take on my favorite ride in Boulder County -- Flagstaff Mountain.

I was so thrilled to be able to feel the movement of being on a bicycle again. Now I can't wait to go on my next ride.