From the Pacific to the Atlantic
Cal Litwiller rode his TerraTrike Cruiser 3450 miles from Cape Flattery, Washington to Cape Henlopen, Delaware. It was 2375 miles from the Pacific to his home in Mt Pleasant, Iowa and 1275 miles from Mt Pleasant to the Atlantic. On the western part he averaged 70 miles per day whereas on the eastern part he averaged 51 miles per day. There were 60 mornings that when Cal got up he knew he would be on the bike! Aproximatly 1.3 million pedal strokes.
His goal was to dip the back tire in the Pacific ocean and the front ones in the Atlantic. He did it.
Cal and his wife Rachel live in Mt Pleasant Iowa and purchased their trike from Barr Bike and Fitness - TerraTrike's 2011 dealer of the year. Cal is a retired high school science teacher and Rachel is a retired interior decorator but continues to be a HUD Project manager. Rachel and Cal like to go on trips that include an adventure. So in 1996 after hearing of some gals from Mt. Pleasant that rode bikes across the US, Cal thought this would be a challenge he would like to conquer at some point in his life. An item on his bucket list. Cal had ridden several RAGBRAI tours and after spending a year traveling to Zambia, Lesotho, Guatemala and New Orleans, he was ready to take on the challenge.
As anyone who makes such a journey - especially by human power - will tell you, a journey like this will change you. Along the way Cal kept a running blog of his journey that took him through the trails and backroads of rural America.
I am a 270-pound, 6-foot, 28-year-old guy, who participated in the Cream City Cycle Club Century Classic's 55-mile ride on Sunday, August 28, 2011. It was my first official ride and I was extremely excited, as well as a little bit nervous, to participate in the long adventure. I traveled through the following Wisconsin areas: Waterford, the Village of Rochester, the Town of Rochester, Honey Lake, Elkhorn, Troy, and East Troy. Throughout my ride, I had conversations with various members of the Cream City Cycle Club. I told them my personal story and why it would be a great triumph in my life to complete the 55-mile ride. After listening to my tale, they strongly urged me to write my story down so that others could read about it. Well, this is that story – my story – and I sincerely hope it offers a glimpse of inspiration to others.
Having had medical/physical issues for most of my life, I was a little bit leery of tackling a 55-mile route right off the bat. After all, I hadn't been on a bicycle for at least 14 years. However, despite my physical challenges, I have always tried to keep an "A-type" attitude, meaning that I pushed myself to the max as much as possible. Only three weeks before the Waterford, WI. ride, I purchased an awesome 3-wheel Terratrike Rover from Wheel & Sprocket in Hales Corners, WI.
The trike was a Godsend, because it provided the stability and balance I needed in order to be mobile once again. As soon as I brought my new trike home, I felt free and more alive than I had been in many years. I trained myself for the 55-mile ride by riding a few more miles each day, along with pedaling with more resistance each time.
After getting used to my trike, I figured out that I could pedal a maximum of 20 miles per hour on level ground and around 30 miles per hour downhill. However, riding uphill was a completely different story. On a regular, 2-wheel bicycle, you can stand up on the pedals and use your entire body's weight to muscle the bike up the hill. It's a heck of a lot more work for a 3-wheeler! You may be positioned more comfortably, but you're only depending on your lower stomach and leg muscles. I used up all of my energy on the hills, traveling at a whopping speed of 3 mph! Therefore, I concluded that trikes are great to get around in on fairly level ground, but bicycles are better built for traveling on rougher terrain, including hills.
On the day of the 55-mile ride, I was clueless about the challenges that awaited me. I had absolutely no idea how rough and hilly the route would be. I mean – I'm not talking about little kiddie hills. These were extremely long and steep mounds that I had to tackle. If I had known that there'd be so many, I would have tried to remember to count them. There must have been 15 – 20 total, or at least it felt like it. I honestly can say that I've NEVER before felt so much physical pain rush throughout my entire body at one time.
During the final 5 – 10 miles, I broke down in tears since my legs felt like they were going to explode. Thinking that I couldn't go any further, I thought my legs would give out for sure on the last few hills. If that had happened, I couldn't imagine what kind of collision I would have gotten myself into. I could just picture myself tumbling down a gigantic hill and getting hit by a car. And if I stopped pedaling halfway up a hill, I wouldn't have been able to get my feet back on the pedals or gain the momentum I needed to continue up the rest of the way. The hills were just too dang steep for either of those options to be plausible! As I gritted my teeth, I prayed to God that he would give me the strength I needed to safely finish the ride.
Needless to say, I made it! I completed what I had set out to do. I was victorious! However, I didn't do it alone. It was a joint effort. Not only did God grant me the endurance, perseverance, and strength to finish the ride, but my family played a huge part, too. My dad brought me to the start of the ride in his big truck early in the morning. Throughout the ride, he rode ahead in his vehicle to scout the area. Then he would come back to find where I was, and he would tell me what I had to look forward to in the next section of the ride. My mom and grandparents came up in their van about 18 miles into the journey to lend their support. It took me a little while to realize that they were driving the van behind me to protect me from ongoing traffic, which they did for the rest of the ride. I was extremely thankful to have everyone on my side that day.
At the final destination, the Waterford Union High School, my family jumped out of their vehicles to give me hugs and kisses. They thoroughly understood what it meant for me to finish the ride. Despite my physical pain from the ride itself (in my legs and stomach) and from my medical condition (dizziness, lightheadedness, instability, head pain), I pushed through and proved to myself that I could do it. It was an experience of a lifetime -- and none of it would have been possible if I hadn't bought my 3-wheel Terratrike Rover!
Retirement Community Form TerraTrike Club
Nestled in a retirement community in Fort Myers Florida is the Florida Carefree Hiking Group. The ever increasing group consists of over seventeen women ranging in age from the mid-forties to the mid-seventies who enjoy cycling with their TerraTrikes.
The bikes were introduced to the group by two women, Bucky and Judy who discovered them while touring the Mid-West. They arrived back with them in the fall and the rest of the group looked at them with silly grins and raised eyebrows! As they all hesitantly road tested the trikes, they became converts on the spot.
"I personally love riding my Zoomer and when not out with the group, ride it an average of six miles daily while taking in the surroundings and listening to my IPod. It is an incredible way to exercise. There is absolutely no strain on the back or wrists. it just like sitting in a recliner chair! I used to ride my golf cart around the park that I live in but I have hung up the keys and now use my Boomer all the time." says June Angelos.
"This summer I took the bike with me to my summer place in the mountains of North Carolina and joined a local biking club. Naturally, I was the only one with a trike and everyone was very curious about my bright yellow Zoomer. I was asked if I could manage the ride and keep up with the group. Needless to say the Zoomer lived up to its' name...I was one of the "pack leaders" and finished the 18-mile ride without breaking a sweat, having an aching back or sore wrists. I cannot say the same for the rest of the group."
The group hits the road every Saturday with at least a fourteen mile ride.
Father and Daughter Team up at Willow
The day after her thirteenth birthday, Schuyler (Sky) Kroske strapped on her helmet and climbed aboard the family’s recumbent tandem to compete in her first race, the 2008 Willow Time Trial. Her father Scott, had already turned in an impressive ride in the Men’s CAT 3 division a little earlier in the day. That effort left him a little tired afterwards, but Schuyler was there to make sure the two had a chance to reach their goal of finishing in under an hour.
As the team of Kroske and Kroske circled the course, they proved to be the most popular competitors in the race. Each time they passed by the finish line, huge cheers and celebration would erupt from spectators and officials alike.
Schuyler pedaled hard the entire race shouting encouragement to her dad as they rode. On one lap dad said “Hi” to teammate Ray Dybowski as he passed them prompting an immediate “Less socializing—more pedaling!!” from the stoker’s position.
Team Kroske finished strong with a time of 52:50, beating their one hour goal. They didn’t win the race, but they won the hearts of everyone who saw the red Kroske tandem streak by - lap, after lap.
You Call This Retirement?
Warm sea breezes tickling your face and tousling your hair as you cruise a meandering oceanside route in sunny Southern California. Soft, sandy shores stretch westward toward the crashing Pacific on one side of you; on the other side, lush grasses carpet the lawns in shades of fluorescent green … and in the distance, the gently sloping range of the Santa Ynez Mountains hovers almost mirage-like, hazy beneath the deep blue baby’s eye of a Southern California sky.
Excerpt from a dream vacation? The kind of magical moment you might experience if you decided to rent a ’65 Fairlane convertible in San Diego and take it all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway, perhaps?
Try your daily commute to work.
Or David Lawson’s daily commute to work, rather. For ten years, the 60-something-year-old resident of Santa Barbara blithely bypassed Southern California’s notoriously overcrowded highways in favor of a commute by recumbent trike. Interstate jams, road construction and an ever-sinking gas gauge needle quickly became all but a memory for the man who preferred to begin his 9-mile commute each day by literally lying back, kicking his feet up and taking in plenty of sunshine, scenery and fresh air from the comfort of his distinctive cycle.
But don’t get the wrong idea—this isn’t your grandpa’s recumbent we’re talking about here. David’s TerraTrike, produced by the WizWheelz Company out of West Michigan, is sporty and sleek, built for efficient handling at high speeds. He has been known to push the trike up to 30 M.P.H. while on the bike paths, in fact, passing up his years-younger two-wheeling cohorts left and right with the greatest of ease. Sand on the paths? No problem! Sharp turns? Bring ‘em on! The TerraTrike’s low center of gravity and wide, stable wheel base provides a road-hugging thrill which David describes as being comparable to driving a sports car—a very eco-friendly sports car, that is.
“It’s even more fun with hazards like sand or water on the roadway!” he exclaims.
Now retired, the former Senior Artist for the Anthropology Graphics Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara owns a total of five TerraTrikes by WizWheelz, including one of the company’s trademark bright red tandems … to enjoy with his wife, of course.
“What a thrill for both of us,” says David. “Judging from the ‘thumbs up’ and cheers we commonly encounter when cycling around town, it appears that the famous ‘Triker’s Grin’ is contagious!”
His love affair with recumbents (commonly referred to as “’bents”) began in 1997, when a chiropractor advised him to give up cycling on an upright due to the resulting stress to his neck vertebrae. A lifetime spent exploring the world from the seat of his mountain bike had apparently taken its toll on David, but he wasn’t ready to give up on cycling altogether.
Luckily, he didn’t have to.
“Recumbent cycling was the obvious answer,” David says. “A way to both recline and ride!”
Following a few experimental stints on two-wheeled recumbents (which he found fun, but somewhat awkward as far as balancing was concerned), David happened upon the WizWheelz site while surfing the Internet. Although the company was barely a year old at the time, he was instantly enamored with their design model. Subtly stylish, the TerraTrike was built low to the ground and featured 27 gears along with a unique wheel configuration consisting of two tires in the front and one in the back. He snapped up a ‘TerraTrike 1.3’—one of the first models ever produced by WizWheelz—and (as David puts it) … “The rest was history!”
In the ten years since he made the switch to recumbent triking, David has undergone a transformation of sorts. Having logged over 20,000 miles on his TerraTrike in that time, he is quick to boast that, “for someone who is fast approaching the seventh decade of life,” he keeps himself plenty busy through cycling adventures which far exceed anything he ever would have attempted in his younger years on an upright. He frequently embarks on spur-of-the-moment 50-mile treks, participates in organized century rides (100-mile cycling expeditions), and in 2002 even withstood a 24-hour endurance ride under the sponsorship and support of WizWheelz.
How does he wind down and relax after all that exertion? On his TerraTrike, of course! The mesh-slung seat conjures up thoughts of a typical lawn chair … and David says it’s not unusual to find him using it as such.
“I’ll recline on my TerraTrike in the backyard and listen to A Prairie Home Companion,” he says.
His love for the recumbent lifestyle is so great he has even managed to convert four of his former UCSB co-workers into fellow TerraTrike diehards. After all, by his estimation, the trikes pay for themselves, saving him and his colleagues each roughly $1500 per year on vehicle upkeep expenses, university parking fees and health club membership costs.
Plus there’s the added benefit of those idyllic seaside commutes, of course.
“Santa Barbara is a cyclist’s paradise,” says David, who fondly recalls a ‘particularly exhausting’ day at work, after which he eased himself onto his TerraTrike, put his feet up and got ready to enjoy a leisurely ride home. Barely a mile into his commute, he noticed an upright biker following closely behind, apparently trying to catch up.
“Do you always ride this fast?” the rider asked after finally managing to pull up alongside of him. David smiled as he gave his reply.
“No, this isn’t my normal speed. Usually I go faster—I’m just having an off day.”
Want to learn more about David Lawson’s TerraTrike adventures? Check out his Web site at http://members.impulse.net/~dms/trike.html for great stories, articles and photos!
Written By Sarah Stanton
Welcome to summer vacation, Altman Family style. In 2005, the gang of six ranging in age from 10 to 40 packed up their bags and triked (yes, triked) all the way from Portland, Oregon to Washington, D.C. You may have seen them passing through your town. In fact, if they did happen to pass through your town, its not likely you’d have missed them—the family traveled via red, white and blue recumbent TerraTrikes in an expedition which took three months and covered approximately 2,000 miles of American Heartland.
How did they manage to survive?
“Well … there’s nothing like shared suffering to bring a group of people together,” father Mark Altman says, sporting one of his trademark ear-to-ear grins.
An Army reservist who recently completed a tour in Iraq, Mark is no stranger to outdoor adventures. Over the course of his career, he’s jumped from airplanes, rappelled from helicopters and even gone ice climbing. But if you think having a family has forced Mark to slow down, think again! He’s been taking his kids along with him on excursions ranging from simple backpacking hikes to rigorous whitewater rafting trips ever since they were toddlers. In fact, Mark and his wife, Dawn, both believe there’s no better place to strengthen family relationships than the great outdoors.
“Intense, shared physical activity does wonders in drawing people together,” Mark says. “And the outdoors is the only place where your entire family is truly together on the same playing level.”
Married since 2002, the couple has relied on intense physical outdoor expeditions to successfully join Mark’s children, 16-year-old Mark and 13-year-old twins Matthew and Meagan, and Dawn’s 14-year-old daughter, Bailey into a loving family that knows how to work together and will be able to rely on each other throughout life. Mark and Dawn’s efforts have been so successful that they regularly give lectures to teach parents how to reconnect with their own kids through outdoor activity, drawing from the experiences gained on their Portland-to-D.C. trek.
Now they’re making plans for another cross-country trike trek—this time through the European countryside.
“We want to show the world that trips like this can educate and inspire families,” says Mark.
Both he and Dawn expect the nomadic trek to be an even greater challenge this time around, considering the fact that the kids are all teenagers now. Still, if Mark, Meagan, Matthew and Bailey hold up even half as well as they did in 2005, the trip is sure to be a smashing success! And yes, just in case you’re wondering, they’ll be cruising the countryside on those funny-looking TerraTrikes again.
“Our TerraTrikes attracted a ton of attention the last time we did this,” laughs Mark. “We had instant friends wherever we stopped!”
Commonly referred to as ‘bents’ or ‘tadpoles’, the Altmans’ trademark TerraTrikes are designed and manufactured by WizWheelz, a small company operating out of West Michigan. Unlike a standard bike, a TerraTrike sits low to the ground and features a reclined (“recumbent”) seat set atop a wide, stable wheelbase for more comfortable and efficient riding over long distances. Their peculiar shape and patriotic color scheme (two red, two white and two blue per the Altman Family’s special request) turned heads from Portland to D.C. during the’05 trip and held up remarkably well—as did the Altmans themselves! —through rain, hail, and even a grueling 125-mile stint through the Oregon High Desert.
The Altmans don’t anticipate quite so much attention when they TerraTrike their way through Europe since recumbent cycles are fairly common on that side of the globe. Still, they’re looking forward to the time they’ll get to spend together once again exploring new places and seeing new sights from the comfort of their trikes’ beach-chair-like seats.
“They’re the best vehicle we’ve found to carry out a trip like this,” says Mark. “They’re fun and they’re easy to pilot.”
WizWheelz’ Company Founder and President, Jack Wiswell says he’s proud to see the Altmans incorporate the TerraTrike into their family-strengthening plan. Wiswell, who sketched his first rendering of a TerraTrike on a cocktail napkin during a Christmas party in 1995 and began the WizWheelz business out of his garage several months later, checked in with the Altmans at several points throughout their ’05 journey to offer support and encouragement, perform mechanical tune-ups as necessary and even treat the family to dinner before sending them on their way again. His company sponsored their trip along with Vertical Earth and Mountain View Cyclery & Fitness out of Idaho, where the Altmans reside.
“We encourage all of our customers to strive for healthy lifestyles, quality relationships with family and friends, and a cleaner environment,” says Wiswell. “We encourage all of our customers to be part of the solution.”
The Altman family doesn’t yet have an exact date nailed down for their Europe trip, but they’re hoping to set out early in the summer of 2008. In the meantime they’re back to planning routes, pinpointing sights to see, drawing up pack lists … and eagerly anticipating their next TerraTrike adventure with each day that passes.
“The U.S. trip was everything we could have hoped for,” says Mark. “Together, we saw incredible sights, met incredible people and overcame extraordinary personal challenges. We can’t wait to do it all over again.”
Written By Sarah Stanton
Phil Harding doesn’t get quite as many curious stares as he used to. After three years of zipping around the neighborhood on his somewhat peculiar-looking three-wheeled recumbent low-rider, he has become known to local passersby as simply, ‘That Bike Guy’. Small-town celebrity? That might be pushing it. Still, Phil has become something of a mainstay on wheels.
“Everyone in my neighborhood knows me by my TerraTrike,” he says.
The Vendor Relations Specialist at the University of Michigan is in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. An avid outdoorsman who only a decade ago was making trips across Germany and Austria by bike, Phil now spends much of his workday in wheelchair and must use a cane when he walks. Needless to say, the adjustment has been a difficult one. In just a few short years, the 54-year-old has been forced to give up many of the pursuits he used to enjoy on regular basis, including running, bicycling and even martial arts.
But thanks to plenty of self-determination and the help of some very good friends, Phil has discovered that although this difficult new chapter of his life has dealt its share of hardships, it is also not without its share of unexpected perks and promise.
“I never wanted to spend the rest of my life on the couch,” Phil says, looking back to the day he was diagnosed. The grim news came as a surprise to the man who’d spent his entire life engaged in active pursuits. He was in such good shape for so long, in fact, that his MS—a disease generally diagnosed early in adulthood—didn’t even make itself known until he was well into mid-life.
His problems began in 2001, during a routine game of racquetball when he tore his ACL and subsequently endured almost a full year of weakness in his knee and difficulty walking. He eventually underwent surgery to replace the damaged ligament, but when the problems continued to persist far beyond the anticipated six-week recovery period, his physician recommended that he see a neurologist.
“I said, ‘A neurologist, are you kidding me?’” Phil recalls. “What does neurology have to do with my ACL?”
He got his answer soon enough. Doctors suspected that the prolonged weakness in his knee was an indication of multiple sclerosis, a chronic degenerative disease of the nervous system that causes the body’s immune system to inexplicably attack protective nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. As it turned out, the doctors were right—in October of 2002, Phil was officially diagnosed as being in the early stages of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis—a disease for which there exists no cure and no drug-based prevention treatment.
In an instant, the active, adventurous lifestyle Phil Harding had come to know and love so well appeared to have come to a permanent halt.
Mick Maier has known Phil Harding his entire life. The two were friends in grade school, roommates in college and have taken several trips across Michigan together by bike. Though Mick currently resides in Wisconsin with his family, he and Phil have remained tight over the years, often ferrying back and forth across Lake Michigan to embark on mini bike treks together.
When Mick learned of Phil’s diagnosis and the problems he was suffering as a result—namely problems maintaining his balance—he wanted to do something to help. Cycling was a huge part of Phil’s life, but without a reliable center of balance, Mick knew it wouldn’t be long before his friend could no longer enjoy even short loops through the neighborhood … much less any long-distance, energy sapping treks. Simply getting on and off his bike without tipping over was proving to be a great challenge for Phil, let alone staying upright while in motion.
“I asked him if he’d ever considered using a recumbent trike,” Mick recalls. The investment consultant owns a couple of recumbents himself and knew that their basic design—semi-reclined seat combined with a wide, stable wheel base—would compensate for Phil’s weaknesses and balance issues while still giving him the freedom to get around outdoors.
Phil was skeptical at first. He didn’t even know what a recumbent was, and after learning a little bit about them—primarily their price tag—he was concerned that such a purchase at this point in his life might be too extravagant given the substantial costs already tied into his MS treatments.
So Mick decided to host a casual fundraiser on Phil’s behalf … with none other than an old-fashioned backyard pig roast! He sent out invitations touting “A Fundraiser Festival of Food & Friends” and asked that family members, neighbors and friends bring a contribution to put toward Phil’s recumbent trike fund (along with a favorite dish to pass, of course). Dubbed ‘Roasting Wilbur’, the gala took place on a Saturday afternoon in July and enjoyed an overwhelming response.
“Turnout was phenomenal,” recalls Mick.
Countless partygoers—many of whom didn’t even know Phil—showed up to add their check to the pool and dine on swine. By the end of the night, ‘Wilbur’ had been thoroughly plucked of all his hams, chops and bacons, and no less than 50 lip-smacking, finger-licking guests had managed to put $2,000 toward a new recumbent trike for Phil.
Phil and Mick were overjoyed. But there was still plenty of work to be done. With the recumbent trike market averaging close to $3,000 per unit at the time, Mick knew he would have to do some careful research to make sure the money raised went to good use.
He hopped on the Internet and began to hunt for an affordable model that would accommodate Phil’s condition while providing the same level of excitement as an upright bike. After a few false starts exploring trikes that had to be shipped from overseas or which started in the several-thousand dollar range, Mick happened upon the TerraTrike Tour, one of several models designed by a small company out of West Michigan called WizWheelz.
Mick was initially drawn to the fact that the trikes were being assembled in a town located just a couple hours west of where Phil lived but quickly discovered that proximity wasn’t all WizWheelz had to offer. Their low-riding TerraTrike with the distinctive “tadpole”-like wheel configuration (consisting of two wheels in the front and one in the back) came equipped with a mesh-slung seat reminiscent of a typical beach chair, a wide, stable wheel base and low center of gravity, perfect to support Phil’s body.
It even looked cool, Mick thought—a rarity among the somewhat inherently ‘kooky’ nature of recumbent designs overall. The Tour was subtle and stylish all at once, with a metallic blue paint job and sporty logo. Once Mick was able to confirm the cost, he knew his search for the perfect recumbent was over.
“The TerraTrike was a great value for the quality,” he says.
He contacted Phil and had him check out the company Web site for himself. Phil was hopeful, but he wanted to give the trike a try first just to be sure. So he called up WizWheelz and spoke directly with the owners Jack Wiswell and Wayne Oom. The two listened carefully to his story and within a matter of days, Phil was test-riding his first Tour. As is the case with most “first-time TerraTrikers”, (as Jack and Wayne will tell you), it didn’t take very long for Phil to fall in love with the experience.
“We tend to find that the test ride sells the TerraTrike in almost every case,” says Jack with a smile.
Phil Harding was no exception. “I found the ride to be very refreshing and definitely comfortable,” he says.
He ordered one for himself with no further ado … and got ready to hit the road once again.
That was two years ago. And while for many, a recumbent trike simply provides a comfortable and fun new way to get out and see the world, for Phil it has truly become the link that reconnects him to the active lifestyle he once enjoyed. He has taken several 20-mile treks since acquiring his trike and is now planning a trip across Michigan. He even has a new companion to join him as he pursues his active lifestyle—his dog, Bogie!
“I could have never gotten a dog without the TerraTrike,” says Phil, smiling. He rescued Bogie from an animal shelter not long after receiving his trike and now embarks on two five-mile stints per day with the Jack Russell Terrier mix, regardless of weather conditions or season. Not even the brutally cold Michigan winters can keep them off the road.
“I just put BMX tires on when it gets real cold,” he says. “The knobby tread grips the icy road and works great.”
The two attract plenty of attention in their neighborhood … or at least, they did back when the TerraTrike was still a rolling conversation piece. Now his neighbors have grown accustomed to the machine, and Phil and Bogie are simply met with smiles and the occasional wave wherever they go. But that’s okay. After all, as Phil has discovered, it’s the smaller pleasures—like his daily treks with Bogie—that help keep life as enjoyable and fulfilling as it’s ever been.
“The TerraTrike has changed my lifestyle,” Phil says. “Between having a TerraTrike and having a dog, I’ve found the perfect fit!”
Written By Sarah Stanton
Festooned with flowers and rainbow swirls, a sturdy pink bike helmet is no match for the little girl’s cascade of blond tresses, which tumble free to dance on the wind as she zooms through the second leg of her triathlon. Feet pumping madly at the pedals of her custom-built racing TerraTrike, she dashes down the gently curving track fast enough to become all but a blur to spectators.
Meet 10-year-old Alicia Denoon … if you can manage to catch up to her long enough to shake her hand, that is. Alicia is on the move quite a bit these days, competing in numerous triathlons throughout Ontario, where she lives with her parents and two siblings. At first glance, the sweet-faced little girl seems almost swallowed by the beach-chair-like seat and wide wheelbase of her sporty blue TerraTrike. But don’t let her small stature fool you—that pixie face and petite frame disguise a measure of diehard intensity usually displayed by only the most determined of professional athletes. She’s at the top of her game when she’s on the racetrack, and she doesn’t stop for anything. Not even when she reaches the finish line.
Watching Alicia zip along, you can’t help but wonder if she isn’t trying to make up for time lost in too many hospital beds early on in her life. She is a cancer survivor who has already had to battle more challenges than many people face in an entire lifetime. A malignant tumor in her cerebellum, diagnosed when she was just a toddler, has required two life-threatening brain surgeries and three different kinds of treatments over the course of eight years, including 65 weekly chemotherapy treatments and radiation.
Miraculously, she has managed to survive all of it … but her struggles aren’t over yet. Although she is now finally in remission, the brain surgeries to remove the cancer and save her life have permanently compromised her balance and muscle coordination as well as caused her to have double vision and no depth perception. At an age where most little girls spend their days hop-scotching, turning cartwheels and jumping rope, Alicia tends to tire easily and struggles at times just to keep from toppling over. But that’s never stopped her from pushing herself to the limit as an aspiring athlete.
“Alicia has always been extremely competitive,” says her mother, Melanie Denoon. “She wants to do what everyone else is doing, and she wants to go bigger and better with it.”
She began swimming at the age of six as part of a physical therapy routine and performed so well in the water that she quickly moved on to competitive swim meets. Unfortunately, a relapse soon landed her back in the hospital for what would wind up being a three-month stay following a brain hemorrhage and lingering bacterial meningitis infection.
“It was a very scary time,” recalls Melanie.
But Alicia managed to pull through yet again. By the time she made it back to her swim training shortly after her seventh birthday, she was more determined than ever to begin competing again. Only this time, she wanted to take on even bigger challenges. Most of the kids she swam against were advancing to compete in triathlons, and Alicia wanted to compete right along with them.
“We figured the triathlons would just be an extension of her swimming abilities,” says Melanie. “Alicia liked the fact that they would allow her to be even more competitive and active.”
However, the triathlon’s actual structure—a swim race followed by both cycle and foot races—presented the type of challenge that Alicia, all spunk and determination aside, simply was not always able to conquer. Because her center of balance is finite, dissipating as she grows increasingly fatigued throughout the day, she was often too sapped of strength to be able to finish out the cycle and foot race portions of a triathlon after she made it out of the pool. Volunteer aides often had to run along either side of Alicia as she ran, ready to catch her in case she began to tip and sometimes actually holding her up just so she could reach the finish line without collapsing out of sheer exhaustion.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. For Alicia, the worst of it was the set of training wheels she had to have on her bike during the cycle event to keep from toppling.
“She always felt so babyish,” says Melanie. “No other kids in the triathlons were using training wheels. She wanted to go fast, and she couldn’t go fast due to the training wheels.”
Melanie knew there had to be a better solution. She had seen recumbent trikes before— three-wheeled bikes that allow riders to pedal in a semi-reclined position thus eliminating the need to maintain balance—and thought one of those might be the perfect answer to her daughter’s needs. But the trikes are designed for adults, and there are currently no companies who offer child-size models. Melanie was going to have to pull some strings if she wanted to make this work. She began calling up every recumbent company she could track down to share her story and see if anyone would be willing to help her. Manufacturers were generally sympathetic to Melanie’s plight but unwilling to work with her.
“They all told me that custom-building a trike for a child could not be done because it would compromise their design,” she says. “Or I was simply told that their trikes were not meant for kids, end of story.”
After a full year trying to reach out to manufacturers with no success, Melanie was on the verge of giving up. That’s when a member of her cancer survivor support group told her about a recumbent trike manufacturer called WizWheelz operating out of a rural town in West Michigan that produced a brand called TerraTrike. They were a relatively small company but were apparently renowned for their customer service. Melanie decided to give it one more shot.
This is it, she thought to herself as she picked up the phone. Then she began dialing.
There was still plenty of snow on the ground when the phone rang at TerraTrike factory headquarters in Hastings, Michigan one late winter morning in 2006. Spring seems a long time coming when you’re trying to sell bikes in February—even for a successful business like WizWheelz, who’d been designing and manufacturing their popular TerraTrike for a solid ten years by that time.
Commonly referred to as ‘tadpole trikes’ for their unique wheel configuration consisting of two wheels in front and one in back, TerraTrikes were the brainchild of WizWheelz Founder and President Jack Wiswell, who sketched out his initial plans for the sporty, economical HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) on a cocktail napkin for two former high school buddies to check out during a Christmas party in 1995. Against all advice from family and friends, the three decided to ditch their current professions and take a head-on plunge into first-time entrepreneurship. They pooled together their savings for a start-up plan, and then set up shop in Jack’s garage where they began welding together the first TerraTrike prototypes.
Business moved slowly in the beginning as the company tried to secure a place for itself in a fuel-frenzied market, but through a combination of extensive research, strategic marketing and attentive customer service, WizWheelz managed to make great strides in a short amount of time. By 2006, the company had ballooned into a million-dollar operation, complete with a full line of TerraTrike models and dealers nationwide touting their wares.
Still, it was the dead of winter and things were quiet in the factory that February morning when Vice-President Wayne Oom picked up the ringing phone.
“My name is Melanie Denoon,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I learned of the TerraTrike through my daughter’s cancer support group, and I was wondering if you might be able to help us.”
When it comes to matters of human compassion and goodwill, business owners don’t generally have a great reputation. Staying afloat in today’s highly competitive marketplace calls for a cool head and single-handed focus on figures rather than feelings, with individual customer interests often taking a fast backseat to the priorities involved with serving the mass market.
Selling tricycles to adults is an especially tricky business, Jack Wiswell and Wayne Oom will be quick to tell you. Nevertheless, their customers have always been at least as compelling a part of the WizWheelz business as business itself. TerraTrike buyers, on the whole, tend to be a fiercely loyal bunch, lively and passionate, exhibiting overwhelming enthusiasm for the trikes and often keeping in touch with staff through friendly e-mails, photos, and even visits to the factory from time to time. Jack and Wayne had made an asset of their company’s small size by welcoming new TerraTrike owners as family members and making a point to devote a good chunk of day-to-day energies to their customer base.
So when Wayne heard about the little girl from Ontario who could no longer hold herself steady on an upright bike, he immediately began jotting notes and sketching preliminary plans. She didn’t know it, but her request couldn’t have come at a better time. Alicia needed a trike that would allow her to race, and it just so happened that WizWheelz was about to add a new racing trike to their product line. Dubbed the ‘Edge’, this latest TerraTrike had been engineered as a top-of-line racing model for seasoned riders, complete with customer options for either a carbon fiber or aluminum frame and extra durable components to withstand longer rider wear and higher shock absorption. It also came with a fully adjustable seat and handlebars—all perfect features for an active, growing child.
“I think we’ll be able to work something out for you,” Wayne assured Melanie. He hadn’t even met Alicia but somehow already felt connected to the little girl who had overcome so many struggles already in her young life and was now determined, not just to race, but to get through those races unassisted. Clearly, she and the team at WizWheelz shared a common trait—they both loved to embrace a good challenge. He took Alicia’s arm and leg measurements before hanging up, and then went out to the assembly floor to gather the rest of the staff. The consensus was clear once he presented the situation. Everyone wanted to help Alicia … now it was just a matter of figuring out how to come up with a solution for her.
The engineering team examined an Edge model currently in progress and determined that with a few in-house modifications and a little WizWheelz ingenuity, it could be done. The assembly crew would design a fully adjustable Edge to accommodate Alicia not just now but all the way up through adulthood. With no further ado, the team rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
The first step was modifying the frame. They decided to go with aluminum since it would be easiest to adjust the size as Alicia grew taller. A standard Edge frame was cut to fit her measurements and then anodized in cheery cobalt blue.
Next came the components—the wheels and seat would stay the same size as on the standard models, but just about all of the other parts had to be either modified or special-ordered to suit Alicia. She needed shorter reach brake levers and shorter cranks, for instance. Also, traditional thumb shifters had to be substituted for the TerraTrike’s standard grip shifters to accommodate for her diminished hand strength.
Winter began to fade fast into spring as WizWheelz waited on numerous custom parts for Alicia’s trike. Still, Jack and Wayne made a special effort to stay connected with the Denoons and keep them up to speed on any progress made through friendly e-mails and frequent phone calls. Alicia’s trike would be ready in time for the new triathlon season, they assured Melanie.
That was a promise her daughter could count on.
February was but a distant memory when the Denoons got the news they’d been waiting so long to hear. There was a brand new TerraTrike Edge with Alicia’s name on it at the WizWheelz factory, ready to race whenever she was!
Jack offered to ship the trike to Ontario fully assembled, but Alicia and Melanie were eager to come down to the States and meet the staff in person. They arrived at the TerraTrike headquarters on a beautiful day in May to find a sign on the door welcoming them and the entire WizWheelz staff waiting to greet them with smiles, claps and cheers as they entered the building.
“They really went out of their way to make us feel special,” recalls Melanie.
Alicia was beside herself at the sight of her trike, which had been anodized in one of her school’s colors and featured tons of flashy “extras”, including a custom headlight, safety reflectors and a shiny new bell. Staff members double checked to make sure she was able to easily reach the pedals and operate the mechanics, then fitted Alicia with a brand new helmet and wheeled her trike into the parking lot for her very first test ride.
“She was so excited she could barely sit still on the thing long enough for us to give her all the instructions on how to operate it,” remembers Jack with a smile.
Cameras began snapping and everyone cheered when Alicia began pedaling her TerraTrike around the parking lot for the first time, zipping back and forth from one end of the lot to the other as if she’d been doing it for years, a huge smile on her face the entire time.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly she took to riding it,” says Melanie, who recalls crying as she watched her daughter. “Suddenly, she had the freedom to just go … and she was going faster than she’d ever gone before.”
During the ride back home, Alicia would tell her mom she had never felt anything like it before.
“What, riding the TerraTrike?” Melanie asked.
“No,” Alicia replied. “Feeling the wind in my face. Feeling my hair fly around in the breeze and the wind blowing in my face.”
It has been over a year since Alicia received her custom-built TerraTrike. Melanie says that in that time, she’s made remarkable improvements for herself—both on and off the track. The new trike not only helps Alicia stay more competitive in the cycle portion of her triathlons but also helps her power through the runs. Since she no longer uses up all of her energy trying to maintain her balance on an upright bike, she is now able to run sometimes as much as a full mile all by herself following the swim and cycle races.
“It has made an incredible difference in her ability to participate in the triathlons,” says Melanie, beaming. “Before Alicia had the TerraTrike, she didn’t think she would ever be able to do the things that other kids can do.”
The trike attracts a ton of attention at the competitions, too. Instead of being embarrassed by a bike equipped with a set of training wheels, now Alicia finds herself proudly showing off her custom set of wheels to all the kids and judges. Most people assume her TerraTrike is a special type of wheelchair—when they find out it’s simply a smaller-scale version of a standard tadpole trike, they want to find out where she got it and how they can get one, too.
“It’s amazing how much this trike has improved her self-confidence,” says Melanie. “All eyes are on her now when we’re at the races.”
As for the team at WizWheelz? They’re busier than ever these days, moving TerraTrikes out the door. But they continue to stay in close contact with the Denoons and enjoy keeping up with Alicia’s triathlon results, which have improved dramatically across the board over the past year.
“We are thrilled to know that the TerraTrike is helping Alicia stay competitive,” says Wayne, who keeps a photo of Alicia on her TerraTrike at his desk as a testament to WizWheelz’ philosophy. For ten years, the company has encouraged their customers to ‘Be Part of the Solution’ by maintaining healthy bodies and active lifestyles, having fun and enjoying each day that comes. They’re proud to see an extension of that mantra in Alicia, who truly brings their slogan to life through the enthusiasm and drive she demonstrates on the track.
Alicia, likewise, sees her TerraTrike as an extension of who she is.
“My trike lets me go just as fast as the other kids now,” she says, smiling shyly, bearing only a slight resemblance to the feisty tyrant she becomes when she hits the track. “I love to feel the wind in my face.”
Alicia’s TerraTrike was made possible by a grant from the Challenged
Athletes Foundation and with support from the Rotary Club of Guelph in Ontario.
Written By Sarah Stanton