Biketricity owner’s goal to keep everyone active, mobile
Story and photos by Carol Thompson
When his lower back began hurting, Jim Newcomb figured it was just “old man” pains, but a trip to the doctor disclosed “too much iron in his blood.”
Thus began a three-month series of twice-weekly blood draws. When his iron level returned to normal, he figured he was okay. Several months later, while talking to a friend, he felt like “someone had stabbed him in the leg with a knife. It really hurt.” The stabbing pain continued, so back to the doctor he went.
A CT scan revealed a blood clot in his leg. The doctor said, “In two days they would have to remove his leg. If possible, we’ll try to take it off below the knee, but if it isn’t possible, we may have to take it off above the knee.” When Newcomb awakened after surgery, he discovered the knee was gone as well. Thus began a new life for this ex-Navy vet, self-described “computer geek” (who had just been downsized), and Harley Davidson motorcycle rider.
Life as he knew it was over.
Two weeks later, Newcomb was released from the hospital and sent home. No therapy. In order to afford a mechanical leg, he had to sell his motorcycle, pickup truck, trailer and motor coach. Once he got the mechanical leg, he had to learn to use it on his own.
Being a computer geek, he had researched options and knew he wanted a computerized leg called a “C leg” which had remote control via Blue Tooth technology. Two years after his surgery, the VA finally called ready to talk. In order to drive, he wanted a left-footed gas pedal but the VA wouldn’t buy it. Newcomb is a “tinkerer” so he bought $15 worth of parts and built it himself.
A shop-built model would run about $500. He had already built hand controls so he could drive. VA also bought him a recumbent adult trike, a $3,200 purchase. The recumbent trike was very low to the ground, almost impossible to get seated with an artificial leg. Naturally, Newcomb tinkered around and built his own recumbent adult trike with a more accessible seat shaped like wheelchair seat and added an electric motor assembly on the front wheel.
“You see, two-legged people don’t understand, they don’t get it,’ said Newcomb. “In order to ride a bike, you have to get it started. When you’re a kid, you can stand up to push the pedals down to get it started. Or you might be on a hill. The electric motor can get you started, or help you up a hill if you get tired.”
As Newcomb says, “There is always a hill somewhere!” When you don’t need the motor to assist, you turn it off.
“When you are first injured, everyone is trying to help,” said Newcomb, “but I tell the family and friends, don’t help him. He needs to use his arms and learn to push that wheelchair. He’ll never be able to go if you are always doing things for him.”
The Independence Center is a good place to help someone needing to adapt to changed circumstances like an illness or losing a limb.
“They will come pick you up and help you achieve independence so you aren’t always waiting on someone to pick you up, take you to the store or out to lunch. With an electric bike, you can learn to do these things for yourself. Another thing an electric bike does is improve a person’s confidence, give you freedom to do things on your own, be outdoors, breathe some fresh air and get some sunshine. The other option is to sit on the couch and eat bonbons!”
Newcomb is definitely not this kind of person. He handles his own oil changes, drives, does his own shopping, keeps house and is planting a garden.
Newcomb is the first to say it isn’t all easy. He’s fallen about five times since he received his “C-leg 4,” twice from his own stupidity. Once, during one of our severe windstorms that blow trash cans all over the neighborhood, he heard some banging against his house. He opened the sliding doors, stuck his head out to see what was happening and stepped out to walk around the corner. He fell flat of course, because (as he says,) “You forgot to put on your leg, fool!”
After about six months of paperwork, Newcomb received a $5,000 grant from the state to open a business converting bikes and adult trikes to electric. The good thing about this business is it saves users a lot of money. If you own a bike already, bring it in and Newcomb can convert it for about $625. The price could vary depending on the battery, lithium being more expensive than a sealed SLA battery.
Both motor and batteries are sealed against bad weather. The price includes the electric motor, battery and assembly. You can also get a used bike from Goodwill or ARC and that will work just as well as a brand new $3,000 bike. The recumbent adult bike Newcomb built cost about $1,800 versus a brand new one with no motor that cost $3,200.
Newcomb’s business was built on his own need first and foremost, but knowing how it increased his confidence, and ability to be mobile, ride to Manitou Springs to have lunch with friends, ride on bike paths and streets (his bikes are allowed on both), he felt strongly that others in his situation could also benefit. His shop isn’t fancy (it’s in his garage), he lives modestly (but fully) and truly feels he is helping others like himself. Biketricity bikes can reach speeds under 20 mph. They are Class 2 vehicles, requiring a “thumb throw” to go (such as stepping on the gas.)
These bikes have been a godsend to people with Parkinson’s disease, those with limited vision, difficulties with overexertion such as high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and those without a driver’s license or vehicle. People needing transportation to work who must depend on bus service which may not be convenient due to scheduling, students going from school to jobs, older adults who no longer own a car or may doubt their ability to go on a 20-mile pedal ride can depend on motor assisted help with Biketricity. If you are interested in checking out these bikes for yourself or a family member, call Jim Newcomb at 719-661-7008. If he doesn’t feel you would be a suitable candidate for an electric bike or adult bike, he will say so.
Brought out of his own pain, need and his own pocket, Newcomb built Biketricity to serve a helpful purpose to those whose lives could be enriched by his invention. It is not a bike for power racers. It is a company to improve the quality of one’s life.
For more on the business, visit www.biketricity.com.