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Gadget makes biking all gain, no pain

Adaptivebike is a handy contraption that takes the hand pain out of biking. It can be found at local bike shops and online. - Courtesy Photo
Adaptivebike is a handy contraption that takes the hand pain out of biking. It can be found at local bike shops and online.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Poulsbo inventor faces osteoarthritis head-on.

POULSBO – It’s safe to say osteoarthritis changed Stephen Smith’s life in more ways than one. After searing pains in his hands became apparent during a waterskiing trip, the construction worker did what he could to relieve the pain, massaging his thumbs and relenting to increasing doses of pain pills. Finally, Smith sought a doctor’s advice and discovered the problem: Worn cartilage was resulting in inflammation in his joints. More than 20 million Americans suffer from the degenerative disease, according to Medicinenet.com.

But in Smith’s case, the diagnosis was just the start of a journey that has led to discovery and invention. Faced with retirement and the loss of bike riding, a favorite hobby, Smith delved into the basics of science and technology to create a way he could continue pedaling the streets.

After a three-year process, plenty of obstacles and lots of upgrades, Smith, 63, created AdaptiveBike, a handy apparatus meant for those with arthritis, carpel tunnel or joint pain, as well as the general aging population.

The Poulsbo resident is now offering the product at local cycling shops in Silverdale, on Bainbridge Island and online, at Adaptivebike.com.

“One of the things I really tried hard to do in the whole design process was to make it reliable and not be seduced by technology, so the cost of it wouldn’t outweigh the benefits,” said Smith over coffee Wednesday. Form followed function throughout his efforts, during which he made sure each and every part proved its worth to create the most durable and dependable bike addition he could. “I’ve done 1,500 miles proving the function of it.”

The process wasn’t a simple one: Smith originally aimed to make the piece out of clay, but couldn’t mold the material. But what he couldn’t do with his own hands the laws of physics and outside professionals could do for him.

“The delays were monstrous,” he wrote in a journal on the process. “A new part would enter the conga line of some small producer, only to be forgotten, misplaced, or set aside for some imagined re-approval. … Oh, but when a new part or assemblage arrived and worked, and even exceeded my imagination; it was bliss!”  

He tinkered with Popsicle sticks and nails, Pinky Balls and Shoo Goo. He sought opinions of doctors, surgeons, hand specialists, physical therapists, designers, mechanics and manufacturers, and using imagination Smith eventually created a cable-attached mechanism that allows a rider to steer, break and shift a bike while their wrists remain in a natural state.

“Your wrist is in its normal, static position, there’s no stress or strain,” he explained. “It’s not as an aggressive type of riding.”

The AdaptiveBike will fit with “99.9 percent” of bikes, Smith said. Bike shops can install the piece within an hour, and adjustments are simple. Those comfortable with instructions can install it themselves, he added. The ergonomic gadget boasts a customizable system for universal fit. It retails at $595.

Now, device-clad, Smith’s silver Giant certainly isn’t cooped in a garage. Instead he’s able to bike as he’d hoped, riding even to his interview for this story.

“It lowers the barrier to continuing exercise programs,” Smith said. “It reduces the pain but keeps the gain.”

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