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  • Jeremy Raeszler

Step into Adventure

As a young boy, I used to idolize my Dad. I loved being in the garage with him, watching his every move as he worked on cars. Although he was a music teacher by trade, during my formative years, I mainly remembered him as a farmer, a rancher, and a coal miner, not a music teacher. As I grew older, he began to show me how to perform the tasks he was doing. He'd tell me what size wrench he needed, and I would retrieve it from the toolbox and hand it to him. He'd then reach deep into the engine bay, out of my view, but I was always captivated by the fact that, by the end of our time working together on the engine, it would start, and we would drive away. As I continued to mature, we moved from him simply asking me for a specific wrench to having a contest to see who could correctly guess the bolt head size on the first try.

Over time, I started working on cars, motorcycles, and bicycles with my friends. One day, when I asked a buddy for a specific size wrench, he handed me a vise grip instead. However, this so-called magic tool ended up creating more work for me. It took ten times as long to use because it required constant adjustment and ended up rounding the bolt head to the point that the bolt became useless. I'm proud to say that I can count on one hand the number of times I have used a vise grip.

Thanks to my learned skill of thinking things through and having the right tools for the job, I've been able to figure out how to effectively ride an upright bike as a paraplegic. One hurdle that I had to overcome was that my heel would turn in while pedaling and would get bumped off the pedal by the crank arm or the chain. My spinal cord injury has left my hip flexors not functioning properly; to be able to best describe what that means to me is when I stand with my crutches and lift one leg, like a flamingo, my heel turns inward immediately, and my toe drops and turns out. This is because my calf muscles, ankles, feet, and hips don't work due to the disconnect between my mind and my muscles.

This rotation in the legs presents a challenge when cycling because when you are cycling you don't apply the same amount of pressure to the pedals 100% of the time. Sometimes you coast, sometimes you pedal gently to maintain speed, and sometimes you push hard to conquer a hill. When I first started riding, I used flat pedals because I was afraid of being clipped in and falling over. I could clearly tell immediately that this wasn't going to be a good option.

While I could physically position my foot on the pedal by grabbing my pant leg and moving my leg, when I started pedaling, my heel would turn in and get knocked off the pedal by the crank arm, or it would get tangled in the bike chain. This resulted in a loss of momentum and, ultimately, falling. I came to understand that it didn't matter whether I was clipped in or not; if I was going to fall I was going to fall over regardless of being clipped in or not. So next I tried toe cage attachments, or a vise grip to try hold my foot straight, but I couldn't keep my foot straight enough to even slide into the toe cages, and they would rotate to the bottom of the pedal. Even when I managed to get myself situated, my foot would easily slide off the pedal because only my toe was in place.

Ultimately, I found the solution in a flat mountain bike pedal with a cleat. This became my "perfect wrench size." I had a platform for my foot to rest on, and I could clip my foot in securely, preventing it from rotating on the pedal. The shoe I found I am able to slide the cleat back to almost the center of my foot...allowing me to apple more pressure to the pedals. To this day I still only clip in my right foot, allowing me to put my left leg down when coming to a stop. My left leg doesn't rotate as much as my right so this has proven to be a good solution for me.

If I push hard on a gravel ride and start bouncing over rocks and ruts, my left leg may come off the pedal, causing a moment of concern. Some have suggested magnetic pedals instead of clip-ins, but for now, this setup works for me. If I ever try magnetic pedals, I'll be sure to post a review.

The combination that works for me includes the FUNN Mamba MTB clipless pedals . They are durable, easy to adjust, maintain their adjustments well, and, because they are single-sided clip pedals, I don't need different types of pedals for the left and right sides. The shoes I currently use are the Five Ten Hellcat MTB shoes. They have a nice flat sole and the cleat is recessed into the shoe. Because I struggle to walk not having a big bulky cleat under my foot allows me to maintain my range of motion without excess side to side movement and it also allows my foot to sit firmly in place on the pedal when clipped in.

I encourage you to find a way to do the things you want to do. Remember that without trial and error, you won't be able to build knowledge or gain experience.

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