Health

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Cycling can help change your life

GET ON YER BIKE: Michael Killeen demonstrates how his experimental 'sideways' bike operates and, inset left, Gordon Birch with his electric bike
Gordon Birch. Photo: Damien Eagers

There's much more to the humble two-wheeler than meets the eye, explains Ailin Quinlan

Ross Stack rides a unicycle, Michael Killeen has invented a sideways bike, Dean Jones is saving a fortune by cycling to work – and Gordon Birch's electric machine has done wonders for his diabetes.

After talking to these guys, you'll never look at your humble two-wheeler the same way. Cycling, it seems, can be seriously life-changing.

It certainly was for Dun Laoghaire man Gordon Birch, who last year purchased a bike on the cycle-to-work scheme to see if it might improve his worsening diabetes condition.

Not only has he now become addicted to the exercise – to such an extent that his car battery recently went flat from lack of use – but he's lost a stone in weight, his doctors are delighted by the improvement in his diabetes and his bad back has improved.

"I hadn't cycled for 42 years and I needed exercise," admits Gordon, a former bank employee who took redundancy last November.

"I've had diabetes for seven or eight years and my condition was getting worse. I have a bad back and a bad left foot which discouraged me from walking," says the 62-year-old who purchased his electric bicycle on the cycle-to-work scheme in October 2012.

He now cycles up to 16 miles a day on a route, that usually includes Killiney Hill.

"The cycling helped strengthen my back and I've tightened my belt by three notches – I lost a stone in weight which is good for the diabetes.

"My doctors are delighted by my blood test results which have shown a marked improvement, and the foot has improved as well!

"The cycling strengthened my core and improved my back and also my foot. I cycle every day now, I never drive or get the DART any more.

"As I improve, I use less power from the bike and I'm getting fitter. There's no comparison to when I left the bank!"

He's now comfortably wearing trousers he'd planned to discard because they'd become too tight – while several other pairs have had to be taken in.

"I feel much better now. I'm 62 going on 19 and my endocrinologist and GP cannot get over the improvement in my blood test results!"

To add to his satisfaction, Gordon's new hobby is also extremely cost-effective.

'The batteries for the bike only take three hours to recharge. It costs 10 cents to recharge them, I plug it into a socket in the house the same way you charge a phone and each charge lasts up to 135km on the flat.

"There's no tax, insurance or parking fees, no gym fees and it's great fun.

"Ironically, I recently had to replace the battery in my car – it had gone flat from sheer lack of use. The bike has changed my life!"

It has changed Dean Jones's life too – but in a very different way.

Not only has the 38-year-old sound engineer saved time and money since he started cycling to work, he's also scoring bonus points by getting home in time to help put the kids to bed!

Scottish by birth, though now living in Castleknock with his wife and three young sons, Dean bought a bike on the cycle-to-work scheme after deciding that his 26km round trip on public transport to and from work in Baggot Street was both too time-consuming and expensive.

"Financially there was the burden of paying public transport – the fares went up. There was also the length of time it was taking me to get to work, it could be up to an hour and 10 minutes and that was too much."

So last March the Scotsman got a bike and now he's making it to work in about 45 minutes – and getting home to help put his sons, aged five, three and 18 months, to bed.

"I'm getting fitter, with such a young family trying to schedule in fitness was difficult but now it's part of my working day because I'm cycling 26km a day and I don't feel so bad about spending most of the working day sitting at a mixing desk!"

He was paying about €120 every month in fares, he says.

"Now I'm paying nothing. I got the bike on the cycle to work scheme and I'm just paying €37 a month to pay back the cost of the bike so I'm really winning here.

"It's a win-win situation. I'm getting fit, getting into work nice and early and getting home for the kids in time to put them to bed – and we're saving money every month!"

Cycling is all about creativity for computer programmer Michael Killeen – an inventor who spends much time at work in his shed in Drumcondra.

Ten years ago Michael came up with the idea for a working "sideways bike" – he's even sold several models of the bike, which he likens to a snowboard.

"When you're skiing, you're going forward, but on a snowboard you're facing sideways. People like snowboards even though they are much harder to learn how to ride – I think they like them because of the kind of balance that is required – you're leaning front and back," he explains.

Intrigued, Michael decided to invent something similar in a bike.

"I decided to come up with a bike which operated on the concept of front to back balance. Basically what I did was I took the standard bike, broke it up and moved the bits around!"

He's ridden his sideways bike everywhere from the US to Holland, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain.

It's simply a different way of doing it, he says, although it is more flexible.

"I've sold around 50 of the bikes, because they attracted some interest, but I'm still working the bugs out of the system.

"If I had the money I might go to China and get a container-load of them made up and see how they sell!"

Irish Independent

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