A Madison father founded Madison Adaptive Cycling to make biking more accessible

Brian McNurlen, wife Laura and their 14-year-old daughter, Rosie, are regulars on the Lake Loop, the winding path that encompasses Lake Monona.
rosie and brian riding their bike
Courtesy of Brian McNurlen

Brian McNurlen, wife Laura and their 14-year-old daughter, Rosie, are regulars on the Lake Loop, the winding path that encompasses Lake Monona. The family has frequently completed the same route since the pandemic began — riding up to three times a day during the summer season.

Rosie was diagnosed with autism in 2013 at 6 years old and also has physical disabilities, which can make exercise challenging. McNurlen says biking, however, is a form of exercise that his daughter is excited to do daily.

“It’s a great way for her to get outdoors,” he says. “It’s a social thing — especially when it’s summertime and a lot of people are on the path.”

Their shared ride is a bright-red, Dutch-made, double-wide recumbent bike called a Van Raam Fun2Go. When the pandemic started, Cargo Bikes owner Tim Staton lent it to them so it wouldn’t sit in the shop unused. It allows Rosie and one of her parents to pedal side by side. The McNurlens bought their own version in March 2021.

“It’s a really expensive bike,” McNurlen says. “It’s as much as a car, and we’re grateful to be able to afford to buy one, but not everybody can.”

Previously the family had a different side-by-side recumbent bike that didn’t work for them and they decided to sell it on Craigslist. Interested buyers seemed dismayed when he told them how much it cost, and it took some time to sell.

rosie and brian on a bike

Courtesy of Brian McNurlen

“People from all walks of life called,” he says, mentioning a returning veteran who could no longer cycle a traditional bike and an aunt with an adult nephew with cerebral palsy who’d hoped the bike would allow him to join family rides.

He knew there was a demand for custom adaptive bikes to be made available at low or no cost to the families who need them. “These are big bikes. It’s not like someone could carry these to a second- or third-floor apartment,” he adds.

To help families and individuals gain access, McNurlen founded Madison Adaptive Cycling in May. The nonprofit is modeled after Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling in Minnesota, which has a rentable fleet of 45 bikes.

McNurlen’s hope for Madison Adaptive Cycling is that it will allow people with disabilities to try biking by providing access to equipment that’s too expensive to buy. McNurlen’s goal in 2022 is to get enough bikes and volunteers to take a trailer of bikes to Madison parks for families to enjoy. If someone can ride on their own, they can just check a bike out. If they would like someone to ride with them, they can check out a tandem bike with a volunteer.

Read about more adaptive sports in the Madison area here.

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