Adapt and Thrive (or: Seriously, reader, stop being such a wimp)

12 Aug

Yesterday, I spent some time with a newbie roadie. We worked on three things: Shifting more smoothly, braking more efficiently, and turning more stably. When we were done, she said something like: “I’m so glad we did this. I was completely not understanding how to choose gears, before, and I was always feeling sketched-out with how to combine braking and turning. There’s so much to do at once! But I think I’m getting the hang of it now.”

After complimenting her progress and assuring her that she’d soon be a Road Riding Rock Star, I told her about a bike set-up that’s even MORE complicated than what we ride. At the end of my tale, once she had picked her jaw up off the floor and recovered her ability to talk, she said: “Ohmigod! You have GOT to put that on your blog!

And so I will…

A traditional bike has ~20 gears … 10 in the back and 2 in the front (10 x 2 = 20). Some bikes may have a “triple” (or maybe only 1 ring) up front and rear clusters can range from 3 to 12 (or, also, only 1 if it’s a single speed bike). So the total number of available gears actually can vary quite a bit from bike-to-bike.

One thing ALL modern bikes have in common, though, is that the gear selectors (shifters) are located on the handle bars.

This makes sense.

The only way to change gears is with your hands, right? So obviously you want your shifters (and brakes) to be located where your hands spend their time (on the bars) so that you can quickly, easily, and safely make adjustments.

But what if you DON’T HAVE ANY HANDS?

How can you shift?

How can you brake?

Heck, how can you even ride a bike in the first place?

Meet a miracle on 2 wheels, Matt DeWitt: Bilateral amputee, Ride2Recovery rider, and, now, a Leadville 100 Belt Buckle winner!


Matt rides a bike designed and built by Scotty Moro, R2R’s incomparably brilliant Director of Engineering & Equipment.

Matt’s arms got blown off (and literally landed in his lap) when he got hit by an RPG in 2003. He now sports old skool pirate hooks in place of his hands.

With no fingers, Matt obviously can’t operate brakes and gear shifters on a standard bike. So Scotty built him a bike that incorporates a piece of bike technology that I generally deride as being utterly stupid: Di2 electronic shifters.

[Why do I think these things are generally ridiculous? Because how hard is it, really, to put a little effort into your 2-fingered shift swiping paw? Do you really need an electronic assister for that? Give me a break. End of rant.]

But, if you DON’T HAVE ANY FUCKING FINGERS and a mad-scientist genius figures out how to embed those ridiculous Di2 electric shifty bits into your top tube so that you can shift with your knees, well then, g*ddamn and Dog-bless … THAT is a fine bit of engineering wonderment!!

[click here and here for photos; to shift, he simply taps his knee against the front or rear panel to shift up or down.]

Now, what to do about the brakes?

Enter THE greatest innovation in all of cycling technology (IMHO): The Butt Brake.

Yes, indeed, there is a special panel behind Matt’s seat that he can back up into to trigger his disc brakes [photo here].

Back in June, the Butt Brake was significantly damaged by a soulless asshat who STOLE Matt’s bike and abandoned it in a park in Anchorage, Alaksa (stories about the theft were all over the news, just Google “Matt DeWitt Alaska”).

Scotty had to do some serious retooling, quickly, before we all headed to Europe. Matt didn’t join us in Europe, opting instead to continue his mountain bike training in preparation for Leadville.

For those unfamiliar with Leadville, it has been described thusly:

Leadville is famous in cycling and endurance sport circles because the grueling race rolls on rutted, rocky terrain over 3 mountains — twice. It begins at 10,200′ above sea level and offers 12,000+ feet of climbing over its 104 miles. It’s like some sadist took an endurance event and removed the oxygen, just to make it interesting.

1,549 mountain bikers crossed the start line in the pre-dawn cold, only 1,287 (i.e., just 83%) would complete the race in the 12-hour time limit.

Matt made history, becoming the first double amputee EVER to complete the race and earn the highly coveted Belt Buckle. He crossed the finish line 11:06 after the starting gun.

Reflecting on his experience, Matt acknowledged that during his long years of hospitalization and rehab, turning away from life’s challenges sometimes felt like a valid option. And there were times during the race when he was tempted to give up, too, but as he told a local reporter: “I’ve been down that road [withdrawal from life’s challenges]. It’s boring. It’s not good, you know it’s not good.

Fourteen other R2R riders echoed that sentiment. Of the 15 who toed up to the start line on Saturday, all but one earned Belt Buckles (and the one who didn’t get to claim a buckle, couldn’t’ve done so given what happened to her bike just 15 miles into the race [photo of her exploded derailleur here]).

In fact, >a quarter of R2R’s riders earned GOLD Belt Buckles, for completing the race in less than 9 hours, a feat accomplished by only 356 Leadville racers. And one of R2R’s Gold Buckle riders is missing a leg!

I haven’t seen any official confirmations on this yet, but I very strongly suspect that JC joined Matt in making history — by becoming the first ever one-legged cyclist above-the-knee amputee to earn a Gold Buckle.

Here’s a picture of two of R2R’s Gold Buckle winners, JC and Bruce (Bruce finished in less than 8 hours — which is just friggin’ scary fast). This isn’t from Leadville, it’s from Utah, but it shows them standing on top of the world, giving me (and maybe you, too, dear reader?) something to really look up to:


Thanks for the inspiration, R2R.

Get out there and tackle some mountains –real or metaphorical– people!

Parting Thought: Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent. ~Nolan Ryan

And, Reader, seriously: DONATE! (Rider: Cristin Zeisler)

4 Responses to “Adapt and Thrive (or: Seriously, reader, stop being such a wimp)”

  1. Dean Zenoni August 20, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    DI shifters are awesome its not the effort put into the shifting its what happens after you shift.
    R2R rider Dean Zenoni

  2. Dean Zenoni August 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    “Fair” Nice write up by the way I ride with Matt often. The things R2R does for us are amazing saved and changed my life as well as many others. Hope to see you on an R2R challenge ride one day.

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