Magnificent Machines Stories

Meet our latest Empowered rider Rob Barwell

My journey to Empowered People started a long way from West Yorkshire. In fact, it started at the opposite end of the country in Cornwall.

I have always enjoyed cycling but have a condition called Brachial Plexus Palsy. This was a birth injury and I only have very limited use of my right arm and the arm itself is 4 inches shorter than my left arm. This means that changing gear is difficult (I have to use my left arm) and using the front brake was nigh on impossible.

In the summer of 2019, I was researching having an electric motor fitted to my bicycle. Having reached 50 years old and suffering from middle-aged spread, I wanted to shed some weight, get some exercise and thought an ebike might be a way forward. After looking around at the cost of ebike’s I realised that they were outside of my budget and working in I.T and loving all things techy, I discovered that there are electric motors that can be mid-mounted on a bicycle. After some more research I decided on a Tongsheng mid drive motor.

I then looked at how to get it installed. I was initially going to try to do this myself but that soon realised I had neither the tools, expertise nor possibly the dexterity to get the job done. After looking on the Internet I found a chap in Cornwall who offered the services to convert my Mountain bike (GT Avalanche) into an ebike. I arranged a convenient time and a few weeks later my wife and I drove down to Cornwall and had my bike converted.

 

The conversion only took a few hours and when I went to pick it up, he suggested I take it for a test ride. He lived at the bottom of Long hill, so I started up the hill aided by the electric motor and very quickly found myself at the top. On the way down things took a turn for the worse. Having lived in Cambridgeshire all my life braking was never a priority as the land is so flat and I was always able to stop in time. However, on this day, the rear brake quickly overheated, and the brake began to fade. I somehow managed to stop before careering into a field. After I managed to stop, I looked at the back brake and could see smoke coming off the disk!

It was then that I decided ebikes require the use of both brakes and my search to see what could be done began…

After researching on the Internet it became apparent that this was going to be harder than I thought and although there were adaptions available, the expertise to fit them was less so. It was then that I discovered the website of Empowered People, a Yorkshire based charity that helped empower people with disabilities to ride again. I emailed Simon, the founder of the charity and a few days later got a reply. Soon after that we spoke by telephone and I was then introduced to Neil, who makes the magic happen!

Neil and I spoke on the phone and discussed my issues and we arranged for me to visit Empowered People’s Headquarters in Todmorden, West Yorkshire with my bicycle.

During the next week various emails went back and forward between Neil and I and many suggestions were made. We thought we might have a plan to use a coaster brake (by pedalling backwards) and changing the gears to use an internally geared hub. All of this quite costly. It should be added that was waiting to go to Yorkshire I started having issues with my newly converted bike whereby the motor kept coming loose.

On a wet windy Sunday morning I made my way up to the A1 from Peterborough for the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Todmorden. When I arrived a Simon and Neil were already there, and introductions were made. Our conversation quickly turned to the bike and we looked at what could be done. Neil had had another idea as he has found an Hase ‘Single-hand Controls’ extension bar in an adaption kit that the charity had for another purpose. This small bar was fitted onto the left side of the handlebars and would then allow for the front brake to me mounted above the rear brake.

We tried this and after a bit of fettling found that the brakes could be mounted with a slight offset thus allowing me to use either brake or both together!

Such a simple adaption with minimal cost but so effective. Neil also had the same motor on his bike and was confident improvements could be made to its mounting. He has also noticed that the battery was not mounted securely and thought he had the answer for that as well.

After tightening the motor temporarily and fitting the brakes he suggested we try a short ride up a nearby hill. This hill was steeper than the Cornish hill and after we made our way to the top we turned around for the descent. I came down that hill at speed and, for the first time in 50 years, I had complete control of my braking. A truly empowering experience!

Before I left, Simon spoke to me about the challenges that the empowered riders undertake. They have been to many places including The Isle of Man and Simon spoke of a future trip to be named ‘The Great Glen Gathering.’ It would be approximately 200 miles over 3 days and Simon asked if I would go.

It was agreed that I would leave my bike with them for a couple of weeks whilst Neil looked at the motor and battery mounting and finished all the modifications.

Over the next two weeks many emails went back and forward between Neil and myself with the progress he was making and suggestions for other modifications that might help.

Neil 3D printed mounting brackets for the battery to secure it properly

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Shortened the wiring to the motor and used Loctite on everything that might come loose.

Neil also ordered a different derailleur and twist grip, which could be mounted on the left side so I could change gear easily.

One of the changes Neil suggested was to try a different type of handlebar from On-one called Geoff bars. This handlebar sweeps back at 45 degrees to allow a more comfortable ride. It also has a several different hand positions.

Neil also suggested that I changed the mountain bike tyres to more road-type tyres (Schwalbe Marathon plus ) and change the pedals to a better make. I agreed to try the handlebars, and these were ordered and fitted. I ordered the tyres and pedals to bring with me on my next visit.

Two weeks later I was back in Todmorden to make the final changes to my bike. Tyres and pedals were fitted, and I stood back in admiration. My bike now looked completely different and was fully adapted for my use.

Neil suggested we go for a ride to test everything and we went on a 7.5 mile tour of the area. The electric motor, brakes, gears and new handlebars worked brilliantly. I finally have the bike I always wanted!

Work allowing, I have agreed to take up the challenge of The Great Glen Gathering next year and am riding as much as I can so I can complete it.

None of this would be possible without the help of Empowered People. I have met some great people over the past few weeks and look forward to more rides in the future. Thank you, Simon and Neil, for the support and time you have given to help me achieve this.

Robert Barwell

If you would like to help us help more people like Rob, please consider a small donation to our charity

 

Hi, I am one of the trustees of Empowered people. As well as looking after this website, I am also an ebike builder, modifier, hacker, and general bike mechanic. I have been involved with the Charity since 2015 and participate in as many rides as I can with my wife Catherine on the 'Bike Train' if you look around the website you are sure to find me in the background somewhere.

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