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New invention provides mobility for all abilities

Posted: June 11, 2014 - 12:47pm
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Kellen Priest, right, and Abby Leatherman, both tour brokers for Gastineau Guiding, ride electric-powered tricycles in  downtown Juneau late last month. Bob Janes invented the Access Hybrid, a trike with an assistive electric motor, meant to provide all the fun of a bicycle and all the function of a traditional mobility device.   Photo by Michael Penn, Morris News Service - Alaska
Photo by Michael Penn, Morris News Service - Alaska
Kellen Priest, right, and Abby Leatherman, both tour brokers for Gastineau Guiding, ride electric-powered tricycles in downtown Juneau late last month. Bob Janes invented the Access Hybrid, a trike with an assistive electric motor, meant to provide all the fun of a bicycle and all the function of a traditional mobility device.

JUNEAU — Adventure runs in the Janes family, so when Bob Janes found his father’s age affected his ability to be active outdoors, something had to be done.

So Bob invented the Access Hybrid, a trike with an assistive electric motor, meant to provide all the fun of a bicycle and all the function of a traditional mobility device.

“My father, three years ago, at 89, was given a standard mobility scooter,” Bob said. “He didn’t feel like himself on it. He’d been active all his life.”

Not a stranger to designing new technology to meet his needs, Bob worked out a design for the Access Hybrid to give his father a way to be active despite his declining physical health. Bob said his father could barely walk 10 feet at that point, but when he tried out the Access Hybrid he could go for a couple miles.

The Access Hybrid looks like a cross between a mobility scooter and a tricycle. It has a cushioned, stable seat; handle bars with a traditional gear shift and hand brake, but also a throttle lever for using the electric motor; slanted rear wheels for stability and an elongated head tube with a tight turning radius while the electric motor is in use and smaller front wheel; plus foot rests for when the pedals are not in use. 

The rider sits in a comfortable, upright position, with pedals in front.

The eight-speed allows for some breeze-through-your-hair higher speeds, and pedaling can recharge the electric motor for when the device is needed as a more traditional mobility scooter — it also plugs in for normal charging. Bob said the Access Hybrid gets 20 miles out of the motor before it needs to be recharged.

While Bob came up with the idea for the Access Hybrid, it’s been a team effort. Working with him is engineer Mike Bly and welder Carlton Shorey. Bob’s son, Robie Janes, has been involved in testing the Access Hybrid and some marketing.

The first prototype was quite a hit, but they discovered a flaw on a trip to California, with Bob’s father taking it for a spin at Knott’s Berry Farm. They ran into trouble when the chain wrapped around the axle, causing it to flip over. There haven’t been problems like that with newer versions.

The prototype Juneau residents may have seen out on the docks earlier this summer have been adjusted and improved after further testing and feedback from Bly and Shorey. Dock reps with Gastineau Guiding, the guiding company Bob owns with his wife, Dawn Wolfe, have been riding the Access Hybrid trikes from the office to the docks downtown.

Bob really put the Access Hybrid to the test on a November trip to California, spending the entire two weeks living as though he experienced a disability. 

From the airport in Juneau to the return trip home and everything in between, he used the Access Hybrid. He even went shopping at Target.

To Bob, it’s important that people of all ages and abilities be able to be mobile and healthy. He said he’s been working with different physical therapists and they agree that movement is crucial to health.

“Some people can’t walk,” Bob said. “But there’s no reason they have to sit. ... People can use them to get out and enjoy the outdoors and fresh air, and still be stable, and able to get the exercise they need, get the movement their bodies need.”

His father, while living at the Pioneer Home, enjoyed taking the Access Hybrid for a spin around Twin Lakes, he said.

While the model may have been seen around town, in use by the Janes family or Gastineau Guiding dock reps, the real unveiling was at Southeast Alaska Independent Living’s annual picnic at Sandy Beach recently, where staff and clients of the organization got to test out the tiny fleet of trikes.

People of all ages and abilities hopped on the trikes and pedaled or motored around the parking lot.

Robie, who has spent a lot of time on the Access Hybrid, careened around cars leaning on two wheels. Bob showed off a tight 360 turn using the motor for power. He switched to pedal power, switched gears and tore off full-speed ahead.

SAIL clients grinned ear to ear while zipping around on the trikes. They looked right at home on a tricycle built for two and a hand-pedal tricycle — two other models available at the picnic. One enthusiastic young man had to be convinced by his grandmother to put on warmer pants; he was enjoying himself so much he kept riding while visibly shivering.

“Everyone loves it,” Robie said. “Everyone’s having fun out here.”

While the Access Hybrid was originally designed for Bob’s elderly father, he saw that it could be a good fit for people of all ages and abilities.

Currently, the Access Hybrid is accessible for people who may lack full mobility, but who can use their legs to provide power by pedaling, but Bob said it wouldn’t be difficult to further adapt the trikes to hand pedals.

He’s hoping to make the Access Hybrid widely available and is looking into manufacturing options. He is struggling between offering a more affordable trike, manufactured in China, or an American-made trike, which would cost $800 to $1,000 per bike in manufacturing alone.

Another challenge facing the Access Hybrid is that there are laws restricting the use of motorized vehicles on trails and in parks.

“(They’re) not legal, although they aren’t the impact that the law was originally designed to address,” Bob said. “I’m working with agencies to consider re-visiting their regulations.”

Despite the occasional hiccup, Bob is enthusiastic about the Access Hybrid. The team also is working on prototypes for lighter and more rugged options.

On the verge of a wave of aging Baby Boomers, Bob sees his invention as a way for active people to keep living life to the fullest, even as their ability to do the things they once loved wanes.

“I’ve learned about the challenges of mobility, but also the wonderful opportunities with a machine like the Access Hybrid,” Bob said. “You get to go out and do the things you wouldn’t do otherwise be able to do for the mobility challenged.”

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