Pittsburgh bicycle maker builds wheels for man without arms
September 23, 2013 6:19 AM
Michael Trimble, 27, foreground, of Munhall has no arms, but he can ride his modified bicycle. He takes a spin down a small North Side street near Maestro Frameworks. Michael Brown, the bicycle shop's owner, adapted the bike with a special handlebar.
Michael Brown of Maestro Frameworks works on a custom bike part in his North Side shop.
Michael Trimble, 27, of Munhall rides his customized bike down the street.
By Mila Sanina Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Michael Trimble draws quite a few stares when he rides his bicycle around Pittsburgh.
Mr. Trimble has no arms.
He was born that way in Soviet-era Ukraine, the birth defect a consequence of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. After living in an orphanage, Mr. Trimble was adopted at age 9 by an American couple and raised in Pittsburgh.
Living without arms
Michael Trimble, who was born without arms after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, had a local bike shop customize a bike for him. (Video by Andrew Rush; 9/20/2013)
The first time Mr. Trimble rode a bicycle was in 2000, in St. James, Mo., where he attended a boarding school. His gym teacher took an old bike and, in place of its handlebars, installed a metal pipe stretching out to one of his stumps. He rode that bike for 18 months and fell in love with cycling.
After returning to Pittsburgh, he graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in political science. The dream of riding a bike moved to the back burner. But, like many 20-somethings in Pittsburgh, he yearned to be mobile on two wheels.
About a year ago, Mr. Trimble, 27, ordered online from REI a single-speed bicycle with a coaster brake and began to search for someone to customize it -- but "no one wanted to touch it. ... They told me that I am either a liability or that what I asked them to do could not be done."
And then he met Michael Brown, the owner of Maestro Frameworks - maestroframeworks.com - on the North Side.
A friend of Mr. Trimble's, Tim Rhodes, met Mr. Brown in June while he and his wife were shopping at Performance Bikes in East Liberty, where he works part time. When Mr. Brown, 56, noted that he owned a bicycle shop and built custom bicycles, Mr. Rhodes' wife mentioned Mr. Trimble's situation and asked whether Mr. Brown could help him.
Three weeks later, Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Trimble visited Maestro Frameworks. Mr. Brown took some measurements and agreed to take the job.
"It never even crossed my mind that it could not be done," Mr. Brown said. "Especially after I talked to Mike, he was so gung-ho about riding a bike again."
Mr. Trimble knew how he wanted his bicycle to be modified based on the gym teacher's model. But Mr. Brown thought it was not quite right -- and devised his own plan to make the bicycle easy to ride: "I actually spent a lot time sitting on the bicycle, visualizing how the handle will work, how upright it has to be, how much weight I need to put on the front wheel to stabilize it."
It took about two months for Mr. Brown to find a solution. He removed the original handlebars and designed and fabricated a single-sided bar. He bent and welded it into a U-shaped rest at the end of the bar so Mr. Trimble could control the bicycle with his left stump.
When Mr. Trimble came to test the bicycle in late August, he had some trouble at first. The handlebar wasn't quite right, his legs were out of shape, and he was unstable on the bicycle. But by the end of the test ride, Mr. Trimble was able to ride in a straight line and make turns. Once he got the hang of it, he even picked up some speed.
"It was so much fun. It felt like teaching my little child how to ride," Mr. Brown said. "Mike was so happy, you could not get the smile off his face."
"When Mike rides around the city, people seem to be weirded out a bit," Mr. Rhodes said, "They do not seem to know quite what to make of it."
These days, Mr. Trimble gets out on his new bicycle a great deal, mostly late at night. A resident of Munhall, he works from 2 to 10 p.m. as a quality assurance specialist for Alpine Access, a work-from-home customer service company.
He does almost everything with his feet: He types on his computer with his feet, cuts his hair with his feet and even makes almond milk in his Vitamix blender with the help of his feet. He also produces video clips of himself and posts them on YouTube.
For his impressive job performance, Alpine Access promoted him recently and, for one of his inspiring videos, he won the Work from Home Contest.
Mr. Trimble's dream is to become a motivational speaker or enter politics. "I would like to inspire others and show that despite insurmountable odds, anything can be achieved if you have the will and fight for it," he said.
Mr. Trimble treats cycling as, first, simply "a way for me to get outdoors more often." But it's also a way to become more independent and reach new goals. Recently, Mr. Trimble covered 10 miles in one day. He keeps track of his progress with the help of Ride Tracker, an app he downloaded on his iPhone. Finally, he has been able to climb to the top of Interboro Avenue in Munhall, his long-term challenge.
A few days after Mr. Trimble got his bicycle, he went for a night ride -- and crashed into a Munhall police car. With an officer in it. The policeman got out and suspiciously asked whether he was drunk. "No, I am not," Mr. Trimble, a teetotaler, declared. The officer observed that Mr. Trimble on his bike was the most amazing thing he had ever seen.
Mr. Trimble remains deeply grateful to Mr. Brown for making his dream become real. The price was right, too: $125. "I thought it was going to be more expensive," said Mr. Trimble. "So I didn't quibble. He let me off easy."
The making of Maestro
Building custom bicycles has been Michael Brown's calling his entire life. In his early 20s, when Mr. Brown was racing and became his own mechanic, he started building custom wheels. People kept asking him about custom wheels for their bicycles, and he started working out of his apartment in South Park. A customer from Puerto Rico crowned him "Maestro."
Mr. Brown opened a storefront in Bethel Park called, appropriately, Maestro Cycles. Back then, Mr. Brown was working with high-end bicycles, such as Colnago, De Rosa and Eddy Merckx. Even when he had jobs that had nothing to do with bicycles, he never fully abandoned cycling and remained a cycling coach.
In 2011, Mr. Brown wanted to get back to building bicycles and start his own business. After apprenticing with a master frame builder in Boston for 10 weeks, he came back and opened up Maestro Frameworks on Federal Street near Allegheny General Hospital.
Mr. Brown's shop has been open for about 22 months and his creations are rolling all across the country now: Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City, Westchester County in New York. But 85 percent of his business is locally based, and everything is done in Mr. Brown's shop except for painting, though that's on the horizon.
He hopes that one day Maestro Frameworks becomes a sustainable business and his only job. He would like to employ a few people, which would allow him to help more people who cannot ride because they are not able to find bicycles that feel and fit right.
"My belief is that anyone can ride a bicycle and anything can be modified for people to meet their needs," Mr. Brown said. "This is why I do what I do. I didn't go out of my way to look for this market, but people keep finding me to do custom things that nobody else would touch."