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A bicycle built for all

Posted 10:45 a.m. Thursday, July 29, 2021

Inspired by his daughter, Rosie, UWL alum Brian McNurlen has created Madison Adaptive Cycling, a nonprofit organization raising money for a fleet of adaptive bikes that would be available for rent around Madison.

Alum leads fundraiser to bring adaptive bikes to Madison

For Brian McNurlen and his 13-year-old daughter, Rosie, the best moments happen on three wheels. 

The McNurlens have always been a biking family. However, Rosie has profound autism and physical disabilities that prevent her from riding a traditional bike.  

McNurlen’s solution was purchasing a two-seat, three-wheel adaptive bike that allows them to ride side by side — a pastime he’s now hoping to share with other Madison residents.  

“There are a lot of people who are interested in adaptive bikes but might not be able to afford them,” explains McNurlen, who founded Madison Adaptive Cycling to help meet that need. The nonprofit organization is raising money for a fleet of adaptive bikes that would be available for rent around Madison. 

“The concept would be like a library, with all kinds of adaptive bikes,” says McNurlen, ’89, psychology. “The goal is to have 20 to 30 bikes so people can ride around the Madison bike paths and just enjoy being outdoors.” 

McNurlen has become a bit of an expert on adaptive bikes, which come in all kinds of variations: one-seaters and two-seaters, side-by-side, recumbent, hand-powered and motorized. 

Over the years, he and Rosie have experimented with many different models — bikes they would eventually replace and resell. 

“We’d get calls from all kinds of folks — one was a group that wanted to buy a bike for a returning veteran who was injured, another was for an adult relative with a spinal injury,” McNurlen notes. Since these bikes can cost several thousand dollars or more, “I thought it would be great if we made them available to people who can't buy them.” 

Over the years, the pair have experimented with many different models of adaptive bikes, some costing several thousand dollars. “I thought it would be great if we made them available to people who can't buy them,” McNurlen says.

He started the group in spring 2021, after months of planning, modeling it after a similar organization in the Twin Cities. 

Madison Adaptive Cycling had its coming out party at Madison’s Ride the Drive community biking event in June. There, McNurlen was able to spread the word about the group — passing out T-shirts and business cards, and drawing attention to the online fundraiser. 

“This was really the first time we were out and about and able to talk with folks,” he says. “We’ll be focused on fundraising throughout the summer, and by the end of the summer, we’re hoping to have at least two or three bikes that we can show off.” 

By this time next year, McNurlen hopes those two or three bikes will have grown into a small fleet. 

He is even partnering with Cargo Bike Shop in Madison, which has agreed to store and maintain the bikes once they arrive. 

McNurlen, an IT manager at UW-Madison, says biking in all its forms holds a special place in his heart. 

His daughter’s autism and disabilities make it difficult for her to get consistent exercise. 

She’s not a fan of going on walks, and after a brief phase when she enjoyed swimming, she gave that up, too. 

Biking, McNurlen says, is a completely different experience. 

“Biking is the thing she consistently wants to do,” he notes. “I love being able to sit next to her on our bike and just have a conversation with her. It’s a really enjoyable social interaction, plus you’re getting some exercise at the same time.” 

When they’re out on the paths, Rosie is known to make quite a bit of noise in her excitement. It’s a feeling, McNurlen says, that seems to be infectious. 

“My daughter can be pretty loud, so people usually hear us coming from behind and go: ‘What on earth is that?’” he says. “When we pass them and they can see how happy she looks and what we’re actually doing, they can’t help but smile or wave. It’s really cool to see.” 

More information 

For more information about Madison Adaptive Cycling, follow the group on Facebook or Twitter. 

To make a tax-deductible contribution to the group, click here. 

To learn how UWL is supporting adaptive exercise opportunities in the community, click here.

Read more stories from the August eLantern.


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