Affording that Tandem-Recumbent Dream Machine

Most states have an alternative financing program to help residents buy assistive technology (AT) and AT services. Jeff and Shelley Penick used Oklahoma’s for a very unique purchase.

Three adults and a guide dog standing behind a recumbent tricycle.
Left to right: Bob Massengale, Shelley Gladden, and Jeff Penick with a recumbent tadpole trike on display at the Library for the Blind

After his back surgery last year, Jeff Penick knew it was important that he stay active and build his strength. Jeff has a visual impairment and wanted a way to enjoy the outdoors with his wife, Shelley. They’d often thought about tandem biking because it would allow them to peddle together while Shelley steered. A recumbent trike looked like a comfortable and safe option, so Jeff began researching them online. The problem was finding a tandem model and one that they could afford.

Jeff knew Oklahoma ABLE Tech had a program for financing assistive technology, but he didn’t know if a tandem trike would be considered AT. He read the website, grew encouraged, and then called up Shelley Gladden at the ABLE Tech Financial Loan program. “I told her what I was thinking about buying and asked if we could do it with a loan.” ABLE Tech was more than enthusiastic. “It turns out most of their loans are for hearing aids,” Jeff says. “She was super excited to help.”

Jeff started shopping.

He approached a local vendor, Bob Massengale, who has been modifying bikes for more than a dozen years. Bob had once adapted a bicycle so a rider could steer it using his upper trunk while peddling and braking with his feet. Jeff and his wife visited Bob at Oklahoma Recumbent Trikes & Bikes to discuss their own needs.

Bob suggested connecting two recumbent trikes as he had done for himself and his wife. He removed the front wheel of the rear trike and hooked the units together with a special bracket. Unlike a conventional tandem, this configuration gives each rider their own gears and independent peddling (in push/pull fashion). This way, Bob explained, they’d have two complete units that could also be used separately.

A close up of the connection between the two trikes.
The bracket connecting the front fork of Jeff’s trike to Shelley’s rear axle.

Jeff and Shelley were sold. The trikes were comfortable, stable and they smoothly shifted independent of one another. Shelley and her daughter could use them as separate units if they wished. Bob worked to create an attractive package of equipment to include helmets, flags and additional accessories. He was also happy to assemble one with Jeff’s help so Jeff would know how they went together should repairs be needed on the fly.

At $7,500, the set would have been difficult to afford all at once, but ABLE Tech helped them apply for a low-interest loan with no money down, no fees and with a generous 60-month term for repayment. “It was super easy,” Jeff reports, “and we were approved within a week.”

Soon Jeff and Shelley were off and peddling.

A man and a woman seated in recumbent trikes, the woman in front and smiling broadly. They are outdoors on a path with a crowd of people behind them.

Last January Jeff and Bob came to the OK ABLE Tech Advisory Council meeting to talk about the equipment ABLE Tech had helped make possible for the Penicks. The meeting took place at the Library for the Blind in Oklahoma City. Bob set up trikes for display and exploring in the library’s lobby. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone in attendance as well as for library visitors who learned about more ways to get or stay active outdoors.

Since purchasing their recumbent trikes, Jeff and Shelley have what amounts to a new lifestyle. They use them for everything from running errands at Lowes to trying out new restaurants. Their first ride was to visit Shelley’s mother who is within comfortable biking distance. Now they are plotting longer and longer rides.  They are looking forward to the new rail trail under development and delight at the bike lanes cropping up with new road paving. The couple has even purchased a trailer for Jeff’s guide dog for when they are ready to bike to work. Prior to this purchase, neither had biked in close to 30 years.

“I haven’t biked since I was a teenager,” Jeff says, “since before my visual impairment.”

And now?

“We’d go every day if we could.”

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