Project Mobility

Hometown Heroes, People
on December 23, 2007

Some 30 years ago, Hal Honeyman opened a store to sell bikes. But he ended up peddling a more precious commodity—independence—by adapting bicycles for disabled kids who couldn’t otherwise enjoy them.

“Riding a bike is such an important rite of passage for many children,” says Honeyman, 50, who owns and operates the Bike Rack in St. Charles, Ill. (pop. 27,876).

Honeyman’s son, Jacob, was born with cerebral palsy and cannot walk. But when Jacob was 3, Honeyman realized his son nonetheless could ride a specially adapted bike—with an upright seat and harness to hold a rider and pedal straps to keep feet in place. He bought the special bike, modified it to fit Jacob’s proportions, and his son has been loving life on wheels ever since.

“Now Jacob rides around the neighborhood like other kids,” says Honeyman, who expanded his shop in 1997 to sell specialty bikes for disabled riders, customizing them for his customers’ unique needs. He estimates that his modified-bicycle business, Creative Mobility, has helped more than 3,000 children and adults to find mobility outside a wheelchair over the last decade.

In 2004, Honeyman started his nonprofit Project Mobility, which sponsors bike-fitting clinics and workshops nationwide. He’s assisted by employee Rick Leipold, who has a spinal cord injury and rides a hand-cycled recumbent bike. For those who can’t afford $2,000 to $4,500 for an adaptive bike, Project Mobility matches them with potential funding sources.

Project Mobility also supports dozens of adaptive cycling activities at hospitals, schools, parks and camps. Every August, Honeyman’s team assists kids from a local Shriners Hospital who spend a weekend cycling 30 miles a day along the Illinois River. Once or twice each week, Honeyman hauls adaptive bikes to an event, such as the annual Easter Seals picnic in Villa Park, Ill.

“He opens up a whole new world for kids who’ve never biked before and gives them joy and a real sense of pride,” says Ellie Cummings, a spokeswoman for Easter Seals.

Five years ago, Honeyman’s bikes caught the eye of Philip and Christeen Chase, of Kansas City, Mo., who were touring Chicago’s Abilities Expo with their son Benjamin, then 10 years old, who has cerebral palsy.

“We never thought Ben could ride a bike, but as soon as Hal strapped him in, he took off,” Philip says. “We were amazed.” Benjamin is now on his second adapted bike.

Honeyman enjoys the challenge of fitting a cycle to a specific rider’s needs. He developed joystick controls and up to 128 gear combinations for quadriplegics. For a right-hand amputee, he modifies the shifting and braking controls on a regular road bike and adds a quick-release device to click a prosthetic hand into the handlebar.

Recently, Honeyman adapted a tandem bike with hand supports, a four-point harness and shorter pedals to fit Jacob, now 14. “My wife or I ride upright in the back and Jacob’s in a recumbent position up front,” Honeyman says. “With this bike, we can take longer trips and go much faster, which Jacob really enjoys.”

Although about 75 percent of the bikes he fits are for children, Honeyman also works with adults. In 2006, Project Mobility adapted bikes for 40 amputees from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who were riding 3,000 miles cross-country to raise money for wounded military-service members.

In 2004, the American Red Cross chapter in St. Charles honored Honeyman as a hometown hero, but Honeyman says his heroes are the kids he helps. v “A lot of them have had a dozen surgeries and every uphill battle you can think of. But they have such a tremendously positive outlook,” he says. “It teaches me a lot, and I draw my strength from them.”

Karen Karvonen is a frequent contributor to American Profile.