All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2002

Cycling to success

Device helps folks who can't use traditional bike

October 11, 2002 Friday
Lisa Eckelbecker

Before multiple sclerosis sapped her strength, Nina E. Lyvers liked to push herself. She ran long distances and trained for marathons.

When the neurological disorder forced her to stop running, she looked for some other way to exercise. She looked, mostly unsuccessfully, until about a year ago when an official with Exercycle Co. visited the MS support group she leads at UMass Memorial Health Care and then brought a special exercise bicycle called a Theracycle to her home. It has never left her house. ''This cycle, the Theracycle, is something I feel I can use -- and use well,'' Ms. Lyvers said. ''I don't fail on it.''

The Theracycle may have an even newer, easier-to-use design in the next two months, thanks in part to a Worcester manufacturer that makes the metal frame for the machine. L&R Manufacturing Co. Inc. of 340 Tacoma St. has begun turning out a prototype that Franklin-based Exercycle hopes to launch on the market, according to Peter L. Blumenthal, chief executive of privately held Exercycle.

''We've had both an industrial designer and a mechanical engineer'' working on the new design, Mr. Blumenthal said. But L&R has ''been instrumental in achieving this final end because everybody has to work together.''

The Theracycle differs from traditional exercise bicycles because its motor keeps the pedals turning even when the user stops pushing. That can help people who may be too weak to use a traditional exercise bicycle.

It ''lets you push as long as you want,'' Mr. Blumenthal said. ''The motor will kick in, and it will turn the pedals so your legs are still moving.''

The motion can boost a user's heart rate, blood circulation, muscle tone and breathing. Exercycle claims people with Parkinson's disease, injury, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other conditions can benefit.

Mr. Blumenthal knows something about trying to find exercise equipment for the ill and disabled. About four years ago, while bicycling in preparation for an Ironman triathlon, the entrepreneur and former owner of Frame King stores was hit by a truck.

The accident broke his back. Doctors told him he would probably never walk again.

Mr. Blumenthal recovered and began searching for a new business opportunity. A friend told him about the Theracycle.

''All of a sudden my passion for entrepreneurism and my passion for exercise and my goal to do something with my life came together when I saw this bicycle,'' he said.

At that point, Exercycle was in receivership. Mr. Blumenthal bought the company last December, moved manufacturing to Franklin from Woonsocket, R.I., and restarted production in February. Exercycle made traditional exercise bicycles in the past, but Mr. Blumenthal refocused the company on the disability market.

The Theracycle, which sells for $3,000, is the only product the company makes and sells. Mr. Blumenthal said the company may relaunch the Exercycle machine in the future, but for older users.

Exercycle, which employs five people, also should be profitable by year-end, Mr. Blumenthal said.

After he bought the company, Mr. Blumenthal outsourced much of its production. But he maintained ties with L&R of Worcester, which has supplied bent, tubular metal to Exercycle for about 20 years.

The recent redesign of the Theracycle lowers the profile of the machine. On current bicycles, users must swing a leg over metal bars about nine inches off the ground. The new design would lower the metal bars to the floor, leaving the user almost no obstacle.

''The theory is they can actually put a wheelchair up to it,'' said Robert M. Ritter, L&R president and chief executive.

L&R, which employs eight people and supplies tubular metal products to a number of customers, began working on the redesign months ago. Now the company is looking at whether it might be possible to use sheet metal to lower the profile of the bicycle even more, so users would not have to step across any tubes to reach the machine's seat, said Jack Erickson, L&R general manager.

''We hope (the Theracycle) raises awareness that there's something out there for people,'' Mr. Erickson said.

For Ms. Lyvers, the Theracycle has become part of her routine. She cycles about five times a week, for about 25 minutes each time, at one of the highest settings available. She pushes herself as hard as she can, stretching out over the handlebars as they move back and forth.

''It's not like going out and running 20 miles,'' Ms. Lyvers said. But ''for range of motion, it's terrific. Just getting my legs moving and my arms. And I think that movement is very important. I could stay, you know, stiff and lying in bed, and I've never been one for doing that. I've always tried to push my body to do as much as I can, and the Theracycle helps.''

© Copyright 2002 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc