Sask. paralympic champion raises money for adaptive bike club

Record-breaking paralympic wheelchair racer Lisa Franks was an outdoorsy kid. After becoming paralyzed 25 years ago, she thought she would have to give up those experiences.

New bikes, which cost $24,000 each, would accommodate a wide range of disabilities

Lisa Franks is the president of the Saskatchewan Adaptive Mountain Bike Club. (Submitted by Lisa Franks)

Record-breaking paralympic wheelchair racer Lisa Franks was an outdoorsy kid.

Growing up in the Moose Jaw area, she loved exploring the trails around Buffalo Pound and getting out in nature on her bike or cross-country skis. But after becoming paralyzed 25 years ago, she thought she would have to give up those outdoor experiences. 

"The wheelchair just doesn't access nature very well," said Franks. "There are so many barriers to getting out."

In 2017, Franks learned about an adaptive mountain bike rental in Alberta. As soon as she tried it, she was hooked.

"I just fell in love with the freedom that came with the bikes and decided I wanted to pursue it and hopefully get more people involved as well," she said. 

Franks has competed in Paralympic wheelchair racing and basketball, and set world records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m and marathon wheelchair racing events. (Submitted by Lisa Franks)

Now Franks is the president of the Saskatchewan Adaptive Mountain Bike Club, which launched in 2019 to loan out adaptive bikes and "get people outdoors and riding who otherwise wouldn't be able to."

"It takes that barrier away and I can get out in nature," she said. "I can be completely on my own or I can be with friends and family that are able-bodied, and I can do activities like hiking or biking alongside them."

She said she loves how the equipment can be used in a variety of situations.

"You can go on a nice little leisurely hike sort of thing, or you could get into really aggressive downhill trails. There's a really broad range."

The club currently has two kneeling-style adaptive bikes that allow people to steer, pedal and brake with their arms, but those bikes are now 10 years old and aren't well suited to everyone who wants to use them. 

"Some people aren't flexible enough to get into that position, or maybe they're paralyzed too high and they just don't have the function to be able to ride that style of bike," said Franks. "We even have one person who was too tall to actually get on the bike."

Getting back to nature and exploring Saskatoon's trails with adapative bikes

1 year ago
Duration 1:52
Paralympian Lisa Franks wants to help people enjoy the outdoors by fundraising to help make adaptive bikes more accessible

The club is fundraising for two new Bowhead Reach bikes, which each cost $24,000. Franks describes these bikes as "an outstanding piece of equipment" that would accommodate more cyclists with varying levels of disabilities. Also, with their narrower frames, the Bowhead Reaches would be able to go down some trails where the current bikes simply do not fit.

"All adaptive equipment is very, very expensive, even if it's just a regular wheelchair or a standing frame," said Franks. "It's not like they're making thousands and thousands of these things and you could just go pick one up at your local store."

Franks enjoys exploring the trails around Saskatchewan with her friends, family and fellow club members. (Submitted by Lisa Franks)

Franks says the province's mountain biking community has been very supportive of the club's efforts. 

"I think a lot of the mountain bike community recognizes that they're pretty lucky to be able to go to a local bike store and pick up a bike for a few hundred or under a thousand dollars," she said. "And they recognize that's just not possible when you have this specialized, custom equipment." 

For Franks herself, having use of these new bikes would allow her to return to some of her favourite trails from her childhood. 

"I'm just excited to get out on trails I'd never thought I could even get on," she said. "At Buffalo Pound, they have a really good trail system going out there. I've ridden a few of the trails that are accommodating for the bikes we currently have, but I know there's so much more out there."