Boy born without arms able to ride his bike with help from innovative device

A boy and a bike. It’s simple. A 13-year-old who wants to spend the summer out riding with his buddies. But for Tim Bannon, 13, it’s a bit more complicated.

“I really wanted, since I was about 7, a real bike,” Tim said. “My grandfather actually just gave me a regular, normal bike out of the trash, like a recycled bike, and I was like, ‘Wow this is amazing.’”

“My dad likes to go around and collect items that he sees in the trash that he doesn’t think are trash, so when he saw that bike he brought it over,” Tim’s mother Linda Bannon said. “Tim was looking at it all the time. He was like, ‘We have to figure out some way that I could ride that bike.’ … Tim has always wanted to do everything everybody else has done.”

And this summer for Tim, that includes riding a bike. It’s a dream his mom understands deeply. Both share the same genetic condition.  They were born without arms. And just like her son, Linda Bannon has always wanted to ride a bicycle, too.

“As a kid growing up, my sister and my cousins and I used to try and figure out ways that I could just hop on one of their bikes and take off like they did,” she said. “Since I kind of grew up knowing how it felt to miss out on that, when Tim said, ‘That’s what I really want,’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll have to figure out how to make that happen.’”

India Jacobson makes prosthetic arms and legs and special braces for kids at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Chicago. But Linda and Tim asked her to make something else; a device that would allow Tim to steer a bike. The materials she needed weren’t in her workshop.

“I went to Home Depot,” Jacobson said. “This is just PVC pipe out of the plumbing department, and then the rest of it we sewed up here. Very simple really and Velcro. We just kind of speedy riveted everything together with some chaffs that swivel a little bit.”

“Being able to give him that experience knowing that there are a lot of things that we can’t figure something out, so when we figure out a way to make that happen we don’t want to pass that up,” Linda Bannon said.

Linda Bannon  has spent a lifetime mastering her movement – from simple to complex tasks. That’s why in a matter of seconds she can attach Tim’s custom-made torso brace – just one component of his biking device.

From there, it’s up to Tim to delicately maneuver the flexible straps so that he can slide the PVC pipes onto the bike’s handlebars -- a process that takes several attempts and doesn’t come without frustration. He practices riding at a park across the street from his house. For now, he’s using an extra set of wheels for balance.

“I’m still trying to figure it out a little bit,” Tim said. “Every part of my body even my legs I have to use in order to work this whole mechanism, and it’s hard to concentrate on peddling the bike, steering and trying to keep the bike straight at the same time. I feel like a real teenage kid that can just hang out with his guys, hang out with his friends. I don’t have to be the odd man out or feel like I’m third wheel or something and having to be different than everybody.”

You may be wondering why Linda and Tim don’t use prosthetic arms. They have tried them in the past but feel they are much more efficient using their feet.