Friday, 6 April 2018

HOW CAN A SUPER-COOL BIKE CHANGE THE WORLD? HINT: IF IT'S A MOBILITY AID

Here's a question: Who sets out to change the world by designing a mobility aid? 

Unexpected answer: Someone who spent years in Afghanistan building schools for girls.


A few years ago I began reading about the Alinker Walking Bike and was intrigued. So last week, with the help of a mutual friend's invitation, I set out for an Ottawa suburb to meet Barbara Alink, the social entrepreneur and inventor of the Alinker. Barbara is from the The Netherlands and although she lives in Canada now, she still speaks with a soft Dutch accent. Here's a little of our conversation.

ME: How did you become interested in therapy and rehabilitation?


B: I didn't. I am interested in designing for people. I reverse design everything. I don’t focus on fixing a problem. Instead I ask people how they want to live. Most mobility devices are technical solutions for a body with a problem. They're not designed for how you want to live. The challenge I set myself was, 'Can a mobility device be so cool that people without disabilities can wonder how they can be like you?'


John Perry Barlow, lyricist for The Greatful Dead

Model Viktoria Modesta on an Alinker (LA Fashion Week Oct 2016)

ME: So what brought you to designing for older adults and people with disabilities? 

B: Well, I am an architect and I've always been interested in social change and social inclusion. I was building schools in Afghanistan, working with the Turquoise Mountain Foundation and when I went home to The Netherlands, I happened to be out with my mother. She glanced over at some elderly people on the street who were using walkers and scooters. My mother said, "Over my dead body will I ever use one of those!" I set out design a mobility solution for my Mom, but soon discovered that I could set my sights on changing perceptions about people with mobility challenges more generally. 

ME: So what are the features of the Alinker that make it so transformational, not only for users but for the whole of society? 

B: Well, the first thing is that the rider is at eye level with everyone else. This makes conversation easy and it promotes the idea that the rider is someone on a cool bike that offers freedom of movement rather than someone who has limitations. The second thing is that it promotes physical activity. Sitting on the Alinker seat removes gravity, making the forward 'walking' motion on the ground with your feet easier. Riders can travel longer distances without being fatigued.

ME: So how can people try out or purchase an Alinker bike? 

B: The website has that information and check out our partner organizations. Some of our partners are offering members free Alinkers. 

ME: What is the cost of the Alinker? 

BIn Canada the Alinker is sold for CAD $2,480 including taxes, in the United States for USD $1,977, in the Netherlands for $1,650 EUR, in New Zealand for $2,900 NZD, and in Australia for $2,600 AUD. We don't compromise on quality, that's number one for us. There's also a crowdfunding link on our website to make it easy for people who would like to raise the funds to buy a bike that way. 

Here I am on the Alinker - it's super cool and fun to ride - definitely my choice for a mobility bike whenever I need one.



And even if you're not in the market for a mobility device, but just want to know more about what drives someone to design everything from schools in Afghanistan to mobility bikes to change the world, listen to this inspiring TEDX talk by Barbara Alink - Dignity Through Movement. 


Post a Comment