Freedom Ride

­A prototype tricycle would let kids with physical limitations bike independently.

Shabtai Hirshberg is unusually earnest about exercise. As a teen, he turned to running to clear up his asthma, but more than that, the Israeli says, “I discovered it was uplifting.” In 2007, when he was a senior industrial-design student at Hadassah College, in Jerusalem, his enthusiasm became a kind of sports evangelism. Though he wanted to use his final project to encourage others to exercise, he assumed that most people already had the tools to do so at their disposal: a gym, say, or a treadmill in the garage. Then, during a visit to Alyn Hospital, a rehabilitation center for children and teenagers, Hirshberg saw a boy on crutches stubbornly refuse help from a physical therapist as he tried to mount a tricycle, only to get his leg caught on the seat; ultimately, he had to be lifted up and strapped in. “I understood that there’s something wrong,” Hirshberg says, “because if the kid could get around, he should be able to get on the tricycle.”

So the designer spent the next few months working with physical therapists and a rehabilitation psychologist on building a better trike for disabled children. His solution, A2B, combines a sleek aluminum frame with innovative features: pedals that lock the wheels in place, a single back wheel that clears a path to the seat, and a chest support that provides balance without humiliating straps. The design, which he estimates would cost $6,000 in a high-end version, won Hirshberg his school’s first-place prize as well as free tuition to a master’s program. We’ve asked three experts to offer some constructive criticism of the A2B. This is the first in a series we’ll be running on young designers’ prototypes. To submit your own, send a description and images to [email protected].

Leaning into the chest plate is a physical sensation that might mimic racing and be fun to use. In that way, it feels like a contemporary design rather than a stigmatizing therapeutic tool. The orientation of parts also gives the design universal applications. Straps might still be required for kids with more serious challenges. With the steering, I wonder how the cables will work inside that lean frame without a linked system. I’m not sure the idea of translating small movements by the child into big movements on the trike is a safe one anyway.
—Helen Kerr, industrial designer; owner, Kerr & Co.

It’s almost like a fighter-jet cockpit. The electronic steering is a cool feature to have, so if someone doesn’t have enough strength in their arms, they can still navigate it. The overall form is nice, but medical products often have a much longer shelf life—five to ten years—than consumer products. An MP3 player might be out for a year or two and then disappear. It’s a nice, organic feel, but more focused lines and simpler surfacing could give it more of a timeless aesthetic.
—Erik Klemm, senior industrial designer, Giant Bicycle

So many designs out there are big and clunky, and some take two people to get the kid on the bike. They’re hard to pedal, hard to steer, and impossible to transport. This bike is beautiful and sleek—any kid would want to ride it. The things Hirshberg considered are just revolutionary: stepping on the pedals to stabilize the bike, the two big wheels in the front, leaning on the front pad. I wish he had put in some way of making sure the kids can keep their feet on the pedals. But bikes that are $2,000 and above are really unattainable for families because it’s nearly impossible to get third-party payment; you have to go to charity.
—Ginny Paleg, pediatric physical therapist and medical-equipment consultant

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