NYU professor designs UAE's first adaptive mountain bike

Wheelchair user Noel Joyce wants physically challenged people to enjoy riding on rough terrain and enjoy nature

Noel Joyce trying out his adaptive mountain bike with Scott Cannie, co-director of athletics at NYU, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Scott Cannie
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A professor who uses a wheelchair has created the first adaptive mountain bike in the UAE to help physically challenged people enjoy the outdoors.

Noel Joyce, a design and innovation professor at New York University in Shanghai, successfully designed and self-tested the bike at Abu Dhabi's Al Hudayriat trial last week.

“I rode along the 15km trail and it was amazing,” Mr Joyce, who lives in Ireland, told The National.

After a mountain bike accident 17 years ago left him having to use a wheelchair, Mr Joyce said he wants people with disabilities to enjoy the thrills of nature and mountain biking outdoors.

He came up with the idea after he found that most of the adaptive bikes available on the market were not suitable for rugged terrain and would often break. Some would take weeks to repair, he said.

My goal is to get one on every trail in the world so that someone with a disability can turn up with a friend and go mountain biking
Noel Joyce, design and innovation professor at New York University, Shanghai

“A lot of the parts are expensive too,” he said. “A lot of disabled people get penalised for using these kinds of technology.”

To get around this, he decided to find a solution by designing a suitable bike himself.

“I went back to the drawing board and redesigned the entire bike that we can get ready within two weeks,” he said.

Adaptive bikes typically cost about $15,000 to $20,000. However, Mr Joyce was able to bring the cost of his bike down to $4,000.

“That means accessibility for more people,” he said.

The bike can also be custom made to suit specific challenges people have.

Mr Joyce and his team will be releasing the design files so that anyone can access it and build a bike.

“For example, I can't walk but I have good upper body strength so I can pedal well. Some people might not have good upper body strength, so they might need a different type of motor or pedal,” he said.

The design has all the components of a motorbike but comes with an electric motor for assistance in driving, 12-speed gear system, wide tyres for grip and weight, and hydraulic disc brakes.

Mr Joyce said he had already launched the bike in New York City in April, before he tested one in the UAE as part of his design project for New York University.

The next launches will take place in Ireland and Shanghai.

“My goal is to get one on every trail in the world so that someone with a disability can turn up with a friend and go mountain biking and get out into nature and go to places where they wouldn't have gone before,” he said.

Mr Joyce said he is passionate about the project because it will help people with challenges to overcome them.

“When I am on the bike, it is like I am not disabled any more. I can go places where I've never been able to go before.

“It's good exercise and also good for your mental well-being. When they do some more of the daring stuff on the bike, they even forget about their disability.

“The point of this project is to try to get people to have that same set of feelings, even if it's a fraction of it. If they can go into the forest and taste a blueberry, that is a powerful thing.”

Updated: June 21, 2023, 3:00 AM