When Christian Bagg broke his back and became paralyzed from the waist down 26 years ago, he feared he wouldn’t be able to continue doing the things he loved, like snowboarding, climbing and cycling .
But with a background in machining, he thought, why not invent a solution? As an apprentice in the engineering department at the University of Calgary, he was able to turn his ideas into reality.
More than two decades later, Bagg is back to gravel racing, cyclocross racing and mountain trail riding, all while riding an adaptive bike he created.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Bagg said.
“We want the bike world to be as big for the adaptive crowd as it is for the able-bodied crowd.”
Bagg is the founder of Bowhead Corp., a Calgary-based adapted dirt bike company that aims to give people with disabilities better access to the outdoors.
The company has sold bikes to people all over the world, Bagg says, from Chile to Norway to Australia. The bikes were also just featured on a recent episode of Amazing Race Canada.
Other adaptive bikes exist, but he found them cumbersome or unable to maneuver on the rough trails he wanted to explore. The wheelchairs weren’t working either, as they were tipping over on unstable ground.
“The mechanism of the bicycle allows one wheel to be higher and one wheel to be lower,” he said.
“We’re going through nature, over obstacles, side slopes, leaning into corners and really creating a three-wheeled version of a two-wheeled bike – and it really fits perfectly with how a cyclist would ride. .”
Originally, Bagg just wanted to be able to hike again with his friends and family. But then he met a young girl with cerebral palsy and saw her reaction to his invention.
“At that time, it was like, OK, this has to be for everyone.”
The company moved from basement to office space just two years ago. His team has grown to include engineers, content creators, and athletes who have suffered injuries.
People use the bikes to hop in bike parks, walk their dogs or compete alongside able-bodied athletes, Bagg says.
“A lot of times with geared gear, you’re limited by the gear. But in this scenario, you’re really only limited by yourself in what you can do.”
Bowhead Corp. has released two bike models so far and a third is on the way.
One is an all-electric bicycle, which some quadriplegic motorcyclists can use thanks to an adapted handlebar. The other is operated by a crank, but it has an assist motor.
“We are very unique in the world when it comes to our technology,” Bagg said.
“The suspension is tilt independent. The tilt is independent of steering, so this level of control is unique.”
Max Flowerday is a trainee engineer in the team’s research and development department. For him, the bikes are great for simulating a more traditional mountain biking experience.
“What the articulated front end does is it allows the rider to lean into the turn and ride the same way as a non-adaptive bike. So that’s super important,” he said. he declares.
“It’s not like you’re driving a shopping cart. You’re driving something that really provides that immersive experience.”
It is important that designers carefully think through all the details. Flowerday says he came up with an idea to make sure the bike chain wouldn’t derail, as some of the company’s customers would struggle to fix this on the fly.
“Something we try to focus on is making these bikes as reliable as possible.”
Designs also evolve, and when a bike is upgraded, new parts are compatible with older models. Bagg says he wanted customers to be able to swap out components to customize their ride.
“I know what our customers can do now. I want to see what they can do five years from now if we put all our brains together at Bowhead and give them something amazing,” he said.
“It’s just freedom”
Gustavo Ortiz, a mountain bike racer from Chile, is back racing after discovering the business.
He was injured while visiting Whistler five years ago and says it was hard to get excited about the sport again. When he got on one of Bowhead’s bikes, his passion was reignited, he said.
“It’s just a freedom for me. It’s like I can go anywhere I want without help,” he said. “I’m really happy about it.”
He has already participated in a few competitions in Canada this summer and plans to continue working around the circuit.
It’s stories like this that continue to drive the Bowhead team forward. Bagg says they continue to evolve and want to expand into adaptive wheelchairs while continuing to improve their current products.
And as the company progresses, Bagg continues to reap the rewards of his labor.
On the trails, it handles long steep climbs, navigates rocky trails and weaves through tight trails.
“You get this kind of euphoric effort, you know, sweating and heart pounding, and you’re out there with your friends on their bikes and they feel the same way,” he said.
“It’s something I thought I lost that I got back with this bike.”