I just watched a video from OSCON 2007 discussing open source hardware by Philip Torrone and Limor Fried. They talked about all sorts of cool things, but something that grabbed my attention was reference to The Open Prosthetics Project. I have all my limbs in working order, but my sister had lost part of her right hand in an accident as a child. She has most of her palm, but her thumb and all of her fingers are missing. She was never interested in getting a prosthesis and now, after many years, it very unlikely she would be willing to relearn everything she’s learned to do with one hand. Of course, she never has had much success with my favorite pastime – riding a bicycle.

Sure, she can rest her palm on the handlebar, and with the right brake lever and shifter switched to the left side she can take an easy, flat route for some distance. But, add some rough terrain or the need to stand up or pull on the handlebars, and its a no-go. She’s always been the type of girl you find out playing ball with the boys, so when our father, our brother, myself, and more recently, her husband would come back from our mountain bike excursions all pumped up and covered in mud, she would wish she could have come along.Yeah, my sister rocks! Naturally, we wanted her to come along as well. I had been throwing some ideas around in my head as had my father and brother. Interestingly, when we shared our ideas, they weren’t that much different, although mine was a little more developed. Unfortunately, none of us have done anything about it yet.

Seeing The Open Prosthetics Project has rekindled that desire to find a working solution. As I read every page in their site, the design ideas came flooding back. In the past I had done some searching online for existing solutions and found them all exorbitantly priced. Additionally, they all were for people who were missing most of their lower arm or more. The mechanisms replaced the arm, wrist and possibly the elbow. My sister has no need for that. She simply needs her palm secured to the handlebar so that it doesn’t slip off, or so that she can pull for additional leverage while pedaling hard. At the same time, securely tying her hand to the bar would present a safety issue in the event of a crash. She would need to be able to separate from the bike on a moments notice. Additionally, whatever mechanism used can be stationary as she has full use and movement of her wrist, and it should not extend the length of her arm more that an inch or two.

So, what type of device allows one to push and pull securely, releases quickly, perhaps with a twist, and is relatively thin? If your thinking clipless pedals, you’d be right. I’ve always imagined some type of glove that either laces up the arm or uses the principle of a Chinese finger trap. The “palm” of the glove would have a “sole” with a clip mounted to it. Initially, I considered cutting the handlebar off short and threading a clipless pedal into the end. However, the rotating pedal could make for some sloppy control and as she still has full use of her wrist, would not be necessary. Then, it occurred to me that there isn’t any reason the surface of the pedal couldn’t be clamped right to the handlebar. I have given that some serious thought and have a pretty sold model in my head. It just needs to be moved paper/screen. The dilemma has always been the issue of the glove.

Needless to say, seeing OPP’s very similar take on the Chinese finger trap, I am re-motivated to continue pursuing my design. Perhaps with some collaboration with OPP, we can realize a working product. I don’t see why slight variations on the glove wouldn’t work for others who may be missing just enough of their fingers that it’s difficult to hold on. I have downloaded the free CAD program OPP recommends and will post more when I have something to show all two of my readers.