COLONA — Brandy Howell smiled as she pedaled around a parking lot on a sunny Sunday afternoon before snow blasted through the Quad-Cities area last week.
Howell, 38, has been riding a custom-built three-wheeled bicycle for about 26 years. Her uncle, Dave Tighe, and his friend Roger Dewitt designed and built the bike for her in 1993.
Before she had the bicycle, Howell had to crawl to get around. She has cerebral palsy, a disorder in her brain that affects her nervous system and muscles.
As a kid, Howell would watch other kids in the neighborhood ride bikes while sitting with Tighe or other relatives. When she tried to ride a regular tricycle, she tipped over.
Fast forward to 2019, and now she is walking and riding her bike to various bike trails in the area. Tighe credits the bike with Howell’s ability to walk and establish a level of independence. She has been able to participate in baseball and bowling activities through the years.
“She crawled until she was 13. What I honestly believe is this has physically put her on her feet,” Tighe said. “It not only helped her physically; it helped her emotionally, and she got to see things” on her rides.
The bicycle went through a renovation this year, having its frame rebuilt and receiving a new purple finish. Many of its parts were replaced. The bike originally was built on a picnic table over an eight-week period.
“She’s put a lot of miles on it. That’s why we keep rebuilding it,” Tighe said.
He was quick to thank those who helped with the renovation, some of whom did not accept money for their work. They include Doug Matheson at The Chrome Shop in Rock Island, Steve DePron at Bike & Hike in Rock Island, Paul DePauw with BMX Racing Zone in East Moline, Bob Southwick with Southwick Machine & Design in Colona, and Joe Eastman with Joe’s Bargain Barn in Milan.
“A lot of local people have helped me with this bike,” Tighe said.
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The bike even has a seat decoration that advertises what Tighe once considered opening as a business: Rad Rides, with Rad doubling as an acronym for Riding Against Disabilities.
The business never got up and going. Tighe did build a bike for another Quad-Cities area resident, but he lost contact with that family.
Howell works at The Arc of the Quad Cities Area, an organization that offers services to people with disabilities, and she uses the CityVan ride service to get to the Rock Island location. She used to take the daily city bus, but she said that included too many transfers, and she would get home late.
When she was younger, she sometimes got grounded for riding her bike by herself to gas stations. She recalled doing that with a smile.
Tighe is one of the workers building the new Interstate 74 bridge over the Mississippi River between Bettendorf and Moline. That bridge will have a bike path on it once it is open.
He was quick to say the bridge work “is going fine,” and once the new bridge is open, he looks forward to riding on it with Howell.
For now, with warmer days drawing to a close, the bike will go back onto some hooks on the roof of the Howell’s garage ceiling. But it might come down again before 2019 ends.
“A lot of times you’ll get a nice day in November” to ride, Tighe said.