An innovative idea
By reading the article, it also became clear that patients had to come to a special laboratory on the university campus to get such treatment. I immediately thought to myself that this technique should be made accessible for people in their homes. During the following years, I carried this idea with me as I continued studying and later working at the university.
Because of my studies in toxicology and exercise physiology I have always been aware of the consequences of spinal cord injury. Paralysis is not only devastating in itself but also accompanied by issues like severe muscle and bone wastage and decreased blood circulation, which can result in tissue problems. Furthermore, if you cannot move your body enough, there will be a greater risk of heart and vascular disease.
FES offers a solution to such problems, especially when combined with cardiovascular exercise. The problem, however, was that appropriate stimulation devices were rarely seen in rehabilitation centers let alone in the homes of those who needed them. My idea was to combine the FES technology with a compact stationary bike or a tricycle to enable the user to train at home or even outside on the road.
When my relationship ended in 2000, and I was living alone again, I suddenly had the time to further develop my idea. I recognized that there had already been attempts to construct a bike with FES technology in six different countries. However, the restricted distance that could be covered by the power of functionally stimulated muscles alone made all earlier attempts rather worthless. To support the movement of the stimulated muscles and get more out of the training, I decided to combine FES technology with a tricycle propelled by leg as well as arm power.
That was the birth of the BerkelBike, a combination of handcycle and recumbent bike driven by both foot pedals and arm crank. In that way, weak legs could be supported in performing the pedaling motion and a full body workout was created.
The realization process
I wrote up my ideas in 2000 and sent the sketches to three institutions to get a subsidy. Back then, I was still working at the University of Nijmegen and finding the means to finance further development of my idea had top priority. Then, a few months later, I won the “Millenniumprijs”, a Dutch advancement award, with the first technical drawings. The first prototype could be built.
In 2002, the prototype was awarded the Herman Wijffels Innovation Award. It was then when I decided to quit my job to work on the project full time and not much later I founded the company BerkelBike BV.
Further funding followed, and further prototypes were built. On top of this, it was now possible to conduct a first clinical trial to investigate the effects of the BerkelBike. Ten people with a thoracic spinal cord injury participated in the study that was carried out in cooperation with the Sint Maartenskliniek rehabilitation center and the medical faculty of the Radboud University Nijmegen. During a period of 16 weeks, it was measured how the training with the BerkelBike affected their body condition.
The results were promising! Not only was there an increase in muscle mass and blood circulation in the legs of the participants, there were also clear signs of improved oxygen uptake and metabolic activity when compared to training with a standard handbike.
Finally in 2005, the time had come to present the first sellable version of the BerkelBike at a press conference in the Sint Maartenskliniek. Soon after the market introduction, the BerkelBike was awarded the Kittz Innovation Price and named best medical device of the last two years.
The Company today
What started as an idea to help people with spinal cord injury turned out to be useful for various medical conditions. By now, hundreds of people in over 20 countries suffering from more than 20 different diseases are using the BerkelBike.
Also people of whom you wouldn’t expect that they could benefit from the BerkelBike, have come to appreciate the propulsion system and the overall flexibility of the product. For example, who could have imagined that today, a legless Afghanistan veteran would describe the BerkelBike as an integral part of his daily life (LINK).
The flexibility of our products has become an essential part of our identity as a company. We strive to make it possible for everyone to use our bikes, no matter the disability. Therefore, we offer a great wealth of accessories to adjust the bike to your special needs, and we have undertaken plenty of individual adaptations in cases where our accessories weren’t enough. From anti-decubitus cushioning and dog baskets to controlling the bike without the use of your hands, just give us a call and we will do everything in our power to find a solution to your situation.
The development of the BerkelBike and the BerkelBike FES system was made possible in cooperation with Flevobike, Nijland Revalidatie Techniek, Syntens, JWA Systems and Brainquiry R&D. Special thanks go to Peter Claus and Ben van den Dolder.
United States Patent Number: US 7,293,623 B2