Barbara Kane-Lewis: bicycle champion

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Barbara Kane-Lewis grew up in the Binghamton area but travelled as much as she could before returning to upstate New York. After settling near Greene, New York, she visited Ithaca often, and after she retired, she moved to a mobile home park in the Hamlet of Varna.

“I always met interesting people when I visited Ithaca, but housing is so expensive here that I needed to find an affordable option,” Barbara said. “Luckily, in my development, we have a nice sense of community—people of all ages, ethnicity, occupations, young families, and retirees.”

Her development is within walking distance of the Varna Community Center, where residents can take tai chi classes on Sunday morning or dine at the popular pancake breakfast every second Sunday of the month.

“I loved living in Ithaca right from the first and started participating in many community activities, hiking the nature trails and attending concerts at the colleges,” she said. “I was confident that I had found the right home.”

As Barbara settled into her new life in Varna, she began developing back problems; soon, walking even short distances became painful. She wanted to stay active, and she found her tai chi classes were helpful, but she knew she needed something more.

“I heard about recumbent exercise bikes, which might improve my back, so I searched Craigslist for one,” she said. “By a stroke of luck, a student leaving town was selling his bike. I tried it out and bought it!”

Every day, she bicycled on her front porch for one minute longer than the day before. By the time she could bike for 30 minutes on her porch, she was feeling stronger and could walk with less pain.

“A couple of friends observed, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could ride outside?’” she said. “I wasn’t sure how this would be possible. I was already 65, had never ridden or owned a bike in my life.”

Her father, in his late 90s, had always been a bike enthusiast, starting out as a bicycle messenger in the 1930s. In retirement, he kept biking, but because of balance issues, he was no longer able to ride a two-wheeler, and began to look for alternatives.

“One day he called me up to tell me he had a new bike and invited me to come down to check it out,” Barbara said. “When I arrived, I was really surprised. He had a three-wheel recumbent trike, which had two wheels in the front and one wheel in the rear. He let me take it for a spin, and I loved it from the very first minute. I really wanted a trike, but how could I afford it?”

Amazingly enough, a few days later, she received a check in the mail from a company she had worked for years ago, refunding a payment she’d made to their retirement system.

“When I looked at the check, I was amazed to see it was almost exactly the amount I would need to buy a trike,” she said. “I wasted no time in finding one and have loved it from the very first day. … Being on a bike provides more than just exercise; I am in the fresh air surrounded by nature. It is just the best.”

Two years ago, Barbara heard that Bike Walk Tompkins was inviting people to become Bicycle Champions.

“I wasn’t sure I was who they had in mind, a senior adult with a funny three-wheel trike, but I decided to give it a try,” she said. “To my amazement, I was hired!”

As a Champion, Barbara has been able to plan and hold events for all types of cyclists with all kinds of needs. Her goal is to increase access and opportunities for everyone.

Barbara said she is grateful for the good people she gets to work with.

“I love the people I work with—Victoria Armstrong, Hector Chang, Linda Holzbaur from Bike Walk Tompkins, as well as Kim Olsen, Ithaca Youth Bureau and Jeff Goodmark from Lime, plus countless wonderful volunteers and people from other agencies,” she said. “With the help of all these fabulous people, I have been able to set up Trike Rides, help older adults get back on a bike, provide helmets to riders of all ages, do whatever I can to build a larger, safer, biking community.”

Now, six years after she bought her trike, Barbara is a booster of biking that can work for all people - old and young, able-bodied or challenged, and she’s proud to do it.

“I love this job and feel so grateful to have the chance to do this work,” she said. “If you have ever missed biking or wanted to give it a try, do yourself a favor, I’d be glad to help you anytime!”

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