Episode 52 - Lee Riethmuller

July 31, 2019 16 min read

Episode 52 - Lee Riethmuller

 

In Episode 52 of the All Torque Podcast, Lee Reithmuller of Rocksy Handcycles chats with us about his interesting and inspiring story of creating adaptive mountain bikes as a side hustle. Lee helps “wheelies” get off flat surfaces and into the natural environment with their unique Off-Road Handcycles. 

Lee has built different bikes over the years and personally facilitates the design and engineering contractors involved in creating the production of these adaptive mountain bikes in Australia.

In this episode we cover:

  • Lee’s story and the highs and lows of his journey to do what he’s doing today.
  • His inspiration in starting to make wheelchair bikes.
  • Manufacturing their first prototype bike.
  • The changes that his bikes have gone through over the years from the time he started to the present.
  • Lee tells us more about developing his most recent bucket bike and his athlete, Daniel McCoy.
  • Funny stories that Lee has had throughout his journey of creating bikes.
  • The future of biking for athletes with disabilities.
  • The most interesting things he has seen with the work that he does.
  • The people and experiences that inspire Lee the most.

Links

Transcript:

FELICITY:

Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque. 

This is Episode 52. I have here today Lee Riethmuller from Rocksy Handcycles who creates adaptive mountain bikes as a side hustle. Facilitating the design and engineering contractors involved in creating the production of adaptive mountain bikes in Australia. Getting “Wheelies” off flat surfaces and into the natural environment with Off Road Handcycles. Your background includes Pre-vocational Cabinet Making and Wood Machining, Certificate III in Heavy Earthmoving Equipment, Diesel Mechanics Technology/Technician, Diploma of Business, Agribusiness and Agriculture, Sustainable Grain Production and Cotton Production, Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and also in Work Health and Safety. Working as a Research Agronomist, Bespoke Furniture and Restoration, and now as a Research Agronomist with CSIRO for over three years. 

Welcome, Lee.

LEE:

Thanks, Felicity. I’m listening to your podcast. First-time caller.

FELICITY:

Yes. Thank you. That’s great. I love it. Tell us about your story, Lee. It’s quite interesting what you’re doing. And we’d love to hear about it from how did you get started and what the highs and lows of your journey?

LEE:

Okay. Well, I’m a little bit embarrassed about my career-direction, to be honest, there. But I think it’s kind of an important thing. And of all of these changes of jobs and redundancies, job losses, moved towns, moved states in Australia, worked in Canada; all over the place. All of these random people that I’ve met in the last 20 years are now part; they’re the cornerstone of the whole wheelchair bike project, really. Because I did work experience in high school with Damien. He is now Frame Builder; that’s Frame Builder/Designer. It’s the two of us who really come up with some good designs of the prototypes. And our prototypes are race-ready. It’s not just a one-off bike that doesn’t work. They seem to be magically, accidentally turned out to fit people just right and actually worked very well. Same with the guy, Liam, from LSM Composites, he helped me build my Gemini in 1999; my rally car. He owns a carbon fibre business now; fix the seats on the knee rest for the three-wheeler handcycles and for the two-wheeled bucket bikes.

FELICITY:

And what prompted you to do that, Lee? Like you’ve done all these different vocations and it’s quite a contrast and interesting. So how did you actually get into doing this? What inspired you? 

LEE:

I was doing the [inaudible 3:02] in Queensland and then I used to work for Caterpillar with a guy called Rodney. And he broke his back that time. And I was talking to him about his process and test his positivity on life, really. And then when we left home by one of the mountain bike makers of Queensland and moved to Dalby, it’s just a floodplain flat finding area that all my friends said, “Well, you can’t ride on your mountain bike now that you’re on flat.” I said, “Well, no. This is perfect. This is excellent for Rodney to ride a handcycle because it’s flat and it’s not uphill. And it’s also good for me, personally, because I had small children and we can have the little kid’s triangles put on the bike.” That’s a perfect fit. So it’s a great small, country-type, community for that. The housing’s affordable so I can really spend a lot of money at bike shops and then engineer it because I was pretty motivated.

FELICITY:

Yes.

LEE:

We built a giant shed in our backyard in Dalby, too, to produce some bikes. And because we don’t have a huge timeline, we can do it. 

FELICITY:

So you did your first prototype with your work colleague that you could test it on. And encouraged him to use it and become agile, like basically, be able to move around? 

LEE:

Yes, that’s how it started. I’ve sort of done some research and then I came across Break the Boundary, which is a great charity-driven out of Perth. And they’ve got a huge following over there; dirty bikes and a great big club. And they’re trying to go national now. They’ve got the backing of Mountain Bike Australia, the peak body. So yes, it’s kind of all three of us worked together between Break the Boundary, the charity, Mountain Bike Australia and me trying to facilitate building some bikes in Australia instead of just importing them from Poland or America. Because there’s only two other manufacturers that make three-wheeler kneelers. And the two-wheeler bucket bikes, there’s only my bike; my red bike that you’ve got the picture of. I’m the 13th in the world.

FELICITY:

Wow. That’s pretty radical.

LEE:

It is. 

FELICITY:

Unique.

LEE:

Yes.

FELICITY:

So how was it adapted from when you built your first one to what you’ve built now, which is the bucket bike that you’re going to race in the USA later this year? How was it developed from your first one to this latest one?

LEE:

The whole project has taken on a life of its own. It’s beyond anything about me because I sort of tried to make one bike for Rodney. And then it came out that there was this business navigator that could you see gas and shell made this local, regional Queensland competition for start-up businesses. And I entered that and won 3rd place, and just through that prize money, their encouragement, half of the prize was to get allocated a business coach for two years. So that’s thousands of dollars’ worth of business coaching in there. And the support, it’s just like, “Hey mate. Just don’t build one bike as a one-off. You should really make a series of bikes and progress it further.” 

FELICITY:

Well, congratulations on winning that; becoming third. That’s fantastic.   

LEE:

Oh, yes. It was a great compliment. I went for into these series of making 5 three-wheelers and a couple of my friends kept sending me pictures on Instagram of this guy in New Zealand with a two-wheel electric bike. So I’ve got; I’ve joined Instagram, as a 41, because there’s no 40-year olds on Instagram. I contacted this guy in New Zealand.

FELICITY:

I think there are, Lee.

LEE:

Well, I didn’t want to be. 

FELICITY:

I know.

LEE:

So I did send him a message. A month later, I’ve flown over to Crankworx in New Zealand and spent a week with him.

FELICITY:

Wow. That’s fantastic.

LEE

Came back here. And we’ve built our own and now we’re going to race against him in America.

FELICITY:

See, that just shows you the power of social media and that there are no boundaries. So how fantastic is that? Like, you wouldn’t have been able to do that many years ago. And so, look what that opportunities opened up for you but also for all people that you support and encourage such as Rodney and the other athletes that you’re supporting. Or not necessarily athletes; people you’re encouraging to take up riding because they are disabled in some shape or form. So that’s a really inspirational story. 

Tell us about the bucket bike. And you built that to race in the USA. We’d love to hear about that; how you develop that.

LEE:

Well, I’ve only just kind of finished it. It was the Break the Boundary come and tried it. They flew over from Perth and brought three bikes and three people to run and come and try there for Queensland and test at the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. And that’s how we met; this girl, Rene. And she was a Beijing Olympic BMX. Hopeful; she got 6th in the World Championships in France and she’s supposed to go to the Beijing Olympics in mountain bikes in New Zealand. So she missed out on that. That’s how I met her. And she put me onto Liam Keenan in New Zealand. 

And that’s what you’re saying about the power of social media. She’s like, “Oh, I’m too shy just to randomly messaged some random guy and flew out there and meet him.” “Why not? If you don’t ask, you don’t sort of get an answer.” And we did. And we kind of made friends with him. And just his positivity and his sharing of how his bucket bike, he’s like, “Yes. We want more people on the road in 2020. So if we can get it out there and make it happen, let’s make it happen.” So we’ve come and joined forces there. I think he’ll be annoyed if we beat him in America. 

FELICITY:

Well, it’ll be great. Really great if you do because then, it will just give you greater visibility, really. And I’m sure you’ll gain more traction. And perhaps, support in other areas that you need. 

LEE:

Yes. But leading up to the FOX US Open of Mountain Biking in California in September; originally we were supposed to race a three-wheeler with Daniel McCoy in August in Colorado. But because he's got a Motocross background, he’s going, “Let's take on Doug Henry, the famous US Motocross Champion that’s now in a wheelchair. Let's take him on in September.” So instead of just; I dropped the three-wheeler project and put all of my money and time into the two-wheeler bucket bike.

FELICITY:

Right.

LEE:

We kind of had a bit of a disadvantage because I’ve just stuck it on my own personal 2011 Commencal DH Supreme bike. So we kind of; we are eight years behind everybody else’s technology that’s racing from Liam from New Zealand to Lindsey Ronco from Canada. And all the other guys in America; they’ve all got new bikes or two-year-old bikes; 27.5 wheels or 29 front, 27 rear. So they’ve got some pretty high-end bikes and we’ve got my old 26-inch bike. But, we’ll see how we go. It’s kind of good actually because it’s small, agile, nimble. And the weight; the balance is just right. We can jump this thing at the Motocross track and it jumps great. It’s perfect.

FELICITY:

So with the combinations of your passion, Lee, and sorry; what was your athlete’s name that’s riding it again? 

LEE:

Daniel McCoy.

FELICITY:

Daniel, yes.

LEE:

He’s got a 14-year career in Supercross and Motocross and he broke his back racing in Scotland.  

FELICITY:

Right. In Motocross?

LEE:

In Motocross, yes. So he’s a good; he’s an excellent rider and he’s got a lot of knowledge in the suspension set up but just a little bit of lack of knowledge in mountain biking. That’s why last Saturday we had a coaching session with Ben Forbes. I'm like, "We’ve got an 8-year old bike and 26-inch small wheels. We’re at a disadvantage, what do we do? We'll just bring in Australia’s best coach?" That will speed up time. 

FELICITY:

And hopefully, that will change that time will open your break beyond track and get a great result in the States.

LEE:

I think our disadvantage I think is our biggest advantage because I've been racing rally cars in your night time. It’s buttloads times are always quicker than any day time because you have sort of no knowledge and no fear. You just went for and into it. So the advantage is going to be and just held up flat out.  

FELICITY:

Yes.

LEE:

And I’m pretty confident in our bike because the balance; the setup and the balance is just key. The other guys hold their battery on their lap. Even though they’ve got more riding experience and a better bike, I really don’t think it’s going to be up to what we’ve got with the battery down low. It feels better. Jump square doesn’t kick in the rear end like all the bucket bikes everywhere else seem to have issues with.

FELICITY:

Well, mindset; one of the pivotal things and you’ve got a great mindset, Lee. So I’m looking forward to chatting with you after when you come back and hearing your story there.  Are there any funny stories that you can share with us about your journey along the way of creating these bikes? 

LEE:

Probably Liam Keenan booking me into a wheelchair room in New Zealand because he’s only ever seen me race at the Dalby triathlon on a three-wheeler and on my three-wheeled kneeling mountain bike as well. So he already booked me into a wheelchair room to go to Crankworx.

FELICITY:

Oh, cool.

LEE:

It's like I could walk another wheelchair person and he didn’t even know. 

FELICITY:

Yes. So what did that involve?

LEE:

Oh just because it's got the accessible shower, the wide door rooms for the wheelchair and the shower for wheelchair people and handrails and everything. 

FELICITY:

Yes.

LEE:

Another funny thing was when; that’s how I met Dan. Everybody’s like, “How do you know this famous Motocross guy?” And I’m like, “Oh, just by accident, I bought his…” He had an old aluminium triathlon bike. And he upgraded to a carbon bike USA race bike to get some sick times with. So I bought his old aluminium bike. And I’ve kind of lifted it four inches and put mountain bike wheels on it since then. But anyway, when I went to go and pick up his aluminium triathlon bike, I’ve jumped out of the car, and he’s looked at me and going, "There's nothing wrong with this guy." And I’ve looked at his garage and there’s literally 30 Motocross helmets on one wall and I’ve gone, “Oh, that’s a lot of helmets.” I just didn’t realize he was some famous racing guy. He was killing it for 14 years until he got injured. 

FELICITY:

Yes. Right.

LEE:

And that’s part of the project. “C’mon. You were an international Motocross guy and now be an international adaptive mountain bike racer.” That’s why we started working together.

FELICITY:

Fantastic.

LEE:

And at the coaching; that was a funny story from the coaching last Saturday, which was only a couple of days ago. It was with Ben Forbes was going down with some skills park area such training and he’s got an idea of what they can and can’t do. We’ve done our first; we've driven up to the top of the mountain to do our first run through the forest. And he’s gone off, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, to have two support riders; one in front, one behind. And Ben Forbes has gone off going down the trail. Daniel was gone. And I’ve hit the first log roll being a flat tire. There's just panic. This wheelchair guy strapped to this electric bike that can't walk if he falls over. And I made up the race. Ben Forbes, the coach, is pedalling as fast as he can to meet and catch him on the hand while I was the end of the trail. And he’s got nobody to pick him up. But anyway, by the end of the day, Dan could stop and start off, like he can stop at a tree and then start again. 

FELICITY:

Okay.

LEE:

That’s pretty good. Those other guys; they can only do that after about a year or two years of riding because of the coaching.

FELICITY:

Right. Okay. So it’s a major skill that you need and he’s got that nailed.

LEE:

Oh, yes. Totally.

FELICITY

Great. Awesome. So where do you see it progressing from here, Lee, for athletes with disabilities?

LEE:

It’s kind of an emerging sport. It would be interesting to see what happens in the next two to five years because Mountain Bike Australia, they've already had; they had four triangular bikes in the nationals abroad. There’s another event coming up in November in Tasmania that I’m hopefully going to go to. Crankworx and Whistlers has got an adaptive mountain bike jam. So it’s got some three-wheelers with the European models and a couple of American bikes. And the four-wheeler from Stacy Kohut, which everybody had known because he’s a pretty famous guy that’s been riding since forever. And he’ll be there and then he's riding his bike as well. And people can come and try it. So yes, it’s kind of a big early year. 

The US Open has got; we've got about six or eight people depending on who turns up. And that’s in the two-wheel bucket bikes. It’s kind of three genres, I guess. There’s a three-wheel of handcycle that you power by hand. There's a four-wheeler that you have to go up ski lifts go down some steep ramp with gravity only. There's two-wheelers; that's basically an ordinary able-bodied person bike with an electric motor to keep you upright. 

FELICITY:

So it’s really a sport in it; and you can see, and it’s still got a long way to go like it’s great. It’s a lot of potential there.

LEE:

Yes. And that’s my ultimate dream. Put that down to your vision board. It's going to be mainstream when it starts to hit the Warrior Games in the US or the Invictus Games with Prince Harry. If the defence force picks it up because they’ve only got a road bike, triathlon bikes at the moment. If they pick it up as a mountain bike, then I can see it moving into the Commonwealth games. And then ultimately, only began, so hopefully, in the next 30 years of life, I’ll see it in the Olympic Games. 

FELICITY:

Wow. 

LEE:

Do you remember when triathlon entered the Olympic Games?

FELICITY:

That’s true.

LEE:

They’re all new sports. But that’s not going to happen. I don’t see it happening until some big named [Inaudible 19:52] picked these games or the defence force people pick it up.

FELICITY:

Interesting. It's great that you’ve got such a big vision. Kudos to you.

LEE:

Ambitious.

FELICITY:

Ambitious. That’s right. What is the most interesting thing you’ve seen, Lee, in your travels with everything that you’re doing?

LEE:

That’s hard. That’s a hard question. But I think the most interesting thing that I’ve seen is that these wheelchair girls and guys; some of them have got no limits. There have been riders like me like Andrew Lidawi from Break the Boundary; he has done the cape to cape in Western Australia, a four-day mountain bike event. So that’s pretty epic elite event for just an able-bodied man. But I don’t think I could do it. Maybe if I train for 12 months, I could do it. Daniel McCoy, on his carbon bike, he can hold a 30k an hour average bunch ride up the coast road at the Sunshine Coast, which I may be able to do; I'd be puffing. He can hold it. Yes. He can hold the big bikes until he hits a hill because he’s only pedalling with his arms. Then he sort of struggles, but on the flat, he can hold the bunch ride. No worries at all on the road. Yes.

But the most interesting thing I’ve seen was Sam Froud when he was living in Geelong. Going to University before, he worked for Tiller Bikes in Perth. He made a 3D printed carbon lugs; a 3D titanium lugs with carbon tubes bike. And that’s now what [Inaudible 21:45] and his brother and his sister, that’s their bikes; their mountain bikes. They’re making at the moment. That’s a really interesting progression that I’ve seen and that’s sort of my future. Then I wouldn’t have to rely on the nine contractors that I have at the moment. I could actually print the lugs by the tube from the US and glue it together.

FELICITY:

Right.

LEE:

And that would bring the price down and make that production volume up a lot higher. Watch the space, I guess. 

FELICITY:

That’s right. Well, who knows what’s around the corner with the way things are progressing. And I was going to say, what inspires you the most? But they’re pretty inspiring people that you’ve talked about. Is there anything else that inspires you apart from what you’re actually doing? Is there anything; and also, I guess, like that improvement in reducing the cost as well as the productivity? Because if you’re having to engage nine contractors, that’s quite a bit of work coordinating that and lining things up. So, I guess, is that what inspires you the most? The way that it can be improved?

LEE:

What inspires me the most is this; just the ‘Wheelies’ or the wheelchair people that I’ve met over this time, just their mindset and their positivity after their life-changing event and the happiness.

FELICITY:

That’s right.

LEE:

That’s what life is really about. My God. I lost my job and I lost my house and I had to move and take another job at an original town. But really, these guys have found, they have a lot and they sort of just picked up a different sport and their just living life to their fullest. That’s a really inspiring thing there. 

FELICITY:

Definitely. Yes.

LEE:

And a lot of people asked me why. And they’re like, “Why do you do this? Because you don’t need a wheelchair bike,” or “Are you an engineer?” And I’m not really. I’m the facilitating link between Break the Boundary, Mountain Bike Australia, The Bike Industry or the bike components people that sell bikes. Just the agricultural industrial engineering context that is made of all of these years that can actually pull all these resources together in building these bikes. So it’s kind of a; yes, it’s a big project but it’s very rewarding seeing the happiness and the joy that you can bring to somebody that hasn't been able to ride a two-wheel bike or after two years. Or in Rene’s case, it was 12 and a half. And I made a promise to her, “Mate, we’re going to get you on this bike before 13 years.” And we did it. The Fox on Rocks Female Mountain Bike. It was pretty good to see. 

FELICITY:

Definitely. And you’ll be a great friend to have a mentor. It truly is inspiring especially when those people have suffered such adversity and been able to turn their lives around and be happy people, as you say. I think, in Western society, that’s always something we juggle with sometimes with stressors of life and work. So it’s pretty radical that when you’re physically challenged to be able to embrace that and move on.

LEE:

Oh, yes. 100%. And that was one of the comments that Rene said to my office, like, “I don’t know if I’m helping Lee or Lee is helping me. But we work together. And we inspire each other.” I need their feedback as well, too. I need their feedback; what works, what doesn’t work, what fits, what do we need to change to build the bikes.

FELICITY:

Well, that’s definitely inspiration 101. I’d like to thank you for joining me today, Lee. It’s really been insightful and I’m sure our listeners can take away some of those tips about mindset and also just be happy now, really. Enjoy life.

Our listeners can find you on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. And we’ll have all those details on our show notes on our bodytorque website; which is bodytorque.cc. So on LinkedIn, you’re Lee Riethmuller. And on Instagram, you’re @rocksymtb and Facebook, Rocksy Handcycle. So we’ll have all those details there for everyone to contact you and follow you, really, to see what you’re up to and where you’re at because I know that you travel quite a bit. So thank you very much once again.

LEE:

Thanks, Felicity.

FELICITY:

Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast. 


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