With a 54-mile wheelchair race facing him, Kenny Carnes was traininghard. His hands and arms turned the wheels furiously, propelling hischair to speeds topping 20 miles per hour. Sweat poured from his forehead. His breathing grew heavy.
His chair never moved.
Carnes was not defying the laws of physics. He was taking advantage of the Bug Roller.
The Bug Roller, invented three years ago by Larry Hughes and Michigan bicycle roller manufacturer Greg McLain, isa device that allows disabled people to simulate road workouts indoors.
The Bug Roller works like a treadmill. The wheelchair sits on a set of lathe-turned drums, to which an 8-pound flywheel is attached. The flywheel adds to the momentum of the roller drums, keeping the wheels moving while the operator pauses between wheel strokes.
Regular wheelchairs as well as racing chairs can be used on the Bug Roller. The drums can be set at three different resistance levels. The roller weighs about 75 pounds and requires no tools for assembly, whichtakes 10 minutes.
"The whole idea is to maintain resistance, likeNautilus equipment does," says Hughes, who has used the Bug Roller extensively since 1987. That year, he suffered near-fatal injuries when a van struck him while he trained near his Columbia apartment.
"The Bug Roller builds up endurance, upper-body strength and hand speed," he says. "It's designed to answer any ques
tions you have about your body. Whatever you put into it, you get back. It won't lie to you."
The Bug Roller grew out of a partnership Hughes and McLain struck up in 1986, when Hughes was in Detroit for a marathon wheelchair race. McLain, who has made bicycle rollers for 11 years, was staging an exhibition of his products. Hughes noticed the bike rollers.
"Larry mentioned to my brother, Scott, that he could use something like that for his wheelchair," McLain recalls. "It was Larry's enthusiasm that really got me interested. Without his encouragement and his insistence on what had to be done, I wouldn't have thought about the potential of it. I definitely give him half the credit for the development."
McLain designed his first prototype, and for the next two years, McLain and Hughes exchanged improvement ideas over the phone and through the mail. By 1988, the Bug Roller was ready for production.
"Compared to an actual road workout, this is a hair faster. Stamina-wise, it exhausts you. I do six miles on this and it's like 15 miles on the road," says Carnes, who three weeks ago won the 54-mile Wheelchair Race of Champions in Reston, Va. by 17 minutes.
The Bug Roller costs between $425 and $500 and comes with a five-year guarantee. About 100 have been sold, 50 in the past year. McLain expects salesto increase as more disabled people discover the product.
"Larry has very little to gain from it. He works for me as a salesman and gets a commission for every one he sells," McLain says.
"He just wants to see the product do well and help as many people as he can with it."