Saturday, November 7, 2015

MED BIZ | Cycle v Wheelchair - The Alinker™

The bicycle, it seems, originated in 1817
 in Germany as a running aid. The Germans
 never loved it as much as the Dutch. 
I am at the Social Venture Network conference in Baltimore and there is a new invention on display here, the Alinker™. I have tried it out and it works.

It looks a lot like the very first bicycle, invented nearly 200 years ago.

It's being positioned as a medical device–a replacement for the wheelchair. It is useful for people who can still walk but need assistance because their legs are weak. It provides mobility while not reducing the patient to total dependence. It provides mobility but doesn't end exercise.

It's like the difference between assisted living and a nursing home. A big difference...

Hobby horse with morris dancers.
I like the walking cycle for three reasons:

First, it keeps its users more active than a wheelchair.

Second, it allows the users to socialize more easily because they are upright.

Third, it is simpler than a motorized wheelchair and promises to be much cheaper, which matters a lot when we look down the road at looming medical costs for elderly people.

The new invention even shares the yellow color of the original walking cycle.

The First Bicycles
The Penny Farthing

I confess to a bias in favor of bicycles. I've been writing about them frequently over the years–for example, here.

  • They are so darned efficient.
  • Their concept is so simple. The original bicycle was a running cycle, with no pedals or chains or even brakes. Without pedals, the cycle doesn't go fast enough on level ground to need brakes–you stop the same way you stop running.
  • The early name for the running cycles was a "hobby horse", such as were used by morris dancers (see drawing) in England.
  • My Dutch relatives were pioneers in use of the bicycle in that country.


The major innovation in the 19th century was the addition of pedals.

After some experimentation, the penny-farthing bicycle became the most popular shape.

My great-grandfather Charles Boissevain is said to be the first person to bring a penny-farthing to Holland, a country that quickly cottoned on to it.

Germany, which was the origin of the first bicycle, never became a great user of it in the 1920s when it became the rage in Holland. Perhaps it was because the German landscape is more mountainous than Holland's. Germany was also deeply disoriented by the onerous reparations of the Versailles treaty at the beginning of the decade and the Crash of 1929 at its end and had no disposal income to spend on new ideas.

The 19th century bicycle had two serious problems:
  • The hard wheels made a "bone-shaker" of a ride.
  • The potential for the bicycle to get up some speed without a corresponding brake made it dangerous.
The Safety Bicycle
The Alinker™ in use.

The "safety bicycle" developed in the 20th century changed the shape back to two even wheels and added four things:
  • A chain to shift the force from the pedal to the back wheel and allowing the pedal to be located between the two wheels, which made the bicycle much safer.
  • Gears to control the revolutions of the pedal that were required per distance traveled.
  • Rubber wheels and inner tubes filled with air, providing a smooth ride.
  • A brake, either a back-pedaling mechanism or (better) calipers on the handles.
During World War II when gasoline was scarce, the bicycle was a transportation godsend for the Dutch people.

The tricycle has in recent decades been rediscovered in communities with many elderly people, where it can be used for recreation when a bicycle is too arduous, or for travel over short distances – to do shopping, walk a dog or meet with friends.

The 21st Century Alinker™

Your blogger on the Alinker™with its inventor, Barbara
Alink. I took it for a spin at the Social Venture Network
Conference in Baltimore. Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
The brand-new Alinker™ invention has three main differences from the original bicycle. The color, at least for the prototypes, is the same, but:
  • It uses the tricycle approach for the elderly as has been rediscovered in Florida, with two wheels in front.
  • It uses pneumatic tubes on the wheels for a smoother ride.
  • It is shaped more like the later 19th century penny-farthing cycles, with the larger wheels in front for maneuverability. The small turning radius is equivalent to that of a wheelchair, so that it can be used indoors.
The most interesting feature of the Alinker™ is that it can be used indoors like a wheelchair.

Its simplicity means that once in full production the price can be brought down and it could compete on price as well as function with the wheelchair in cases where people need support but have use of their legs for propulsion.

Right now the price is $2,000. For further information go to, or email