When I first saw Selma Blair posting about the Alinker walking bike on Instagram, I thought: That’s really cool…but not for me. I have multiple sclerosis, too, but my walking is fine. My legs are fine. I don’t use any other devices to get around. Why would I need one of these? But Selma kept talking about it, and I kept thinking about it. Could I do more or go farther if I did have assistance?
So I reached out to Alinker to see if there was somewhere I could try one. Barbara Alink, the owner and inventor, got me in touch with a lovely local woman who let me borrow hers, and after that, my wheels were definitely turning (pun 100% intended).
With all this research coming out about how staying active can help preserve brain health in people with MS, I wondered if the Alinker might be the missing link for people who straddle that line between being able-bodied and disabled. Selma’s Alinker was the first walking bike I saw, and I was curious to find out if there were others out there. Who was using them? Why hadn’t I heard more about them until now? And in that moment, I started a mission to learn more about walking assistance devices and to see how they could help my community.
Turns out, there’s only one other option I could find that’s comparable: The Van Raam Walking Support Bike. I reached out to the company, and they were kind enough to send me one to test for this review. Here’s my take on both:
The Alinker has three wheels, two in the front and one in the back, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone who may have balance difficulties. The width of the front wheels is the same as standard-sized wheelchair, so it fits through doors with ease. The Alinker also comes in three sizes, which means almost anyone can find one that will fit their body. The bike is uniquely designed, and its bright yellow frame draws lots of attention, which could be a pro or a con depending on your preference. While I didn’t run into any issues with access to public places like stores, it’s possible that you could be stopped and need to explain the purpose of this mobility device. One drawback: The three-wheel design may make it tricky to take into small stores or restaurants.
The Alinker is great on paved paths, gravel, and even mud thanks to its big, thick-treaded tires, which by the way, pop off for transport with the push of a button. I was able to keep pace very easily with those around me, and though my legs were doing the work, I didn’t feel tired like I do after a long walk. If you find yourself picking up some speed, you can rest your feet on the front axle and coast, or just pull the hand brake to slow down. Because you can rest your feet on the front axle, a friend could easily push or pull you if you ever needed a little help getting up a hill or if you were stuck.
The Alinker folds down, and the seat and tires can be removed for transport, making it fit in almost any trunk or back-seat area. That said, there are no designated handles for holding it while folded, and I found that carrying its 26-pound frame through my front door to be a little awkward. But once I did get it outside, it was only a matter of seconds before I had it put together and ready to ride.
The Alinker retails at $1,977, which makes this walking bike a large investment. Currently health-insurance providers will not share the cost on this one so the Alinker company does provide a rent-to-own program and even helps customers set up their own crowdfunding campaigns. Check out their site for details and to order.
What I loved about it:
Easy to assemble and ride
The three-wheel design leaves no fear of losing your balance
It stands upright when in its folded position
What I wish it had:
An easier way to carry it
The Van Raam Walking Support Bike
Van Raam’s Walking Support Bike looks like a traditional bicycle with two wheels minus the pedals. The bike has low support bars on the frame, which makes getting on easy. There’s no need to lift your legs to get settled. You can adjust the seat and handlebars to your height. I found that it took some time to get the handlebars and seat adjusted properly, but once I did it was quite a comfortable ride. The bike is very compact, making it an ideal tool to take with you many places; however, because it looks like a regular bicycle, you’ll probably have to explain why you’re using it to cruise into public places.
The Van Raam is really fun to ride, and when I was on my own, I’d fly down sidewalks with ease. But because you do need a certain amount of speed to maintain your balance (just like you do on a standard bike), walks with my husband were harder. Riding with a friend who jogs would probably work better if you want some company. Like the Alinker, this bike was also great on paved paths, gravel and mud, and I found it very easy to maneuver going up and down hills. The more I ride this bike the more I like it. With its slim profile, it’s great for sidewalks or in busy areas. That said, if you’ve got balance issues, the two-wheeled design is going to be tough.
At 19 pounds, the bike is easy to maneuver, especially when the back wheel is folded in, cutting the length almost in half and making it incredibly portable. I had no problem picking it up and taking it in and out of my house or car, but in its folded state it doesn’t stand up very well on its own, making it a bit cumbersome to store.
The Walking Support Bike retails at $735 and is not covered under health insurance plans at this time. You have to order it through one of the company’s US dealers. Find them here.
What I loved about it:
It was very fun to ride
It comes with an adorable bell
What I wish it had:
A more stable standing position when folded
A guide to help you find the best handlebar/seat height
After using both the Alinker and the Van Raam Walking Support Bike, I realized that these are both definitely for me—or anyone else living with MS who still has use of their legs but may need a bit more support than a cane or walker can offer. It felt so good to be able to keep up with those around me, and honestly, both bikes look so cool. People are curious about them and ask questions, which helps open up the conversation about mobility aids in general and blast through those stereotypes. If you find yourself a little tired after a long walk, or sitting out of activities in the sun, either of these bikes would be a great way to keep you out and about interacting with the world.