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A hobby and natural inclination toward outdoor sports led Indiana native
Mike Augspurger to come up with several inventions that would help the disabled
to enjoy the sport of competitive cycling.
Augspurger, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1956, is an expert cyclist, a skilled
machinist, and a designer and builder of bicycles. Founder of One-Off
Titanium, Inc. Augspurger is a specialist in custom titanium frame bicycles,
including the first all-terrain handcycle designed for wheelchair athletes.
Augspurger was introduced to world of vehicular sports at an early age by
his parents, who were avid go-cart racers. Later he became interested in motorcycles
and bicycles. He had a Schwinn as a young
boy, which he was happy with, but he wished it was lighter, for the bike weighed
more than he did. Motor power would be even better, he thought. Eventually he
bought a motorcycle and began competing in "trials" which required maneuvering
over very rough, rocky terrain.
After high school Augspurger studied motorcycle mechanics for a year at the
Indiana Institute of Technology and took courses at the University of Evansville.
Later he got a job in a machine shop as a buffer, polishing metal, but he also
learned about machining. He set off for higher education at Hampshire
College in Massachusetts, and graduated with a B.A. in 1981. He took a job
soon after as a pattern maker in another machine shop in Boston. While working
there, he bought his first mountain bike, which he set about improving on with
his new knowledge of machining, engineering and industrial materials. Soon he
began building his own bike frame. He took a job working for a bike factory
in Boston so he could learn more about bicycle construction. He became an exceptional
mountain biker and cyclist, and in 1985, he won third place in national bicycle
trials in Reno, Nevada.
That year Augspurger married Leni Fried, an artist he had met in Boston, whose
creative work would eventually include custom painting her husband's bicycle
frames. In 1987, Augspurger, with his wife and two business partners, founded
Merlin Metalworks, Inc. in Somerville,
Mass. to manufacture bicycle frames and racing wheelchairs. It was one of the
first companies of its kind, using titanium for its bicycle frames, a very strong,
lightweight, corrosion-resistant metal that is more flexible and resilient than
steel. Merlin Metalworks designed and made titanium mountain bikes and other
bicycles that quickly gained attention in the cycling world annual production
shot up into the thousands in just a couple of years. The Merlin staff got to
know Bob Hall, the first person to enter the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair,
and began making titanium-racing chairs for him, too. In 1988, Bicycle Guide
Magazine named a Merlin Metalworks model as "one of the ten most innovative
bikes of the year."
A year later Augspurger left Merlin to found One-Off
Titanium in Florence, Mass. where he creates experimental and custom-designed
products, mostly related to bicycles. Among his designs are a fully suspended
mountain bike frame in steel and titanium. He also worked on the development
of a better handcycle for wheelchair athletes for several years, looking for
ways to experiment with the position of the rider, for example, to make him
or her faster, as well as safer, on a racing course. Previously the models he
had seen had the rider in a sitting position with legs stretched out in front.
But paraplegic riders can't use their legs to shift their body weight to ease
the impact of bumps in the road while they pedal the bike with their hands and
arms. The biggest problem was figuring out a way for the cyclist to crank with
the arms and steer at the same time.
Finally, Augspurger came up with the innovative design that many of the world-class
wheelchair racers in the world use today. In this design, the cycle allows the
rider's legs to be folded back and strapped into supports. The rider's upper
body can then lean forward, with arms extended down to reach the hand cranks
and the chest resting on a pad. There are handlebars in front that can be used
for steering when the cycle is going downhill; on uphill or flat terrain, arms
must be used for cranking. Additionally, the sternum pad, which pivots and is
connected by cables to the steering mechanism, can be turned left or right by
moving the chest. Brakes and gearshifts are located on the handlebars. The near-prone
position of the rider allows body weight to be used more effectively, and hand
cranks, which are connected to the gears and chain, are mounted so that when
the rider pushes down with one arm, the other can pull up, maximizing the rider's
muscle power. Also, handlebar and sternum steering solves the dilemma of cranking
versus steering. The cycle's main frame is made of painted steel and most other
parts are titanium.
Augspurger continues to run One-Off Titanium as of this writing (Oct., 2001),
where he creates bicycles, handcycles, and other titanium-based products.