Steven Cohen is a self-proclaimed bike enthusiast. His autistic son, Joey, was not.
Everytime Cohen tried to teach Joey to ride a bike, the pedals would bang against Joey's legs and make for a terrible experience. So Cohen removed the pedals, the gears and the chain from a standard bicycle and created the JoRide, a gliding bicycle that allows Joey to enjoy cycling as much as his dad.
"Now Joey loves to actively ride just like other children,” Cohen said.
It's not just Joey who's enjoying the altered contraption. Cohen, of Northbrook, said others are taking a shine to the pedalless bike.
“It’s a really fun thing,” says Cohen. “And the people that see it not only enjoy the bicycle, but the smiles that everyone is getting as well. That’s the best part.”
On the day NBCChicago caught up with Cohen, he was in between a call from the executive producer of the a popular late-night NBC talk show, and an appointment at Have Dreams, a social skills class for children with special needs, that participates in the JoRide program. He also said he had talked to representatives from the Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres' show, though no appearances were solidified.
Beyond pure publicity, he said he's working on distribution agreements with companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart.
“The more exposure we get for JoRide, the more people are going to understand that this is a growing new style of riding, and a growing venture for adults and children with special needs,” said Cohen.
Though individuals may (and are encouraged to) purchase a single bike through JoRide, business has predominantly been in the form of places like the Autism Society of Illinois, and the Center for Enriched Living. These community centers have purchased multiple bikes, and used them to implement riding programs for children with disabilities.
With several affiliates already employing Cohen’s methods, well-known sporting goods stores and as many as 30 different websites are now looking to carry JoRide bikes according to Cohen. But this loving father is still not satisfied.
“I want people to know Joey, and what he has to offer,” said Cohen.
“Most people think of people with autism as ‘Rain Man’ and I’m trying to change that stigma. This is about my son and anyone with special needs.”
Cohen even championed his cause in front of the Illinois State Board of Education on December 16, 2010, presenting the JoRide bicycles and the impact they can have on individuals with special needs. “Dave Andel, who’s on the Board of Education in the Special Education department, heard what I had to say and told me ‘Steven, you’re on the verge of an explosion… This is gonna be huge.’"
Though he does expect profits to jump thanks to new exposure, Cohen says it’s not about the money, having made the bikes as affordable as possible for families already struggling with lower insurance coverage and added expenses of a child with special needs.