Richard Rau and the QuadraPed

RauMaryAnnHidden within the folds of the Corvallis community is a cache of local geniuses. Many are rather reclusive, but Richard Rau is not. Rau is an inventor of sorts: part engineer, part mechanic, part visionary.

His puffy hair, friendly smile, and charming humor betray a competitive streak that, in his younger days, drove Rau to fast cars and road bike racing. Overall, he is a man deeply committed to helping others regain some control over their lives.

Rau is the guy for the job, too. Despite such technical achievements as developing an electric car engine prior to lithium technology and co-owning a bike company that dealt in 13 countries, Rau has also faced the darker side of what life has to offer.

Following a near-fatal cycling accident, Rau spent several months in recovery. After physical therapy at Good Sam, Rau literally got back on the bike and returned to his business. However, it was only a matter of time before the reality of Rau’s injuries were accepted—opening new avenues for his creativity.

“Did I mention about how my life was saved by a 15-year-old girl?” asked Rau.

Rau showed me a blue Colnago downtube with a horrendous dent. It is the remaining piece of a road bike built with parts from all over the world. It is also a piece of the bike Rau was riding in late 1980 on Highland, just north of town, when he suffered a head-on collision with another cyclist.

As Rau was peddling uphill, the other cyclist, unable to stop, came whipping around the corner. Rau was thrown backward, first landing on and detaching his tailbone, then striking his skull against the pavement.

By the time 15-year-old Cindy and her friend drove by, a small crowd including police had gathered around Rau’s body. Cindy had recently taken CPR and first-aid classes to better care for her grandmother and thought that maybe she could help.

Though being told to wait for the paramedics, Cindy recognized what was happening and restarted Rau’s heart twice before the EMTs arrived. Rau was in a coma for 10 days.

“I had some weird dreams… a blurry differentiation between reality and dreams,” said Rau. He dreamt of different versions of himself and of riding the rim of Crater Lake, among other things.

Closing his eyes, he recalls one special night at the hospital. Things were looking grim and his riding buddies came together to share their friendship.

“They had to ask one friend to leave because he couldn’t keep with or understand the value of staying positive and having faith,” said Rau.

Thankfully, and to the surprise of some, he awoke. Rau took his first steps, after a couple months of physical therapy, with a shopping cart in the parking lot at Strohecker’s.

Soon he returned to his bike shop, PedalCraft, and before long he was even riding his bike to and from work. In the beginning he fell over every so often; it took him a full 45 minutes one way. Still, every day he kept at it. He started timing his rides, bought a computer to track his distances, and regained some equilibrium.

“But the more I rode, the more there developed an imbalance because my left leg was left weakened by the accident,” explained Rau. He thought: “What am I going to do—bicycles are not working?”

After trying several three-wheel and recumbent-style bikes, Rau realized he could build them better himself. Coincidentally, basic plans for a hand-and-leg-powered cycle had recently been developed in Eugene. Rau naturally decided to combine the two ideas into one high quality product—but at this point the QuadraPed was just an experiment.

By 1984 the first QuadraPed was complete. After some test rides, Rau developed a healthy addiction and eventually rode around the rim of Crater Lake, a full 75 miles. Despite some gnarly elbow injuries, the ride was an overwhelming success, leading Rau to tweak the process and create an even better QuadraPed.

One day at the Beanery, a paraplegic man spotted Rau on his hip new ride and asked if he could build another one.

“I had never thought about that before… making one for someone else,” said Rau.

People noticed the interesting bikes around town and demand rose. Rau soon found that building in batches of 50 saved time. He got involved with Oregon Human Powered Vehicles where he met new people like Carl, a former Airforce test pilot.

Carl became paraplegic after making an emergency landing in a field of stumps. A kindred spirit to Rau, he built his own airplane after the accident. He also designed a hand-powered attachment for wheelchairs, which he commissioned Rau to build.

Ultimately, this led to the incorporation of a new company, BikE, in 1993. Rau and crew steadily grew their business, eventually hiring a CEO and reaching 1,000 dealers in 13 countries. They partnered up with Giant, and by 1998 they were the largest dealer of recumbent bikes in the world.

“[BikE] had an unfortunate demise and a lot of people have heard the nasty end of it,” said Rau. You can find local stories on this passing, but put simply: 9/11. When the company downsized in 2002, Rau elected to return to making QuadraPeds solo under his original company, PedalCraft.

“I learned that character is not defined by what happens to you, but rather how you react to what happens to you,” explained Rau. Reflecting on these trying experiences, he said, “We all have to admit that sometimes life can get tough—our health can suffer, family demands can demoralize us, and daily traumas build up, but that doesn’t mean we have to feel like life isn’t worth living.”

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When I showed up at Rau’s garage, MaryAnn was already inside inspecting MaQ. MaQ is a blue tadpole-style three-wheel QuadraPed with gold trim. MaQ is smoking hot and by far the sleekest ride I have seen in years. MaryAnn is a retired Lincoln Elementary School kindergarten teacher who has not ridden a bike in over 30 years after knee surgery.

“For a long time I couldn’t even visualize exactly how the bike was even going to look,” she exclaimed. “He did all of this by hand, every piece!”

MaQ is short for MaryAnn’s QuadraPed. The name is very literal as every aspect of MaQ has been tailored to MaryAnn’s needs, from the height and length to the leg rest for her affected knee.

From her seat, MaryAnn can easily shift the eight back gears or the eight front gears with a convenient lever, check her computer, or grab a drink. Her hand pedals are ergonomically angled to 75 degrees, the same as shaking someone’s hand, and set to a one-to-one ratio so knees and elbows will never collide.

“The matching gold is nice… tiny touches, tiny touches all through the bike—that’s one of the many little things that allow it to be cool,” explained Rau. “But I’m going to be moving to electric in these things.”

Drawing on his many years of automotive work, Rau fixed a battery under the seat that provides power to a small motor in the hub of the back wheel. “It senses how much effort you are putting in pedaling—it’s got a built-in load cell,” said Rau. “If you don’t want to pedal much, punch in two, three, or four, and it will put out a lot of power to your meager contribution.” However, the law prohibits a motorized bicycle from exceeding 20 miles per hour.

While setting up for pictures, Rau told me about how he woke up at 5 a.m. because he realized that one detent up on an index shifter can be adjusted to locate an in-between spot of the planetary gears. He went on to explain that planetaries are great because they balance the forces and don’t tear each other apart, unlike other gear arrangements.

It’s almost like he breathes QuadraPeds. The technical aspect of calculating, redrawing, bending tubes, and fabricating gear ratios, he makes very understandable. Yet, as he tells you about how the idea to create a neutral function on MaQ came to him in a dream, you realize this man is more than your ordinary bike enthusiast.

“Being a designer/builder came about because I finally recognized that I was in a different category of physical capability and had my own special needs,” explained Rau. “Because of my accident and injury, I am much more empathetic for anyone who is dealing with a physical challenge.”

Designing, building, and riding these alternative exercise and mobility machines has been a very significant part of Rau’s healing process—a way to not only strengthen his mind and body, but a way to give back.

“It is quite fulfilling to share in a person’s quest for self-improvement through adaptive transportation,” he said. When asked if he encounters many depressed individuals, Rau explained that QuadraPeds are for people with a head start. “The majority of people I have met in what I am doing have come to me because they already had a desire to get out and do things.”

Rau has made bikes for paraplegic and quadriplegic folks, people with MS, and even someone with hemiplegia—paralysis of one side of the body. He has built for people with spinal injuries in which they could only pedal with one arm, and although he hasn’t done much with prosthetics yet, he has fabricated parts for people with special arm-to-leg proportions.

“I like people so it’s a great way just to share with them,” said Rau. “It’s important to have a cycle design for the ideal riding experience for that person.”

After a final inspection and some fine-tuning, MaQ was road-ready. To make sure MaryAnn’s experience was ideal during MaQ’s premier voyage, Rau joined her on his own QuadraPed, GenE. Many of Rau’s clients opt to communicate remotely and never meet in person, but it is a treat to be with someone when they take their first ride.

One of the first things I noticed in Rau’s workspace was a Buddha sticker—it said, “Chill.” On a shelf was a Godzilla doll and on the wall were hooks hung with different gears. There were big tools, little tools, and most interestingly, tiny tools for delicate work. There were nuts and bolts, screws and cables everywhere—it was an orderly chaos. MaQ was in the center, under the lights.

They say you can learn a lot about a person by looking at their workspace. I wouldn’t rely on this to make friends, but in Rau’s case I found some similarities. Between off-the-record jokes and classic rock album discussions, Rau dropped such detailed descriptions of how each and every mechanism on the bike functioned as part of the whole.

Whether you are able-bodied or have a physical challenge, the QuadraPed is custom designed to your needs. They come in a range of styles, gear ratios, and with components to accommodate your abilities. If you want a ride that is truly unique, built to strengthen your mind and your body, and reminds you that we all have more to offer, contact Richard Rau.

Just remember if you contact him via email, “The capital P in QuadraPed is important.” It just reads better.

By Anthony Vitale