Charlie Cunningham Medical/Rehab
In early August, 2015, Charlie Cunningham, bicycle builder, inventor and all around amazing person, fell off his bike and sustained several serious injuries.
Charlie suffered broken bones, bruises, and trauma to his head. At the time, he didn't feel his head injury was significant. Unfortunately, seven weeks later, the head injury manifested into a subdural hematoma, a life threatening condition that resulted in emergency brain surgery. Having been about two minutes from death or complete vegetative state, he endured a hell period of about six months, beginning with two months in intensive care, followed by months of doctor's visits and rehabiliitation. His days of getting around by bike were over, or so we thought.
Currently, Charlie is at the "plateau" level. He has no sense of direction, nor much vision (his brain was affected, leaving the upper half of his visual field empty, as well as the periphery). But he is walking, speaking normally, with very little aphasia, and still working on learning the alphabet. he can read a simple news headline after about five minutes of careful study of each letter. We move about Marin on a gorgeous tandem, which will soon get a motor so we can go offroad, away from traffic.
His 'genius' resides now in his efforts to recover what most of us take for granted: balance, literacy and agency, the will to do things and make things, which seems to have disappeared when the brain bleed happened. Your donations will help to offset the costs of his rehabilitation and the visits to UC Berkeley Eye Clinic, and the weekly respite care visits. Thank you for your generosity.
A bit about the fund: it was dreamed up by Caroline James, a good friend of Charlie and Jacquie's since the 1987. She's an artist, web designer and was an early Wombat. Since the end of the first year of the fund, I have taken over most of the administration. Grant Petersen of Rivendell renown, and 1,200 donors like you have helped move us along, for which we're ever grateful.
Created the Chain Pup, the smallest and lightest multi-tool for bicycles, which launched an entire new market category. Jacquie raced with Chain pups as earings, in was featured in Outside Magazine wearing them in a feature about her pioneering mtn bike camps (mine were the first -ever, starting in 1984)
· Invented the Fitfinder, an adjustable stem that allows the rider to adjust and optimize the handlebar location for the ideal fit during riding. The dimensions are then used to produce a custom stem, or to transfer the ideal fit to other bikes.
· Promoted the importance of the rider’s pedals being as close as possible to the center-plane of the bike for the best technical trail performance and cornering clearance. Now called the Q-Factor.
· CCPROTO introduced machined aluminum parts, preceding an industry-wide emergence of similar CNC machined components beginning in the mid-eighties. (seatpost quick release lever with collar, brake arms, chain guide, and a magnesium stem with removable cap for easy bar replacement.
· Bottle cage for light, biosafe PETE 1.0 and 1.5 Liter Crystal Geyser style water bottles
· 4130 Gooseneck curved stem with removable cap for drop bars
· Toe Flips for fast, easy entrance into toe clip pedals
· Taper mounting of handlebar stems
(1) Charlie’s first mountain, cyclocross and road bikes were designed with compact frames, sloping toptubes and long seatposts. To him the structural and performance advantages were obvious. By shortening the top tube, seatstays, and seattube, the frames used less material and were thus lighter. The shorter tubes also provide better stiffness in bending and torsion. Compact frames also absorb trail or road shock better and offer greater stand-over clearance.
(2) The first custom-made mountain bikes copied the popular Schwinn Excelsior newspaper bike with 44” wheelbase, 18” chainstays, 68 degree headangle, 12” bottom bracket. Charlie’s CCPROTO was 41.6” wheelbase, 17” chainstays, 70.5 degree headangle, 11.6” bottom bracket, similar to the geometry used for cross-country mountain bikes in following decades.
(3) Cunningham’s personal 1x mountain bikes:
(1979) CCPROTO: 41t chainring, 13-34 five speed freewheel
(1982) #12: 41t chainring, 11-38 seven speed freewheel
These are examples of the first wide range 1x mountain bikes using titanium chain guides to prevent derailment. Wide range freewheels were not available, so Cunningham made his own by machining and silver-brazing cogs as necessary. Rear derailleurs were modified to work with the wider ratios.
This concludes a vast, not humble bragging session for all you who should know facts to accompany your very warm feelings...
here's part 2
In Charlie’s quest to live responsibly, and to reconcile the world as it is, with what it needs to become, the bicycle emerged as a simple, powerful tool for right-living. Embracing and perfecting the bicycle became Charlie’s life work. “The bicycle can do wonders. With awesome mechanical efficiency, the fluidity of motion is primal, awakening hidden awareness. The more one uses a bike, especially in a natural setting, the more attuned we become to ourselves and our planet.”
Charlie began exploring Marin’s backwoods in the mid 70s on his steel Gitane road bike. He altered the bike with his oxy-acetylene welder to improve climbing and single-track performance, by shortening the chainstays, raising the bottom bracket, and adding a tube near the BB to reduce frame flex. Charlie built his first complete bike in 1977, a collapsible, chromemoly bicycle for use with public transportation. With 20” wheels, it offered brisk performance and fit into a compact rip-stop nylon bag with the handlebar curve extending out as handle.
Around this time, during trail rides on his Gitane, he began encountering the first fat tire mountain bikes. He saw the potential in the fatter tires and lower gearing and decided to build a mountain bike to meet his own needs.
Toward this end, Charlie bought a TIG welder and researched how to weld and heat treat aluminum. Before building his first mountain bike, he invested much thought into every aspect of design. CCPROTO was built from large diameter aluminum tubing, the fork had a tubular crown with blades made of thin, butted chromemoly toptubes. The titanium chain guide and the super-light, machined magnesium stem were made from materials found at a South Bay military surplus scrap yard. The bike weighed 24.5 pounds. As Charlie rode CCPROTO on Marin’s single-track trails and fire roads, he critically evaluated every aspect of the machine’s design and performance. During this period anything that could be improved was, even the frame geometry. Charlie twice sawed the toptube and downtube out of the frame, altering angles and wheelbase as he perfected the geometry. (The 1979 photo shows the butt-welds in one of these versions, several inches from the ends of the tubes.) When finalized in late 1979, CCPROTO embodied many unprecedented features, some of which were adopted by the bike industry in the following years. CCPROTO can be seen in the Marin Museum of Cycling in Fairfax, California.
In the fall of 1980 Charlie and CCPROTO joined the Marin mountain bike contingent traveling to Crested Butte, Colorado. His unusual bike performed admirably on the diverse, high altitude single track. Several Crested Butte riders were so impressed that they placed orders, launching Charlie’s bike building career.
“When you build a bike to meet your own exacting riding style it becomes like an extension of your body.” This is the magic of a custom bike. But there is much more to a bicycle than the sum of its parts, no matter how good the parts are. Charlie’s bikes demonstrate a relentless pursuit of function-based design, producing its own aesthetic. “The mountain bike harmonizes the rider with the terrain. Breath, presence and movement have become profoundly important in this hypno-device era. Self-propulsion as part of our normal day can really contribute to personal and planetary wellbeing. The awareness that develops can produce a deep sense of responsibility and guardianship so needed today. The best way to communicate my truth is to live it.”
From CCPROTO and continuing for two decades, Cunningham made contributions to the evolution of the mountain bike, some still found on current bikes:
welded & heat treated aluminum mountain bike frames
compact mountain bike, cyclocross and road frames (1)
Progressive cross-country mountain bike frame geometry (2)
Charlie manufactured a series of tubular fork crowns that accepted brazed or silverbrazed-in blades: Type I touring fork Type II mountain bike racing fork Type IV cyclocross fork (His Type III fork had a unitized tubular crown and blade design. Inexpensive to manufacture and called the Unicrown, it was widely used in early production mountain bikes.)
Introduced 135 mm rear dropout spacing, producing a stronger wheel with zero-spoke-dish and optimal chain alignment
Wide-range 1x gearing for mountain bikes (3)
Extra wide 118mm front mountain bike wheel for improved shock absorption and lateral stiffness
Identified a process for analyzing individual and collective tread block function which was used to design the Ground Control and other top-performing mountain bike tires. The Ground Control, named by Jacquie Phelan, was the first mountain bike specific tire producing a quantum leap in performance. More Ground Control tires have been sold than any other.
Cunningham invented the Grease Guard Bearing System, which allows bicyclists to completely flush bicycle bearings with clean grease in seconds, displacing the water and abrasives that inevitably get past seals. This greatly increases component life, reducing waste, and the time and money spent overhauling and/or replacing parts. Grease Guard's effect on equipment longevity is substantial, but it conflicts with bike industry needs. The prevailing business model prefers components that require regular replacement to those that can be maintained.
Designed the Roller Cam Brake, patented and licensed to Suntour in 1985. The brake stud mounting location, the brake arm design, and the roller/cam linkage combine to eliminate flex, maximizing braking accuracy and power. (Cunningham's Roller Cam brake also introduced the linear spring, which is still used on most V-Brakes today.) In following years, using the original Roller Cam platform, Cunningham continued to improve and perfect the brake with better linkages, including the Toggle Cam Linkage. He currently uses the Lever Linkage, which Cunningham believes produces the best bicycle rim brake of all time.
During the early military years in Alabama, Charlie’s mom would read inspiring children’s stories with wise, considerate replies to any questions or comments he had. Charlie’s dad would often rise before dawn, and with Charlie sitting between gas tank and dad’s legs on his Triumph motorcycle, they would go exploring the area’s back roads. Charlie also recalls early morning walks with dad and the many happy dogs that would join them as they passed through the surrounding farms and neighborhoods.
Charlie’s emerging self-determination often expressed as resistance to taking orders. To correct the situation, Dad, as the disciplined military man, would schedule a spanking as punishment for the occasional infractions. Charlie discovered that before appearing for his spanking, putting on all his pairs of underpants made everything OK.
Later in Virginia, Charlie would solo hike the miles of forest between his house and the Potomac River, discovering hidden swamps with turtles and learning the secrets of the land. Around this time Charlie began revealing troublesome signs of mechanical aptitude. Within days of getting an erector set for his 8th birthday, one with a motor and gear box for making model hoists, etc, he found a way to defeat the safety feature that prevents use of the high speed motor shaft. When mom rushed to investigate an alarming noise, she discovered Charlie gleefully feeding newspapers into his newly created 1700 rpm “windmill”.
Cap guns could also be improved. Clamping two entire rolls of caps into his dad’s shop vise, he hit the handle with a hammer, producing a monstrous explosion. Rushing to the scene, dad discovered a triumphant Charlie enveloped in a cloud of smoke, hammer in hand, next to a totally ruined vise. When confronted with locked workshop, Charlie borrowed the simple skeleton key, and with dad’s tools, made his own secret copy.
In Virginia, the bicycle became an important part of early Charliehood. Long days were spent exploring the rural neighborhoods and farms on his way-too-big, rusty single speed. Out of necessity he learned how to fix flats, and discovered the useful relationship between bike maintenance and reliability.
Upon moving to Marin in his early teens, Charlie entered a brief motor vehicle phase. This included crack-of-dawn outings on the twisty Muir Beach to Stinson Beach road with his 100+mph modified alcohol-burning go-kart, occasionally out-running sporty motorcycle groups and even the California Highway Patrol.
At age 16, for acing his driver’s test, Charlie’s dad rewarded him with a used black and gold Renault Dauphine. After ordering a $90 engine and brake rebuild kit from the J.C. Whitney mail order catalog, Charlie took the car apart and meticulously restored it. With the car running well, he and his brother set off on a month-long road trip. The Renault, capable of a blistering 50 mph with a brisk tail wind, ensured a leisurely pace, enabling extensive camping and exploration in the southern California deserts.
For Charlie, the long retreats in the pristine environment triggered a lifelong epiphany of sorts, awakening a deep enduring appreciation and love of the natural world. Over subsequent trips, as he surveyed the damage wrought by gluttonous resource consumption and runaway growth, his enthusiasm for motor vehicles tempered as he sought a life affirming alternative to the traditional American lifestyle.
Anyone out there have experience with this non-FDA approved 'therapy'?
I meant to share the letter I wrote to the best bakery in Marin, who donate their breads and pastries to Schuring once a week. Hope you can read this:
OK you can't. I've tried five ways to capture my nice letter, but the photo program won't show. Thus, I'm sending you a sample of my typical thank you letter:
To the bakers, staff, and founders of Flourcraft bakery
My husband is the lucky recipient of your fine breads
and pastries which are lovingly delivered to Schurig Brain Center by chauffeurs. Every loaf and pastry is superb, despite being 'day old'...your brioche is exceptional. Post brain injured people are eager eaters, as food is the universal joy that still remains despite the damages wrought from stroke or TBI or any of the other shocks to the brain that can befall anyone. The bakery contributes significantly to the quality of life for these people and me and Charlie...thank you for the continuing, generous "dough-nations". JP, CC
Charlie is one of half-a-handful of modern bicycle geniuses and personal heroes of mine (and I am basically "anti-hero"). Everything I know about him, I love. Everything he's ever designed or made or innovated on his own personal bike, I admire and wished I was that smart. I'm so sorry to hear of this accident. Of course we all want him back on his superlight plastic saddle, held by the seat post that also holds a pump. Go, Charlie.
This is a tragedy and a wake-up call about head injuries and getting them checked out and monitored for a long time afterward. I was just thinking about Charlie last week; I was riding on Mt. Tam since 1981 at Thanksgiving when I rode it with Charlie and a number of other friends. He is creative genius, and a great human being to boot; I hope he gets his full faculties back soon. Get better soon, Charlie, and hang in there, Jacquie!
OMG! I am kinda the Cunningham FP, having provided care for Bruce, Charlie's fighter pilot and custom home builder dad, and his tiny book and social antiquarian mom Carol. As a late comer to the world of off road biking, and having been privileged to visit Charlie's shop, I just wanted to confirm the need for this kind of funding effort. For all the closed head injuries that our lifestyle generates, we have a very unsupportive neuro-rehab environment here in the US and A. Maybe the rising tide of reality about football injuries will help, but not in time for Charlie. Any contribution you can make will really make a difference in his recovery.
Jacquie, while I absolutely love his thoughts on greeting age, something many of us are currently doing, my favorite thing is when he talks about the "milky silver finish". This finish is what I always thought was SO beautiful about Campy (you should excuse the expression!) equipment. As far as your personal struggle with responsibility, most of us have been there...we travel a path that is comfortable for us, where we can make the most of our abilities, and then when the situation changes, radically in your case, the flexibility we all develop allows us to change directions. You can do it. You have your friends in your area, and hundreds outside of that. We are all breaking as much wind for you both as is possible. Actually, that's maybe not the best choice of words...
i can NOT wait to see that footage!!! I think of charlie every time i ride up Tam - and the other day i saw a gentleman with a cunningham racer - WALKING!! - i should have taken it away from him ; ) - still my holy grail of bikes - until then my 88 merlin will have to do - sending you love & strength
Yep. And "death-grip somersault " can be a lovely metaphor for how stuck we get in our own heads and fears, sometimes. Make that time to meditate, soak in a tub, walk in the woods, breathe, even write for 15 minutes or an hour: you've got to take care of YOU to be able to carry on. Peace and strength, Jacquie.
I shared the link to Deer Park's Nextdoor.com community to let people know what's going on in case they want to contribute/help. Some suggestions came back that you may already have heard of: Marin Villages: http://www.marinvillages.org/content.aspx?page_id=0&club_id=134956 Brain Injury Network: http://www.binba.org Memphis Center for Independent Living (not sure what their national outreach is, but they were recommended): https://sites.google.com/site/mcilaction/