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Specialty bike gives mobility to person with special needs

CLEARWATER — Chip Haynes sat on the floor of his garage filled with hand-crafted cycles and rickshaws, tweaking the seat height of his latest creation with a monkey wrench.

It was the final adjustment on the grasshopper green bicycle he made for his neighbor, 46-year-old Sky Drysdale, who at 35 inches or "2-foot-11-ish," had never been able to find a bicycle her size before.

Sky's husband, Chris Drysdale, helped her mount the bike, and Haynes stepped back, clasping his arms around his chest.

"Go! Go! Go!" Haynes, 65, said.

"Don't worry about stopping," Chris Drysdale said. "I'm right in front of you."

Sky's legs pushed the pedals, painfully, but in a way she could never do before, she said. Getting comfortable with the Grasshopper would take time, but it was a success.

"I like it when it's a win," Haynes said.

The idea for the bike stemmed from the pair's longtime friendship. Haynes, a retired graphic artist, Renaissance Fair juggler, published author and avid cyclist who says his cycling resume is three times the length of his professional resume, first met Sky when she was about 5 and lived with her parents down the street. Over the years, they've worked together on various projects including Renaissance fairs and movies for TV. Once to fill air time, they had they idea to dress Sky in a tuxedo and conduct an all kazoo orchestra.

"When he has an idea, he usually finds a way to get it done," Sky said.

The idea for Drysdale's bike started with a Facebook post. Haynes posted a picture of a miniature bicycle he built called "The Razor Runt," which he takes with him to his book signings. He said he could ride it and tagged Sky in the photo.

"He's always posting crap on Facebook about bikes and how anyone can ride," Sky said. "So I decided to call him out on it."

Sky, who said since had wanted to bike since she was a kid but couldn't find one she could ride due to dysastopic dysplasia dwarfism, commented on the photo:

"My dearest dream is to someday ride a bike. But alas even that one is too big. My legs are only 8 and 8½ inches long. Even with lifts in my sneakers evening them out they're still too short for even the smallest bike. And yes, I've looked into custom ones but they're too expensive. LOVE the bike though!!!"

Haynes got to work immediately.

"I always love a challenge," he said.

Bicycling has been his thing since he was a kid. When he was young, he had a heart problem, and cycling helped, he said. He rides about 10 miles every day. Forty years ago, he rode across the country in 80 days and has written and published multiple books on cycling.

A few people donated bits and pieces and scraps of metal, and Charlie Shaw, a friend of Haynes who works on museum exhibits, shortened the crank. Through a process of trial and error, Haynes set to build Sky a bike that would work — and looked good. He repainted a Spiderman children's bike frame green.

She asked him if he could put training wheels on the bike. He told her no.

"I wasn't going to put cheap, kiddy, plastic training wheels on an adult bike," he said.

He did, however, add a set of "outriggers" — two wheels behind to stabilize her.

TV shows, such as TLC's Little People, Big World, have put dwarfs in a more familiar light in recent years, Sky said, and have made things a little easier.

"When I was in my teens and 20s, I was the first little person people had seen," she said. "Now people who watch Game of Thrones have Peter Dinklage in their house every week."

Her coworkers have regularly asked her when the bike will be done so they can ride with her, she said, but she wants to practice first.

Chris, who routinely test drives some of Haynes' other creations, said he's excited to finally be able to ride along with his wife.

"This is amazing," he said. "I didn't think this would be possible, but now that the two of us can do it, that'll be nice."