Battling Autism Just Got a Whole Lot Wheelier For Ty Burch

For Ty Burch of River Falls, Wisconsin, his bicycle is a form of freedom and one of his greatest joys in his daily challenge with autism.

By Jessica Coulon |

A bicycle can be many things, even for those without autism: a tool for exercise, an outlet for fun, a form of transportation, or often a combination of all three. For Ty Burch of River Falls, Wisconsin, his bicycle is that, but so much more—it’s a form of freedom and one of his greatest joys.

Burch, 20, is autistic and cannot drive. He uses a bicycle to get around town instead, but he largely rides for fun.

“By far, it’s his favorite thing to do,” Ty’s mother, Jenny Edwards, told Bicycling.

You could say that Ty has become a fixture in their community. In spite of his autism, he rides his bike almost every day, waving at those he sees along the way.

“He makes friends with everybody,” Edwards said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and it’s safe to say he knows more people than I do.”

Back in September, Rick Carr, the retired police chief of Bloomer, Wisconsin, was in town and noticed that Ty was wobbling on his bike; the frame on the two-year-old bike the autistic man rode almost daily had broken. He called Gordon Young, the police chief of River Falls, to let him know and to offer to fix it. But with the frame broken, Ty needed a completely new bike.

Ty required a specific kind of bike for his autism needs, too—a quality, heavy-duty adult tricycle.

“He has a very unsteady gait,” Edwards said. “We tried for quite some time to get him to ride a two-wheeled bicycle.”

When that didn’t prove successful, they turned to a three-wheel bicycle. Ty was 9-years-old at the time, and he’s been on one ever since.

Once the River Falls Police Department found out that Ty needed a new bicycle, they reached out to Elise Koop, the organizer of the Francis Johnson Memorial Fund. Koop created the fund in 2018, seeking to honor the memory of Francis Johnson, her coworker, who had been another avid rider in need of a new bike.

“I gave Francis a new bike through a random act of kindness grant to start the giveaways,” Koop told Bicycling. “When he passed, I knew that I wanted to raise money in his honor and continue the random act of kindness concept.”

Ty is the second person to receive a bike through the memorial fund.

They elected to buy a Husky heavy-duty industrial tricycle, along with some upgrades like a better seat and a phone holder. The next step was to figure out how to get Ty to show up to the police station to surprise him with his new bike.

On October 25, the day of the big surprise, Edwards told Ty that the police department had called saying he had dropped his ID and asked that he come down to retrieve it. The plan worked. Ty immediately took the bike for a test ride.

“He’s been riding non-stop since he got it,” Edwards said. “His bicycle is like, to me or you, probably like using a Mercedes. If I would let him go to the next state, he would probably go.”

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