-- Survivors Rebuild Lives -- Petoskey Getting back on the bike Man finds new career after severe cycling accident

By Ryan Bentley

Petoskey News-Review

PETOSKEY, Mich. (AP) -- When involved in a bicycle accident in 2007, Brandon Inglehart suffered injuries that ultimately led to his leaving a teaching job that he was passionate about.

But four years later, the 37-year-old Inglehart is pedaling down a new career route with this same mode of transportation at its center. And this pursuit -- building custom bicycle frames -- is one in which he's been able to find new fulfillment.

"It's kind of weird, but it's all based on a terrible accident and making something good of it," said Inglehart.

Inglehart, who filled positions in East Jordan and later Boyne Falls during his eight-year teaching career, has been an avid bicyclist for the past 15-20 years. On April 24, 2007, he and a friend, retired Boyne Falls school principal Bill Aten, were riding along the shoulder of M-32 in northern Antrim County when hit from behind by a truck. Both were hurt, with Inglehart flown to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City following the accident and Aten taken by ambulance to Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey.

Each of the men suffered injuries to vertebrae, with Inglehart also sustaining a traumatic brain injury. But they made a pact with one another to ride again -- specifically in the Iceman Cometh Challenge, a Kalkaska-to-Traverse City bicycle race taking place each fall.

Following much physical therapy and other rehabilitative steps, Inglehart was able to join Aten and other riders for the 2007 Iceman event.

He returned to his classroom job in 2008, but some effects from his injuries persisted.

"I suffered a traumatic brain injury, and that's kind of a lifelong recovery," Inglehart said.

Cognitive fatigue, heightened sensitivity to sound and challenges with multitasking all were among the effects Inglehart faced -- and dealing with these alongside the demands of teaching middle-school students proved rather taxing. He decided that he would need to find a work environment that would offer more flexibility, and left the classroom again after a semester.

When trying to identify another field of work in which he could find passion, Inglehart decided that it would likely involve bicycles. Having always enjoyed working with his hands, he also took this into account.

Inglehart set out to expand on his mechanical skills with bicycles. He took a class in bicycle wheel construction from the Bikefix shop in Boyne City, and followed up with bicycle mechanic classes. Later, he headed downstate to Niles for some hands-on training with master framebuilder Doug Fattic.

A year and a half ago, Inglehart launched his frame-building business, Serendipity Cycles, and uses his garage as a workshop. To date, he has built about five frames, in styles ranging from cyclo-cross to mountain bike to a design for a child.

"In terms of the business, it's still in its infancy," he noted.

Inglehart, who works exclusively with steel as a frame-building material, takes more of an interest in quality than quantity when pursuing his projects.

"I'm never going to be the person that wants to produce 200 frames a year," he said.

Inglehart said he tries to put considerable attention into the frames' detail -- shaping miter joints by hand with a file, for example.

The Serendipity brand name that Inglehart uses for his frames reflects his efforts to find a positive outcome after the accident. He even found inspiration for the brand's logo in an X-ray image of his compressed vertebrae.

Compared to many mass-produced bicycles, obtaining one with a custom frame often carries a higher pricetag. With many weeks of labor typically involved, Inglehart said the price for such a frame is commonly higher than $1,000.

But he noted that bicyclists may choose the custom option for any of several reasons. Some people might prefer a design that's tailored to their body geometry, while others seek hard-to-find features or a high level of craftsmanship.

It was a desire for a unique set of features that prompted Bob South to choose a custom bike design. South, the owner of the No Boundaries outdoor gear store in downtown Boyne City, wanted a bike with two differently sized wheels to provide a unique mix of ride and acceleration capabilities, and to substitute a carbon belt drive for a traditional bike chain. He turned to Inglehart to provide the frame.

"It's like getting a tailor-made suit," he said. "It fits perfectly. It fits you."

South's shop also provides Inglehart with additional work alongside his frame-building efforts. With No Boundaries offering the flexibility he needs as he continues with his recovery, Inglehart spends three to four days a week working at the store, specializing in bicycle service.

"No lie, it's a real feather in our cap to have someone of his caliber here in the store," South said, adding that he hopes to have Inglehart be the speaker for an "Ask the Framebuilder" event in the near future.

A Traverse City native, Inglehart is married to Leigh and has two daughters. Someday, he hopes that his bicycle frame business will enable him to earn a living by itself. But he noted that this work tends to be solitary, and he's happy for the opportunities to socialize that his job at No Boundaries brings.

Published: Tue, Sep 6, 2011

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