Cornwall couple breeds horses — and builds adaptive bikes
CORNWALL — David Black and Anja Wrede have two passions: facilitating better mobility for people with physical disabilities and raising Dutch Warmblood horses. It was these two sometimes-competing passions that brought them in 2015 to Cornwall.
On Avenir Farm, their 47-acre property off Route 125, the couple now operates their custom adaptive bike-building business, RAD-Innovations, and also raises eight Dutch Warmblood horses.
“It actually reminds me a bit of Europe here,” said Wrede, a native of Germany, of the politics, food culture and sense of community in Addison County. “Living and working on the farm is our reason for being here. I can build a bike for two hours and then work in the garden or go for a hike.”
The couple have a backstory that illuminates their current lifestyle.
Black, who has worked as an engineer in product development since the 1970s, and Wrede, who has had a long career developing and building adaptive bicycles, started RAD-Innovations in 1999 in Oregon. Around the same time, Black was raising a herd of up to 60 Dutch Warmbloods on their farm in Washington state. He sold the horses for competition and has bred animals that competed in the Olympics and in Grand Prix competitions.
For the last decade, RAD-Innovations each year has built and shipped 200 to 300 adaptive tricycles and bikes to customers, Veterans Affairs centers and dealers all over North America. The business, which Wrede and Black operate together, has two components: Black runs a design and consulting operation, in which he advises companies that are trying to develop new adaptive bicycles on ways to make them operate more smoothly for people with disabilities. He and Wrede helped launch the BerkelBike, an ergonomic hand- and foot-powered tricycle that allows people who cannot move their legs of their own volition to experience the motion of pedaling when they power the bike with their hands.
“Often those folks can push from their quads and even if you aren’t powering the movement of your legs, the motion improves tone and circulation and comfort,” says Black.
He helped move the project from what Wrede called a “very expensive Frankenstein bike” with an office chair seat and chrome tubing to something that looks as sleek and operable as anything you might encounter in a high-end bike shop and is as customizable as a high-end road bike. It’s also compatible with functional electrical stimulation, a common medical treatment that applies small electrical charges to a paralyzed muscle in order to stimulate movement.
Black and Wrede also have a guesthouse at their farm where they host clients overnight for fittings. Once a client has been fitted, Wrede will build a custom bike and tweak it to fit precisely — just like a perfectly fitted road bike. Black may deliver the finished bike in a van or it may be shipped from their property as parts if the client lives close to a bike shop equipped to build a custom adaptable bike.
Wrede is half the genius behind the unique adjustments and adaptations. She is also a licensed parts dealer for the German adaptive bicycle company Hase Bikes, where the RAD-Innovations sources many of its parts. She loves people and solving mechanical problems to help them meet their needs. And she sees the Cornwall farm as part of the package that the company offers.
“I think that people like to travel here for fittings,” she said. “Often, we work with whole families and you can see the joy in kids’ faces when they get to follow the geese or see horses for the first time. The farm is a big part of why we are here.”
She recalled a recent fitting she did for a teenaged girl from Addison County who suffers from cerebral palsy:
“Once we got her onto her bike, she took off, racing her dad (from the barn-turned-bike-shop) to the mailbox. To see a child move like that, knowing they’ve never moved so quickly of their own volition before and to see her laughing with her father? That was really cool.”
For Black, bringing his business to Vermont was a natural move. Before meeting Wrede, Black did a stint in the Green Mountains during the 1980s, when he lived in the Mad River Valley. When he eventually left in the late 1980s to take a job on the west coast, he always thought he might someday come back.
DAVID BLACK SHOWS one of his two Dutch Warmblood stallions that he breeds at Avenir Farms in Cornwall.
Independent photo/Abagael Giles
Part of that interest comes from his passion for horses and a love of old farms he picked up while living as a young man in Vermont. Black’s father was a member of the Foreign Service and he spent his teenage years in East Africa, where he rode horses. It wasn’t until the late 1980s, when Black was working as an engineer in Orange County that he decided to start picking up work training horses.
“What I found was that people would pay $25,000 for a Grand Prix horse, but many of them couldn’t ride at the level the horse demanded. The more I worked as a trainer and started to learn about breeding, the more I realized that the horses that were winning were the Dutch Warmbloods, not the quarter horses and thoroughbreds that everybody thought they wanted.”
In 1993, Black dove into the niche he saw for more approachable sport horses. He moved to Vancouver, where there was a culture of racing Dutch Warmbloods, to learn about breeding racehorses. Over the following 13 years, he continued to work as an engineer but made regular trips to the Netherlands in search of a perfect stallion. He ultimately found Avenir, a retired Olympic jumper and the namesake of his current farm. Black eventually purchased a big old farm in Washington state. It was during this period that he met Wrede.
“When I met him in the 1990s, he had 60 horses,” she recalled.
Wrede is not a horse person, but she is a 30-year veteran of the bicycle industry. What brought her and Black together was a project they collaborated on in the late ’90s to build a wheel chair to allow a child with physical disabilities to better access sandy southern California beaches. He was a product development consultant for the project and she was working as the project manager for a German company responsible for providing parts for the device.
“David is a problem solver,” says Wrede, who does much of the bike building and business administration for RAD-Innovations. She saw that he had a knack for taking engineering projects from a rough idea to something marketable and viable. They decided to team up and formed RAD-Innovations in 1999. They moved back to Vermont with their son Henry in 2015.
SINCE PURCHASING AVENIR Farm in 2015, owners Anja Wrede and David Black have refurbished several of the old dairy farm’s historic outbuildings.
Independent photo/Abagael Giles
Avenir Farm sits off Route 125 against a large, forested knoll, on the uphill slope of in the Lemon Fair valley. The 47-acre parcel that houses the farm buildings, business and farmhouse abuts 500 acres of land managed under the Vermont Land Trust.
“It will never be developed,” Black said. “Here, we don’t have to board our horses and the land supports the herd. Our neighbors look out for us and we for them. It was something I found in Vermont in the 1970s and ’80s and never forgot about the place.”
For Wrede, coming to Vermont was a natural choice given the lifestyle, and she likes what she’s found in the people in her neighborhood.
“I don’t really see my neighbors, but I know that if I called, they’d be here,” she said. “If they saw too much smoke coming from my chimney, they’d stop by.”
“It’s a really special thing about farming in Vermont,” Black added, “this idea that if the neighbor needs help, you go. No matter the time of night, you get it done because next time it may you who needs the help. That sense of reciprocity is part of the DNA of this place.”
Wrede and Black, together with their teenage son Henry, are slowly restoring barns and buildings around their property. The old milking parlor is now a warehouse and bike shop. They are currently converting another barn into a show room for their prototype bikes.
“The Middlebury area is great for us. There is access to affordable shipping, we are a day’s drive to New York City, we are close to the mountains and yet, we get an extra couple weeks of good growing season in on either end of the winter,” said Wrede, who gardens.
“Plus,” Black said, “the horse market is stronger here.”
MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)
The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)