A shock-damped prosthetic leg and a passion for riding have helped amputee Glenn Johnstone to, not only recover, but thrive

Glenn Johnston by Andy McCandlish 16 edit

Serious illness is usually something that forces people off bikes and away from the trails, but not so for mbr reader Glenn Johnstone — it was just the start of his passion for riding. Diagnosed with cancer and recovering from an above-knee leg amputation, Glenn turned to mountain biking, investing £5,000 in a carbon-fibre Ibis Mojo SL he trusted would inspire his recovery, he tells mbr.

“I went to some dark places, I can tell you,” Glenn says. “But seeing what people were doing out there with prosthetic legs — snowboarding, cycling, running and mountain biking — there was no question for me, that was the way to go. I got on it in the garden, and fell off. A lot!”

The standard NHS prosthesis proved inadequate for riding though; unsupportive and not flexible enough. So when Glenn saw YouTube footage of freestyle skier turned pro downhill mountain biker Brian Bartlett, a fellow amputee, using his own ‘Bartlett Tendon’ system for extreme sports, he knew he had to have one. With the help of Pace Rehabilitation, the clinic supporting his recovery, he set about getting his hands on one.

Made from a combination of alloy and carbon, the leg wouldn’t look out of place on the Terminator. A RockShox Monarch shock sits behind the knee joint to provide spring and damping to the leg extension and extra control comes from thick rubber ‘tendons’ that run from carbon receivers on the socket, right down to the Achilles area on the alloy pylon where the foot is fixed. These can be pre-tensioned via cams at the knee, depending on how much force Glenn needs to put through the leg. Adjustable stops dictate the minimum bend needed, because “you don’t want the leg to lock straight when riding,” Glenn says.

Easy rider: Johnstone’s  got the skills to match the technology

Easy rider: Johnstone’s got the skills to match the technology

Leg pump

And just as you adjust your suspension for different kinds of riding, so Glenn dials his knee into his day. For freeride or aggressive trails with big hits he pumps the knee to
15 psi, but on an XC ride he’ll pop just 8psi in there.

We’re amazed at this superb piece of kit (would it be wrong to actually want one?). And we were flabbergasted at how well Glenn can ride. Put a long pair of trousers on him and you’d be hard pressed to know there is anything other than a fully functional leg driving the pedals. Of course this is down to the strength in his natural leg and a hard-won skill at using the sports leg on the bike, but is utterly amazing to behold nonetheless.

“I like long rides with lots of technical riding — more extreme cross country I guess,” Glenn says. He has secured sponsorship from Bike Swanky and (like most cyclists) has seemingly embarked on a campaign to own every type of bike going, including a beautiful Sandman titanium fat bike. The carbon Ibis is still there, but his latest Pygo full-suspension takes pride of place these days, perfectly suited to his chosen terrain of the local trails, as well as Hamsterley and Kielder Forest.

When mbr goes to leave, Glenn casually drops into the conversation he has also been diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma — cancer of the lymphatic system — but shrugs it off as if it were just a minor hiccup. A true hero.

Have leg, will travel: Johnstone’s rocking a RockShox-sprung limb

Have leg, will travel: Johnstone’s rocking a RockShox-sprung limb

Inside the knee

“When out on the road I pop between five to eight psi in the shock, leave out the cam pins and this means I have low resistance to conserve energy but I can still control the knee for getting out of the saddle. When doing aggressive and freeride-style rides where I know there are going to be bigger hits I can pop my cam pins in, put between 10 to 15 psi in the shock and this allows me to take the hits as it supports my weight.”