Adaptive Motorcycle Systems
The freedom of the open road becomes even more precious to riders who face the possibility of losing it. Such would be the case for riders who become physically disabled in ways that make it difficult or impossible to ride a conventional motorcycle.
The good news is that through the use of modern technology, clever engineering and in some cases individual determination and skill, an increasing number of options may exist for disabled riders to get back out on the road and new riders to join the fun.
This really hit home on a ride in southern Wisconsin a while back when I came across a bike with what I thought at first glance was a home-made sidecar. When I stopped to give it a look, I realized there was much more to the rig than the addition of a sidecar.
It was a 1978 Honda CB750A Hondamatic with a custom-made — perhaps by the bike’s owner — wheelchair accessible sidecar. A fold-down ramp doubles as the rear security gate, and the handlebars had been moved to the front of the sidecar, which were linked back to the Honda’s forks by an automotive tie rod set-up.
The foot brake lever was re-configured to allow it to be operated by the rider’s left hand, while the front brake lever and master cylinder was still up on the right handlebar. The instruments were relocated to the right side of the Honda to make them easily visible to the rider.
The cleverness of the design and the determination it took to build it got me thinking about what other equipment is out there to help motorcyclists keep riding no matter what their disability.
One of the functions critical to being able to ride a conventional motorcycle is being able to mount up and make the transition from stationary to motion. The dynamics of a conventional motorcycle make balance much easier once underway than when stationary and at that transition point.
The conventional motorcycle equipment of side stand and/or center stand are designed for stationary support, but don’t help with that transition to motion and may not even be that secure for the rider to mount up. A support system that keeps the bike stable during the mount and transition to motion that can be safely retracted once underway can make riding a conventional motorcycle possible for some riders who may otherwise need to consider a trike.
One option for some motorcycles to address this problem is the Legup LandinGear from ChopperDesign. The system was originally designed for 1998 thru 2008 Harley-Davidson touring bikes, but now it has been adapted to the 2009 and 2010 Harleys.
It is also now available to fit the Honda GL1800 and GL1500 Gold Wings, Harley-Davidson Dyna and Softail models, Yamaha Stratoliner, Roadliner models and Triumph Rocket III models.
The computerized system uses an electric linear actuator in “Gen I” models to lower legs with wheels on each side of the bike. Actuation in the “Gen II” models is by compressed air.
The legs are also equipped with a spring mechanism. This system will deploy the wheels only under a speed of 10 mph to balance the bike on a level surface. The legs deploy with a control button on the handlebar. The rider still puts their feet down, but the LegUp bears much of the load.
The system’s computer senses speed and wheel position and when the bike accelerates will raise the wheels automatically if the rider does not retract the wheels. Semi-automatic deployment (lowering) of the wheels is also provided.
With the Gen I system, some degree of lean—about half as much as with the wheels raised—can be achieved with the wheels lowered, allowing for uneven surfaces and to provide assistance with low-speed turns. The Gen II system does not allow for that type of lean, supporting the bike more firmly. For more information, visit Legup LandinGear.
Gear changes also can be a barrier to riders with certain disabilities. To address this challenge, one adaptive system that is available is called the Kliktronic Electric Shifter. The Kliktronic device is made in the U.K. To visit the manufacturer’s website, visit Kliktronic . Distribution in the U.S. is through Disabled Motorcycle Riders, Inc. Check out that website for a great deal of information on equipment options for riders overcoming the difficulties a disability can present.
The device is adaptable to most motorcycle transmission shifter types using a universal installation kit and other purpose-built systems are also available. Installation usually takes about 4 to 6 hours using the Universal kit, which includes a handlebar switch, control box, mounting bracket and the actuator. Product literature indicates most DIY riders who work on their own motorcycles will be able to install it themselves.
The electrical connections consist of a + and – battery, and a hot ignition on wire connection. The newest model comes prewired to accept an ignition interrupt switch, which would allow full throttle upshifts without using the clutch.
On most bikes, the actuator can usually be mounted to the frame front down tube or to the primary drive area. The control box is slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes and is easy to fit under the seat or in the faring. The switch assembly goes down on the left handlebar between the grip and the clutch lever housing and needs a 1/4” of space. The weight of the unit is about five pounds.
Using the Kliktronic Electric Shifter eliminates the need for foot operation of the shift lever and enables shifting to be done with both hands on the handlebars.
Another function that can be a big barrier is the need to work those levers up on the handlebar if the rider has lost the use of one hand or the other. That problem is addressed by the K-2 lever system, which is manufactured by the same company that makes the Kliktronic Electric Shifter.
The K-2 system is for riders who have right leg problems or right or left hand arm problems. The system provides tandem levers mounted one above the other.
It can be set up to operate the foot brake, front hand brake or the clutch as well as adaptable for cable or hydraulic connections. Levers can be configured to accommodate various hand sizes, as well. Symmetrically designed, the K-2 lever system can be mounted on either right or left hand side and is adjustable to mount on 7/8” or 1” diameter handlebars. Lever offset is adjustable up to 2 1/4”.
Another device that can assist with handlebar adaptation is the Lawwill Quick Release Prosthetic Hand, also known as the Mert Lawwill Quick Release Handlebar Attachment or Mert’s Hands. Yes, that is correct—an adaptive device to keep hand amputee riders in the saddle is the brainchild of motorcycle racing legend Mert Lawwill.
Suitable for use on motorcycles, bicycles or snowmobiles — or most any vehicle that has a handlebar — Mert’s device is the result of Mert Lawwill creating a custom-designed quick release device for former Harley-Davidson factory racer Chris Draayer to continue to ride after a crash that cost him his arm. Subsequently, Lawwill continued to refine the design and brought it to mass production to allow individuals who were born without one hand or who have had an amputation to use both upper extremities to ride.
Now manufactured by DKG, the device utilizes a ball-and-socket joint with a quick-release socket attached to the handlebar and a unique ball-end at the end of the prosthetic.
The ball releases from the socket when a “ramp” on the hand piece puts pressure on the surface of the socket and mechanically forces itself out. Six individually adjustable detents within the socket allow the rider to determine how much release pressure will be required to detach from the handlebars and at which points.
Another innovative product that can help adapt a bike’s hand controls is the EFM Auto Clutch, which eliminates the need for manual clutch engagement—though shifting is still required.
The Auto Clutch engages automatically as the engine RPMs increase and disengages as the engine speed decreases, similar to centrifugal clutches used in some small engine applications—but on a much larger scale.
For those riders who prefer or need to consider trike conversion kits as the way to go to stay out on the open road, there are quite a range of options and manufacturers.
Here are just a few:
We just wanted to provide an introduction to some of the options the keep riders riding or help new riders get out there, no matter what disabilities affect their ability to ride. New innovations are happening all the time, so keep clicking back to Ultimate MotorCycling as we track the latest in all motorcycle technology.