GETTING ON THE ROAD Adaptive Modifications for Amputee Motorcycling By Jeffrey J. Cain MD
Inspired by InMotion’s stories of amputee motorcycling? Ready to join them on the road? Getting your motorcycle ready for amputee riding is not necessarily difficult, you merely need to understand how the controls on the motorcycle operate and how to modify them to work with your prosthesis.
This article reviews common motorcycle modifications for amputee riders and how to prepare yourself for the road. An adaptive rider’s best friend is a local cycle shop with a craftsman able to modify your motorcycle, because there is no formal adaptive motorcycling organization in the US. The market is too small to find most motorcycle adaptations “off the shelf” and you may need to customize your bike for your specific needs and abilities. Let’s start by looking at how a rider uses the controls on a motorcycle, and some common modifications for amputees: Left Leg On a standard motorcycle, the left foot operates the gear shifter by lifting up and pushing down with the toes. Riders with a BK prosthetic can modify the shift lever by adding a heel extension to allow changing gears by both pushing down with the heel and pushing down at the toe postition. This system already comes standard on some cruiser models like the Harley Davidson. Alternately, the shifter can be moved to the right side as it used to be on older British bikes. A slick newer option is the Kliktronic electronic shifter system. The Kliktronic is a gear-changer that uses a push button gear selector on the handlebar connected to an electric solenoid to operate the bike’s shift lever. Gear changing is done with the left hand, and the very complete kit can be moved if /when you change bikes. Right Leg Most motorcycles operate the real wheel brake with a toe lever on the right side. Modification options for right leg amps include either operating a modified right brake pedal with the prosthetic, moving the brake to the left side, or mounting a second hand brake lever in tandem to the front brake lever on the handlebar. BMW and many other modern motorcycles now come with an anti-lock brake system that automatically inter-connects the front and back brakes and eliminates the need for these changes. Above Knee Considerations Two challenges for AK riders are keeping the bike upright while stopped and operating the side stand. Solutions for these challenges include choosing a prosthetic knee that is stable in an extended position and linking the side stand to a hand lever extender below the tank. Many AK riders eliminate these issues by riding a motorcycle with a side car or a trike, both of which are more stable yet allow the freedom of motorcycling. Other Options for Leg Amputees An alternative to the expense and hassle of modifying a standard motorcycle is to choose one with automatic transmission, where all the bike’s functions are operated by hand controls. Great options vary from the classic Italian Vespa scooter, to the “super scooter” Honda SilverWing and Suzuki 650 Burgman models that have the look and performance of modern motorcycles, to the Ridley cruiser that has the sound and appearance of a custom V-twin. Arm Amputees Arm amputees, even more than leg amputees, are faced with the choice of modifying either the motorcycle or modifying their prosthetic. Changing the motorcycle entails re-routing the standard brake, throttle, or clutch controls to operate them with one hand. Cycling specific prosthetic modifications allow the rider to engage the brake or clutch with a specialized end unit. Bike kits and prosthetic solutions are available on the internet (see links below). Additional recommendations for arm amputees include a front steering dampener and using velcro on the glove of the prosthetic hand to assist with control of the bike and keeping the prosthetic hand on the bars. Getting Started Riding a motorcycle is a thoroughly exhilarating and fun experience. Along with the thrills come some additional risks. Before starting adaptive motorcycling, consider a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) class to learn the rules of the road, and check with your state motor vehicle department to find out if there are additional testing requirements for adaptive riders. Buy the best helmet that is comfortable for you to wear, and wear it every time you ride. Start on side roads away from traffic, and move up to higher speeds and traffic as your skills progress. See you on the road, and keep the shiny side up!
Jeffrey Cain is a bilateral BK amputee and a member of the ACA board. He rides a Vespa scooter for urban commuting and on the weekends a Kawasaki W650 with a modified shift lever.
Online Resources National Association of Bikers with Disabilities (British): www.nabd.org.uk
The shifter is modified by elevating the toe lever and adding a heel lever. This allows shifting gears with the prosthesis by pushing down on the toe lever (downshift) or by pushing down on the heel (upshift)