by Crash Casey
On August twenty-first 1997, I was forced off the road by a cage. My bike flipped over a couple of times and as a result I became paralyzed. Some of you may already know this. But what I haven’t written about is my odyssey to get back on the road. I took two years, but I’m back out there as loud and proud as ever.
Even when I was in the hospital, I dreamt of riding again. Four months after my accident I was looking at bikes. It certainly freaked out some people close to me, but how do you explain an obsession. If you have to ask…
One of the interesting phenomena that occurred after the accident was the flood of well intentioned Christians that suddenly showed an interest in me. I received dozens of cards, assuring me that Jesus was there for me. My thought process tended to drift towards wondering where the hell he was when the car was forcing me off the road. At that time I did not know that God was going to have a hand on getting me back on the road. In the meantime I began to search for the components I needed to ride again.
The first part of the process was to research what kind of set-up would work best for me. Those of us in wheelchairs have three options: A trike, a regular sidehack, or a platform side hack.
A platform sidehack works something like this: You take a bike and equip it with a sidehack that you can roll your chair right up onto. The controls are all adjusted so that the steering, the shifter and the whole bike operates from the sidehack.
The second option was a trike. They’ve come a long way in the last couple of decades. Some of us are old enough to remember the radical custom trikes of the seventies. The trike of the nineties usually comes in a kit. There are several manufacturers that all produce a quality product.
The third option is a standard sidehack set-up. Harley has some factory models and there are several other guys that make after-market rigs. They all attach with a minimum of brain damage.
Having surveyed the options, I had to decide which set-up would work for me. My primary goal was to feel as normal as possible–to try and recapture bike riding as I knew it before the accident.
I ruled out the platform type set-up right away. I wanted to sit astride my machine and I definitely wanted to get out of my chair. The trike was a fair option. However it provided me with two challenges. First and foremost was access. I couldn’t get close enough to haul my ass up on it. The other problem centered around the styling of the kit. It limited your options as far as the ability to change the look of the machine, other than changing the wheels and the paint job.
So it was to be a standard, old fashioned sidehack for me. Of course I knew that I would have to make some adaptations, but that shouldn’t be any big deal. I needed to figure out the shifting, I had to keep my feet from flopping about in the wind and I had to be able to back the thing up. I set about researching.
The main problem that I encountered was that there was no central, or even reliable, source of information. It reminded me of the days of having a breakdown and being encircled by five helpful bystanders. You’re likely to end up with seven different opinions as to a possible cure. I quit asking around and set out to find the solutions myself with the help of a friend, who was an old time bike builder.
The biggest concern I had was the shifting. I figured if I got that whipped the rest was easy. I talking one day to a friend, and he happened to mention that drag bikes had an air shifter. This works with three buttons on the bars. One to upshift, one to down shift and one for neutral. The shifting is all done with a compressed air unit. There are two problems with this set up. Firstly, I wanted to be able to have the feel of shifting the bike myself and second the unit cost $2500. The price made the decision to continue my search easy.
This left me with the idea that I would use a hand shifter with a relocated clutch. The main challenge at this point was that I needed a bike to experiment on. It worked out real easy. My brother-in-law was selling his ’89 Electra Glide. It was put together just the way I like them: stripped down to bare bones-&emdash;no radio, no fairing, just the bags and a windshield. Next I had to find the sidehack. I really didn’t want to pay for a new one (six and a half grand), but used ones were almost impossible to come by. One Saturday, my brother-in law called with a hot lead. He had been looking at the Duluth paper for some inexplicable reason, and saw a Harley sidehack for sale. Twenty minutes later we were in the car heading up 35 W. I paid the guy the dough and brought my treasure home. At this point there seemed to be a certain amount of divine intervention. Stuff just kept turning up. Whenever the Old Lady hinted that this might be a mad endeavor, I reminded her of said divine intervention and told her that it was becoming quite clear that God wanted me to ride.
The first attempt at clutch set up was an abortion. We took a hand shifter and put the clutch lever right on it. The problem here was that I had to lean forward to shift. Having no abdominal muscles, this tended to leave me face down on the tank with no way to upright myself. I was at a rally towards the end of June. Just as I was leaving, a guy with a sidehack pulled in front of me and parked. As I watched he pulled a wheel chair out of the car and hopped down. I turned to the Old Lady with one of those see-God-wants-me-to-ride looks and proceeded to pick his brain. He had run the hand shifter under the tank so that it was on the right side. The clutch was on the bars. Great set-up: let go of throttle, pull clutch and shift.
The solution for the reverse was much easier. After pursuing some fruitless leads I happened on the reverse gear made by Champion. It goes right into the trannie case. The bike is shifted into neutral and you reach down and shift with the clutch depressed. Let her out and back you go.
What I thought would be the final adaptation was securing my feet. Once again I had some divine intervention. I had a friend who had a friend…I went over and checked his floor boards out. All he had were some lips welded on to the back of the boards. He assured me that this worked fine. I had visions of my legs flying around and beating me half to death, but at some point you have to have Faith.
I had seen that both of these guys had a place for their wheelchairs that consisted of a rack between the sidecar and the bike. The wheels went there and the body of the chair into the car.
Having accomplished all this, I figured I was set. Then one night I woke up with a case of the night terrors. With the extra 300 pounds that the side-hack added, my bike would be a dog. The next morning I explained my dream to Cindy along with my solution. She gave me one of those God-doesn’t-want-you-to-have-an-SS 96-stroker-looks. So I settled for working with what I had. I got an S&S Super G carb,a set of Screaming Eagle cams, along with a Screaming Eagle high performance ignition. A set of straight drag fish tails completed the modifications and all told they added about twenty ponies.
I was set to ride. With more than a little fear in my belly, I climbed on for the first time, fired her up and let out the clutch. The only way I can explain the sensation would be to equate it to the first time I had sex. Only this time I was a little less confused. The first ride went beautifully, and at the end, with a feeling of complete euphoria, I rolled off.
I’m happy with the way I set the bike up, with my choice of machine and side-hack. You might see me tearing around town. I’ll be the guy with a mad grin on my face. What you might not see is the fatherly looking fellow riding shotgun in the side hack. Yeah, that’s right; God is my co-pilot.