Stabilising Wheels

Wilhelm Költgen's technical developments and great personal commitment have made a decisive contribution to opening up motorcycling to people with disabilities.

There are prettier views in romantic Kaunertal than the one Sibylle Klings and Wilhelm Költgen have sought out this morning. They are sitting on a bench and looking at the main street, just a few meters away, winding up from Prutz to the Kaunertal Glacier. "That's a K", said Költgen, even before anything could be seen. "Willi hears the engines", said Sibylle, just as a BMW K1200 RS flew round the bend. Could any scene appear more beautiful to these two holidaymakers on this summer's morning in Kaunertal?

"There's no such thing as can't!"

Willi Költgen has been fascinated by motorbikes since he was a child. His parents, also motorbike enthusiasts, have drummed one thing into him: "There's no such thing as can't!" As a young man, he rode a moped, with a hose clamp on the throttle cable, as he was born without a right hand. We won't mention the great fun he used to have screwing things onto his Kreidler Florett. However, Költgen, who was born in 1958 in St. Tönis near Krefeld, started his professional life in a "respectable" job as an IT specialist before he really got hooked. Twelve years ago, he opened the first workshop for disabled adaptations of motorcycles, in a converted pigpen at a farm. In 1996 he passed the examination to become a motorcycle master craftsman. Because Willi Költgen is a very prudent person, until two years ago he continued to work half days in his old job.

Innovation creates possibilities

"Back then, I was the first person in Germany to work professionally with motorcycles for people with disabilities and the first thing I had to do was convince people", he explained. He gradually spread his pioneering ethos throughout the country: "Make the most of your abilities and get on a motorbike, there's nothing better"! He quickly gained customer's trust, since Willi Költgen, who has a disability himself, “a hand’s breadth between body and tarmac” as a passion. His innovative developments have played a large part in convincing the market, and now almost anyone with a disability can fulfill their dream of two-wheeled mobility. The "made by Költgen" integral hand-operated braking system (HIBS) and foot-operated braking system (FIBS) as well as the electro-pneumatic switching systems and other customized adaptations allow people with a wide range of disabilities or leg and arm amputations to experience motorcycling (again). "When we make an adaptation, we always make sure that able-bodied people can use the vehicle as well", said Willi Költgen.

"Foot-free Biking System"

However, the biggest challenge he faced was opening up motorcycling to paraplegics, who until then could only ride in sidecars. "That's not really motorcycling", he thought. The result was the "Feetless Biking System" (FBS) which was patented by Költgen's company in 1999.  In a split second, at the touch of a button, two supporting wheels fold in or out from the frame. These rapidly available "legs" prevent the vehicle from toppling over when stopping or stationary and ensure the biking pleasure and cornering dynamics of a two-wheeled machine. The system can be adapted to all the main motorcycle models. If required, a special wheelchair can also be taken along. "When the FBS came out, the whole thing practically exploded", explained Willi Költgen. Television teams pushed into the small workshop and the exhibition stand at REHACare was constantly overflowing.

Source: Gunther Belitz, HANDICAP magazine, the Magazine for quality of life, Issue 2/2005.