A sensation of freedom

Growing numbers of people with disabilities are experiencing the pleasure and adrenalin of driving on two (or more) wheels.

Twenty years ago, anyone with a disability who wanted to ride a motorcycle had little chance of seeing their dream come true. There were no adapted versions for people with disabilities and officials and approval bodies put up obstacles. To feel the wind rush past their ears, they could resort to motorized invalid carriages or sidecars, with the exception of a few enthusiasts with minor disabilities whose home-made solutions the vehicle inspection authorities had turned a blind eye to. And self-confidence and the need for self-realization were still so low among people with disabilities that very few even thought about riding a motorcycle.

The situation has changed dramatically. Today, people with a wide range of disabilities can safely drive a two-wheeled vehicle. Three-wheeled trikes and four-wheeled quads have brought new concepts to the market and can easily be used by people with disabilities, simply with their usual car driver's license and with no need for major adaptations. It's hardly surprising that a growing number of people with disabilities want to experience this great freedom and feel the rush of adrenalin as they take the corners. "Biking when you have just one leg is now almost a luxury", said Wilhelm Költgen with a smile. An inhabitant of the German town of Krefeld who has had a hand amputated, Költgen's innovative adaptations have made a decisive contribution to progress in this area. His "Feetless Bike System" allows even paraplegics to ride a motorcycle.

Lifelong friendships

In 1991, Költgen organized the first meeting for disabled motorcyclists, with six attendees. Today, up to 60 bikers from all over Germany attend the annual meeting held on a campsite every Whitsun. The conversation is direct, but friendly. He got a "stiff neck from sitting in a draught", was cited as the cause of an accident that had befallen one of the new participants. Gerald Weidlich, a regular attendee, is pleased to catch up with an old acquaintance who lost in a hand in an accident with a firecracker. "It's crazy the rubbish some people think about having a disability", said the 46-year old from Berlin, who lost a leg in a motorbike accident.
Tours made together from their base at the campsite and long evenings around the campfire create lifelong friendships. Bikes and their equipment are of course the main topic, but conversations also cover the latest wheelchairs and prostheses. Motorcyclists are immediately on first name terms, but they never ask: What do you do? Where do you come from? "People tend to open up, social communication is more intensive", noted Willi Költgen. The classless biker society is not closed to women. Quite the opposite, a growing number of women with disabilities are no long happy with being passengers and want to ride on their own. Sibylle Klings, whose upper leg has been amputated, had her bike fitted out by Willi Költgen and took her motorcycle test with Wolfgang Schroers. As the manager of a social association, she has a demanding working life and finds that biking provides an outlet: "If I drive intensively for half an hour, my head clears and I forget about the pressure".

Know-how from those concerned for those concerned

One of the most well-known experts in quads is the paraplegic Otto Belser, whose name will be familiar to many readers as a carting pioneer and a successful racer. Belser has converted the 15.5 PS cart to allow disabled people to start out in the H formula, an integrative racing series. His Moto-Activ company is also an appointed dealer for Yahama and Kawasaki motorbikes and quads. Although Otto Belser does not offer motorbike conversions, he offers a huge selection of quads configured to offer maximum driving fun for people with disabilities. Roland Herbig became a paraplegic after a motorcycle accident ten years ago and since 1998 has been riding a motorcycle he adapted himself, complete with side car to transport his wheelchair. Herbig's company M-design specializes in disabled conversions for solo motorcycles and motorcycle combinations.

Source:HANDICAP magazine, the Magazine for quality of life, Issue 2/2004.