The crash was on July 19, 2019. Iíd been in hospitals in Malawi, Johannesburg, Royal Perth and now the Spinal Unit at Fiona Stanley. By October the realisation was setting in that I wouldnít be walking out of the hospital.
Doesnít mean that Iíve given up on walking and I was continuing to work hard on my fitness and trying to get my legs to work. After all my spinal cord had been severely compressed but it wasnít severed, I was lucky. So Iím thinking about the future.
I need to get my house modified for a start off so as I can live there independently and I need to be able to drive my car. Initially I was thinking Iíd have to sell it, as itís a Mitsubishi Pajero and buy a sedan or ute of some sort.
But my car has low kms and I think Iíd lose money if I bought something else. I knew about Brendonís work at BF Customs, but hadnít actually had any work done by him. I also started looking at sidecar modifications on the internet for disabled riders and watched paraplegic riders getting in and out of cars and on and off sidecars, so that I could figure out how to do it.
My occupational therapist at Fiona Stanley, Emma, was fabulous. We did heaps of practicing getting in and out of a sedan in the carpark. I wanted to be home by Christmas and after some amazing help from Peter Young, Tony Kittelty and of course Ray Macneall, I would be home on the 21st of December.
Iíd arranged to do a compulsory theory driving test on Christmas Eve with another Emma in Albany. This was to drive a modified car with hand controls and modified seat, so as I could get from my wheelchair to the car easily and drive it myself. But we had to decide how this was going to be done.
Brendon from BF Customs (in the Porongorups) had recently become an agent for Mobility Engineering, which was a stroke of luck for me. We all met at Emmaís offices in Nakina Street, Albany to figure out how the car was to be modified.
It was shortly after in January Brendon came around to discuss the details of how he was going to modify the car. When heíd finished chatting about the car, I said, "Brendon, can you come out the shed a sec, I got something to show you.": the sidecar.
I had a 1982 BMW R100CS with a Goanna Sidecar attached. Originally Chris bought it, but we both rode it. Weíd had it for something like 25 years and done a lot of kilometres in it. ďSo what do you reckon Brendon, can we modify it so as I can ride?Ē
Iíd researched where we could get the hand-controls from, a place called DMR, Disabled Motorcycle Riders in the UK. They had impressive-looking, well-made hand controls for front and rear brake, and a push-button gearchange system. Google it and have a look at their stuff.
Iíd also on video clips seen a paraplegic rider fastening the wheelchair wheels in between the bike and the sidecar. That looked good too. Then the wheelchair should fit in the sidecar itself. Easy ha ha.
But Brendon was willing to take it on after the car was finished, I was very excited. I needed the car to get around and use for my independence, but Iím a motorcyclist, have been for well over 50 years.
The car was done, brilliant job on Brendonís part. And I sat and passed my test. By now Brendon had the sidecar up at his workshop in the Porongorups. Brendon managed to get the hand controls from DMR, although it didnít go very smoothly and it took a lot of persistence on the part of Brendon to eventually get them delivered to his workshop.
The BMW has a hydraulic front brake, but the rear brake was drum. And there were complications getting the levers because of that. The setup for the gear change would be fine. After modifying the brake lever and anchor on the rear drum, with Brendon manufacturing the parts needed, the brakes were attached and working.
The gear change was simpler. There is a gas cylinder attached to the modified gear stick which is electronically controlled by two buttons on the handlebars, green and red. Green makes the cylinder push the gearstick up and red pushes it down. The angle was slightly wrong for the cylinder to work correctly and so another part was manufactured.
It now works better that a foot controlled one! In the meantime Brendon had been working on making a couple of racks for me as I figured Iíd need more storage space. The front one was attached to the front of the sidecar body, beautiful job done by Carson, Brendonís son and co-worker.
I already had one on the back of the sidecar with the spare wheel attached, but I thought another one on top would be a good idea too. Brendon and Carson manufactured another rack that lifted up and down over the top of the spare wheel, did a fabulous job, perfect.
Now Brendon said do you want to come out and have a look at the controls and see what the position of them is like, etc. before he goes any further. So with a grin on my face I drove my car out to the Porongorups taking my helmet with me.
One of my best mates, Huw, was riding down from Perth to stay with me a couple of nights so we arranged to meet at the Porongorups. I think Brendon thought I would just be sitting on the bike in the shed, no hope, I wanted to ride it.
I had trouble getting on as itís a fair hop from the wheelchair to the bike seat, but Huw and Brendon got me on. Sometimes my legs and feet spasm, and I was concerned they would jump off the footpeg and I wouldnít know, so I asked them to tie my feet so that wouldnít happen. Helmet on, I was off, gear change is fantastic, brakes worked brilliantly and I was sitting very comfortably. I was having a ball, first time on a bike since Africa.
I was gone for 30 minutes tearing around the Porongorups, bloody brilliant. From this though we had to figure out how I was going to get on the bike seat from the wheelchair easily, so we got the idea of a pannier that would take my weight, so as I could hop from the wheelchair to the pannier and then to the seat safely.
I gave Brendon a BMW inner luggage bag, got a strap on it too which would be handy for me. He built the most amazing pannier. It is absolutely fabulous, like a work of art. When I say weíre lucky to have someone with his skills in our region Iím not kidding, and his welding is superb.
We also figured a handle would be a good idea too to help me push onto the bike seat from the pannier, and it would have to be removable. No problem, and maybe another fitting for the handle attached to the side of the sidecar next to the bike which would also assist me in moving around safely.
The pannier is lockable, waterproof and spacious. I can pack my stuff for say an overnight pub stay for example in the inner bag and easily carry it into the room or whatever for the night. Brendon and Carson also altered the spare wheel rack on the back of the sidecar so as I could attach the wheelchair wheels to it, which Iíd seen it on a Kiwi riders outfit and it was a very good idea.
Be nothing worse than arriving somewhere and Iíd lost the wheels on the way ha. Itís got the same internal mechanism as the wheelchair and clicks on the same, brilliant.
Garry Dibble at Albany Motorcycles donated a spotlight that I wanted and some braking equipment too, thanks Garry. I thought being as Iíd be going at a slower speed that I used to do itís going to take longer to get anywhere. WA is a big State, so I might end up riding at night, which I enjoy anyway.
I went back out and tried our system of me getting on and off the bike. Easy doing the pannier hopping thing but I was having trouble lifting my leg over the tank at first. But after going home and thinking about it I thought what if I get on the seat of the bike, move onto the pillion seat area, twist my body to the left which will bring my left knee up and then grab my leg and throw it over. And guess what it worked.
The other thing was that footpegs were no good as my feet could jump off them, and I couldnít tie them on each time. So we came up with the idea of Harley Davidson runner boards. Luckily he had some buried in his shed off a seventies Shovelhead.
These were attached, and the right one also had a rail around the outside as well, which would help me position my feet when jumping on the bike and at the same time stop any movement of my feet when on the road. It all looks fabulous. He also made some guards over the muffler near where my feet would be so I wouldnít burn my foot.
I was still having trouble getting off, but more of that later. We needed to have an Engineers Report, so the outfit had to be inspected. They wanted reverse gear and a parking brake. Reverse gear is fair enough because I canít push it backwards with my feet, but a parking brake? Iíve done about 130,000km and never had a need for a parking brake, but they wanted it so we had to do it.
Brendon put a lot of thought into both of these. Fred and Andreas Powell came around to my place one day and were adamant they wanted to help with the reverse, so after a lot of thought on their behalf they got me a 12v electric motor off a harvester.
Brendon still had to figure out how it would work. He eventually made a grooved cylinder that was attached to the electric motor with a long lever that I could operate from the bike seat. A switch was put in the inside of the fairing. So reverse is accomplished by putting the bike into neutral (it wonít work otherwise, as a safety measure), switching it on so as the motor is turning, they pushing the lever down, the cylinder comes into contact with the sidecar wheel and pushes the outfit slowly backwards. The motor could do with a bit more power, but it works.
He also put a reverse light under the sidecar body. Now the brake. Iíve got a 15 inch Akront motorcycle wheel on the front of the bike and a VW 15 inch rear wheel. But the sidecar is a mini wheel. Brendon managed to source a mini wheel drumbrake. This he installed using a parking brake lever the same as a car in between the bike and sidecar. It all looks so well done, Iím thrilled with it.
One other thing was sidecar outfits can be thirsty as the fuel consumption spirals downwards the faster you travel. So he managed to locate an 11 litre narrow jerry can which is attached between the front of the bike and the sidecar. This gives me peace of mind. The BMW rack behind the pillion seat is a bit flimsy. Brendon reinforced this so it will take weight and attached a backrest to it.
This gives me more security when hopping on and off and again looks great. It passed the Engineers Inspection with flying colours, and also was certified as roadworthy by the DPI. I get the phone call, heís tried it all out, everything is working and itís ready for me to pick up. I drive out to the Porongorups with Garry Blake, whoíll drive my car back.
After showing me the parking brake and reverse, itís time to head back to Albany. I sat around 85-90km/h which is a nice speed. It was great, comfortable, my knees gripped the tank and my feet didnít move, perfect. Got home, opened the shed door with the remote which I have on me and hop off the bike, still having trouble doing that when Garry suggested I hop on the pannier and then lift my leg as my knee has moved onto the seat naturally.
That worked really well. After doing it a few times itís so easy now, brilliant. So if I want to go for a ride I pull-up on the wheelchair, next to the pannier, put the brake on the wheelchair, and push myself onto the pannier. Then remove the pannier handle from where it was in between the sidecar and the bike and put it in the slots on the side of the pannier, push myself onto the bike seat, move back onto the pillion part of the seat, twist to the left, knee up on the seat, grab my ankle and pull my foot over the tank onto the left runner board, move down the seat into the normal riding position.
Then pull the right wheelchair armrest off, already put the left one in the sidecar, take the wheelchair cushion off and put that in the floor of the sidecar. Put the wheelchair on its side, take off the one wheel, attach it to the fitting that Brendon made, flip the wheelchair and take off the other wheel and attach it.
Now fold the wheelchair and heave it over the tank and into the recess of the sidecar. Fits nice and snug. Then Iím off! Getting off is the same in reverse. Itís bloody brilliant, Iím riding again. Brendon, youíre a genius, and a top welder.
The way heís thought problems through has been great. Iíll always be indebted to Brendon and Carson for getting me back on a bike. Motorcycling has been a big part of my life and always will be. Now to start my adventures...