As is the case with many motorcycle owners, Larry Curry only rides when it’s pretty outside. But unlike most riders, he has his wheelchair with him when he goes out for a spin.
Just a year ago, Curry would never have thought he’d be able to ride a motorcycle, let alone one with a V8 engine. Born without legs, he had driven cars before, but earlier this year his friend Monte Warne, owner of Boss Hoss Cycles, gave him the opportunity to ride a wheelchair-accessible trike.
“Larry often said that he’d never had a chance to ride a motorcycle,” Warne recalls. “I said, ‘You know, we can do some customization and you can ride a trike.’”
Warne had enjoyed the freedom of riding a V8 bike for much of his life, and did some research to see what he could do to accommodate his friend. Teaming up with V8 Performance, Inc., creators of Hossfly V8 bar stool racers and located just down the road from the Boss Hoss factory in Dyersburg, TN, Boss Hoss Cycles created the Advantage Trike, the first production-made wheelchair accessible trike.
The design was based on the existing Boss Hoss Trike model. “We used the body that we already had and just cut off the back,” explains Warne.
They started the project in Fall 2007, and within a couple months the trike was ready for Curry to ride. The Advantage Trike will be commercially available in Fall 2008.
The back of the Advantage Trike has a wheelchair lift built into the chassis, which is hidden by the fiberglass, truck-style trike body. The door to the lift is remote-control operated. The rider can move himself onto the lift, which will raise the wheelchair until the seat is level with the seat of the bike. There are two big grab handles that the rider can use to pull him or herself onto the seat. The lift can then lower the wheelchair, where a lid will cover the lift and the chair, securing it and putting it out of sight during the ride. All the controls of the trike are hand operable to accommodate individuals who either do not have legs, or do not have use of them.
Warne had looked at other wheelchair accessible bike models, and noticed that in most cases the wheelchair had to be folded and stowed on the side of the vehicle. His aim was to make it inconspicuous. Warne also found that with most accessible bikes, the rider required assistance to get on or off. “One of our biggest concerns during the design process was to make sure the rider could have independence,” Warne says. “That’s why we wanted the lift and lid to be remote controlled.”
Despite the altered design, the Advantage Trike still provides the power and smoothness of a regular Boss Hoss Trike. “Just like any other bike or trike, the Advantage Trike can be made between 300 horsepower and 440 horsepower,” Warne says.
In fact, Palmer says, the Advantage Trike might even have features that are better than a regular trike. “We’ve added a little weight, so it’s probably a smoother ride.”
To make the bike just right for Curry, a special harness was created. “Riders without legs have no counterbalance, so we needed to design a system that would hold the rider safely on the seat,” Warne explains. “Every individual may have different needs and require further customization, which we will accommodate.”
The hard work put into this design paid off when Warne and Palmer saw Curry’s reaction to his new motorcycle. “He was just tickled,” Palmer says. Not only was he impressed, he was also eager to ride. Curry got the bike on a Monday, and got his license on Tuesday. “The first time I rode I wasn’t scared, but I was nervous,” Curry says. “I got it up to 80 mph real quick to get a feel for it.”
Curry quickly got used to his new wheels. “About a week after it was built, we brought the trike to Daytona Bike Week where Larry put 500 miles on it,” Palmer says.
“The trike gives me freedom I never thought I could have,” Curry says.
Even a dinner at Cracker Barrel near his Dyersburg, TN, home is not the same. Curry took his trike to a local restaurant, parked it and marveled at all the people who took pictures and asked questions. “This trike has definitely caused a stir wherever I take it,” he says.
“Most of the people who’ve seen it are amazed by how user-friendly it is, how it’s going to open so many doors for disabled people,” he says.
Curry hopes people who were born disabled, veterans and soldiers disabled in Iraq, along with riders who have been disabled in accidents, will have the opportunity to experience the freedom he feels when he rides. “I wanted the bike for all those people,” he says.
Recently, ABILITY’s Chet Cooper flew to Iowa to ride through some of its hillier terrain with Dan Kleen on Kawasaki’s new Teryx 750 Side X Side. Kleen is the executive director of the Iowa OffHighway Vehicle Association and the president of the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
Chet Cooper: Dan what do you do as a leader for these two organizations?
Dan Kleen: As president of the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC), I work with riders, clubs, state associations, manufacturers and others to promote and educate people to ride their All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and off-road motorcycles responsibly.
Cooper: State associations plural?
Kleen: Yeah. Right now we have NOHVCC partners in 43 states. We try to find someone in each state who knows what’s happening in that region and make them our go-to person. NOHVCC holds an annual conference in a new location each year. This year it was in Albuquerque, NM, and we had approximately 230 attendees.
Cooper: How long have you been with NOHVCC?
Kleen: I started as an Iowa NOHVCC Partner in 1995, and I’m into my fourth (two-year) term as president; I served on the board of directors for three years before being elected president.
I actually helped form our state association in 1988. Our membership is about half ATVs and half Off-Road Motorcycles. The registration is $15 a year for either.
Cooper: How did you get the land on which you ride?
Kleen: In 1990, when we opened our first park, Iowa was still not allowing us to ride on state-owned property. So the first park that we opened was the Bluff Creek OHV Park. Title is held by Iowa Partners of NOHVCC (a non-profit corporation). We would like to turn it over to state ownership, and probably will be soon. The state now allows us to ride on their property, if it’s a designated Iowa OHV Park. We encourage the state to take ownership of our OHV Parks, when possible. It helps us out with liability and, down the road, we know that the park will be there forever. So it’s a good deal for us all.
In Iowa, we’ve got eight OHV Parks. Bluff Creek we own. Four are on city property. Two are on Army Corps of Engineers’ property. And our newest project, the Gypsum City OHV Park located in Fort Dodge, is owned by Webster County Improvement Corporation, which is a non-profit corporation.
The key to the success of the Gypsum City OHV Park is the many partnerships supporting the project. We have had land donations from four gypsum companies. Some of this land was mined over 80 years ago, and has reforested itself. The trees and ponds are like nothing else in this part of the state. And some of the property has been reclaimed. This park will offer trails and riding opportunities that attract riders from all over the country. The local community has really gotten behind this project from day one.
Cooper: “Reclaimed” is an issue of liability? Taxes?
Kleen: These companies are obligated to reclaim any land they have altered through their mining operations. Some of the older areas may have been grandfathered in and do not need to be touched again. These areas are the ones that make the best riding. And what makes this OHV Park project unique is that we were able to introduce and pass two pieces of legislation. One allowed transfer of ownership of this land without reclamation, and the second exempted the companies from any liability down the road if someone were to be injured on the property that they had mined. Both pieces of legislation were introduced and spearheaded by local legislators: state representative Helen Miller and state senator Daryl Beall. Without their leadership and support, this OHV Park would not have happened.
This is a perfect example of how getting to know and educate your legislators on your issues and goals can make a difference. We went to them and asked for their support and, after showing them what an OHV Park could do to benefit their community, they were willing to help.
Cooper: Do riders need to be a member of a club or association to ride in OHV Parks?
Kleen: No, they just need have to have a current Iowa OHV registration.
Cooper: When you fly over and see all this land, you would think it would be easy to find new areas for OHV Parks.
Kleen: You would think so, but Iowa is ranked 49th in the nation for amount of public land. About 98 percent of Iowa land is privately owned. So it is very hard to find an area of any size to open an OHV Park. The Timber Ridge area that we’ll be riding in today is a private, family-owned operation.
Kleen: Yes, it is one of only a few private riding areas in Iowa, and it is also the oldest and the largest. They have around 3000 acres. This area is very diversified with rows of crops, hay fields, apple orchards, vineyards, a winery, hunting, fishing, sporting clays and, of course, some of the best trail riding in the Midwest. They have around 200 members who are allowed to ride these trails and enjoy the great outdoors. Some of the members have cabins or campers and have been out here for many years.
Cooper: How about wildlife?
Kleen: Lots of it! You’ll see a little bit of everything out there. Deer and turkey are plentiful.
Cooper: Will we have to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic when we go out?
Kleen: Yes, all the trails are two-way. We saw a few bikes yesterday. During the week like this though, it’s not so busy. On weekends we see a lot more riders.
Cooper: How long have you been riding?
Kleen: All my life. I grew up on a farm, and we started off on mini bikes and go-carts then worked our way up to motorcycles and ATVs.
Cooper: How were you injured? And did your injury change what you ride?
Kleen: I was hurt in a diving accident 21 years ago. At the time I rode motorcycles, both off-road and street bikes. ATVs were just starting to get popular. After my injury I could not ride two-wheeled motorcycles so I bought a Honda Odyssey, which has hand controls on the steering wheel and is very easy to use. At that time, very few ATVs could be ridden without needing a lot of modifications. Nowadays most ATVs have fully automatic transmissions and engine braking, and need few modifications for people with limited mobility to ride. Even the side-by-sides, like the new Kawasaki Teryx that we’ll be riding today, are great machines for people of all abilities who want to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. If needed, they can be adapted with hand controls, like the one I’ll be riding. These are the same hand controls used in cars and vans for people who need them.
Cooper: You ride street bikes also?
Kleen: Yes, one of my favorite things to do is to hit the road on my street bikes. For awhile, I thought my road riding days were also over. But I started checking into sidecars and found out they would work great for me. I can load my wheelchair into the sidecar and ride the motorcycle with the help of an electric shifter that I operate with my thumb. These bikes also have reverse, so I can back out of a garage or parking spots. Many elderly and people with limited abilities are starting to ride trikes—three-wheeled motorcycles.
Cooper: They come with a reverse feature?
Kleen: Some come with an electric reverse and on some you can have it installed. Another item that can really help those of us with limited upper body strength is a product called EZSteer; it’s like adding power steering to your motorcycle, but can only be used if you have a sidecar or trike.
Cooper: How do you get on and off your motorcycle?
Kleen: I wheel up to it, lift my right leg over the seat and then just transfer onto the seat. After I’m on the bike I take the wheels off my wheelchair and set them in the sidecar. It is always fun to watch the looks others give me when they realize it is a wheelchair in the sidecar, or when they see me get on or off the bike.
Cooper: Do sidecars feel strange? I would think if you’re used to a motorcycle’s balance, having that third wheel would feel different.
Kleen: It definitely handles and corners differently. You’ve got to take your time and get used to the handling. Right-hand turns on a sidecar can be challenging if you do not know what you’re doing. Some riders carry sandbags in their sidecars to help balance the rig while cornering. But it is like anything else: You need to practice a bit, and know what your machine can do.
Cooper: How do you haul your motorcycle and ATVs?
Kleen: I have owned several motor homes that I used to haul them in, and that worked well. But a few years ago I bought a Toy Hauler trailer—a camper trailer from which the back end opens to load ATVs or motorcycles. They also make a great camper, so you have all your stuff with you, including an accessible restroom and shower. Camping to me just makes any trip more complete.
Cooper: How do you get into your trailer?
Kleen: I use a Super-Arm lift in my trailer. It is the same one I have used in all my motor homes. I learned after buying many wider doors over the years, that I can use a stock-width door with this lift. Once I’m off the ground, all I need to do is pull one wheel off the wheelchair and set it in inside the door. After I’m through the door, I put the wheel back on.
Cooper: Why can’t you just roll in the trailer using the rear ramp door?
Kleen: If you’re not hauling anything you can. But if you’re camping by yourself, you don’t have anybody with you to shut the door. If you’ve got your bike or ATV in the back, you can’t get around it. I’ve seen people marketing the toy haulers as handicap accessible campers because of the rear ramp doors. The way I have my camper setup, I can travel by myself.
Cooper: Some of them are automatic; you just push a button and the door comes down. I always thought that the inner door—normally there’s a door between the vehicle compartment and a living area—should be wider.
Kleen: Mine doesn’t have the automatic rear door. And I do not have the divider wall. I have just a sliding door. I looked at a lot of them, wondering what it was going to take to modify the bathroom. This one had a floor plan that worked well, because there’s a queensized bed crossways up front. That’s another thing I wanted: one that had the bed made up all the time, not one that you needed to unload your ATVs or motorcycles to fold down the bed. I wanted the bed up front, and this one had the bathroom next to the bed. I just removed the divider wall and turned the toilet sideways so I could transfer right from the bed to the toilet, or wheel right up to it in the chair. That works really well.
Cooper: There’s a company called RV Décor that was remodeling RVs to begin with, but now has gone into modifying them so they’re accessible. Apparently there are a lot of people who live in their RVs and travel around. Or maybe they’re just aging in place, and they have their bathroom fixtures and appliances installed at a certain level.
Kleen: I’ve had several motor homes, and I really like them. I can see someday getting another one. I think I could be one of those people who sells their home and just travels. Our winters in Iowa are just killers. I’d love to go South and ride all winter. However, I don’t know how feasible it’ll be at $5 a gallon for fuel.
Cooper: Apparently that’s what some people do. There are even groups of people who rendezvous in the same place each year. They’ve created a community. If gas prices stay this expensive, it will cost them a lot, but it’s still cheaper living overall.
Kleen: I could see traveling for several years. I’ve known several people who have sold their houses and now live in their motor homes full-time. We have a lot of people from Iowa, retirees and farmers, who just load up and get away from the winter and go to Arizona, Texas or Florida, for example.
Cooper: What about your mobile Senator, Tom Harkin, is he here much or is he mostly in DC?
Kleen: He’s in DC most of the time. He’s been a tremendous help for all Americans with any type of disability or limitation. His leadership and unending work with ADA has improved the lives of millions of people. We owe him a big ‘Thank You.’
Cooper: He writes for us on a regular basis… At this point, we’re headed over to one of the hilliest areas in Iowa?
Kleen: That’s right. We have southern Iowa and both the east and the west that have some hills, but where I’m from, it’s flat and all farmed. A friend came up from Georgia one time and said it was so flat here that he could stand in the back of his pickup and watch his dog run away for three days. (laughs)
Cooper: (laughs) That’s funny. So tell me, how many off-road vehicles do you have now?
Kleen: I’ve got three ATVs, a Kawasaki V-Force 700cc, a Kawasaki 650 Brute Force and a Yamaha 700 Grizzly with power steering.
Cooper: How did you get involved with this ride today?
Kleen: Kawasaki was coming to Iowa for this Teryx event, and I was lucky enough to be asked to join in. They put automotive hand controls on the Teryx I’ll be riding. They’re doing a test drive out here, taking some pictures, trying to show people who may have limitations that there are ways to get out and ride.
Cooper: How did you like it?
Kleen: It was a blast! It’s very comfortable. You’ve got the bucket seats, the seat belt and shoulder strap, so you can feel very secure. And the hand controls work great. It’s easy for me to transfer.
Cooper: So you can load your wheelchair in the back?
Kleen: Yes, it can be set behind you in the rear cargo box. There is plenty of room for the wheelchair and other items you want to carry. I can really see where this would work great for hunting trips. I wish I could have had this Teryx last fall when I shot a mule deer in Wyoming. Last year, I had a good hunting season. I harvested a mule deer, two antelopes and four white tail deer. Iowa’s got an overpopulation problem with deer, especially in the southern counties. We have 99 counties in Iowa and many of the southern ones have anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 bonus doe tags. That’s after all the other deer hunting seasons. A couple years ago the state also started a rifle season, just for some southern counties to try to get more people to come and harvest more deer. Deer are damaging crops and costing farmers a lot of money, so hunters are getting extra tags to help keep the population down.
Cooper: I’ve only bagged one deer in my life. I did it with a motorcycle. It was very painful. I was in my teens and I had this new dirt bike. I was headed out to join up with some friends, and I was flying down this dirt road deep in the woods when a deer jumped in front of me. And as I thought Boy, was that close, I plowed right into a second one. I curled up as I tumbled along the road. The bike was also flipping over and over, and I thought it was going to land on me. When the dust settled I was bleeding a lot, but I also hit the handlebars right under my ribs, so I didn’t know if had internal bleeding, as well. I tried to find my way out of the forest. Luckily, I fainted near where a church group was camping out, and they got me to the hospital. Well I got the first deer of the season, the hard way. It was a small town, and everybody heard what had happened. Somebody came and got the deer.
Kleen: I have never hit a deer with a bike and, knock on wood, I hope I never do.
Cooper: Believe me I understand. Tell me more about how you reach out to riders with disabilities?
Kleen: Yes. We had our conference in West Virginia a year ago, and I was sitting in the parking lot in one of the riding areas and a young man saw me in my chair. He came over and started talking. I could tell he had leg problems. I think he was born with spina bifida. His family lives there in town, and he rides every day. He had an ATV with 60,000 miles on it. It had a radio on it. He rides around and talks to everybody, kind of the local unofficial host of the trails. He knows everybody and knows where to go; he’s a super-cool kid. I started talking to him, and he wanted to know what NOHVCC was. I told him about our safety programs, our youth education. I said, “If we give you materials, would you be willing to hand them out? You talk to more people than anybody.” He said, “I talk to everybody.” Now he hands out our literature for us and tells people, “Make sure you wear your helmets.” It’s a really good deal.
I always tell people with any type of limited mobility, health problem or even the elderly that there are not many sports where we can go out with the kids and keep up with them like you can on an OHV. Last time I was in Utah for the Rocky Mountain ATV Jamboree, there were a lot of elderly couples getting the side-by-sides and going out on their own. There was one couple—I think he was 81 and she was 78—who would ride every other day. They’d go out one day, and take a break and relax the next, and then go out again. They loved it. They had that thing tricked out with shiny chrome wheels. These vehicles keep people out enjoying nature. Just the independence of getting out there and doing and seeing the things you enjoy is the best medicine there is.