As the US population ages, the popularity of three-wheeled vehicles continues to grow. But just as some riders seek out trikes as a sturdier way to get out in the wind, many people with disabilities are beginning to see trikes as vehicles that can safely accommodate their needs and help them reclaim their independence.
“Most people never think they’re going to be someone with a disability,” said Gail DeWitt, owner of DMR Trikes and founder of the American National Association for Bikers with a Disability (ANABD). Indeed, “disability” can be a misleading word, bringing to mind a sudden, severe injury resulting in paralysis or the loss of a limb. Yet the term “disabled rider” does not apply only to those in wheelchairs or with prostheses. Rather, many disabilities, such as heart disease, diabetes, or knee and hip injuries, are less profound and can come on gradually as we get older.
A wheelchair trike designed and built by Orange County Choppers for the Reeves Foundation.
In the past decade, we’ve seen a significant increase in the availability of parts needed to modify a trike for all kinds of disabled riders, be it an Iraq war veteran who’s lost both legs in combat or an office worker who’s lost the use of a hand due to carpal tunnel syndrome. What’s lacking, we found, is a guide to the manufacturers who offer this type of service. So we’ve compiled and spoken to nine trike builders around the country that offer trike conversions for disabled riders.
These companies offer a wide range of services, including custom conversions of existing motorcycles and disability-specific trikes built from the ground up. And while it’s important to note that it takes a certain amount of upper-body strength to operate a trike safely, all the companies we contacted will work with a rider’s individual needs to find a way to get him back in the saddle so long as the technology allows.
As we heard over and over again, what fuels these trike builders to do what they do is the satisfaction of giving every rider a sense of independence and a way to get back out on the open road. Check out what they have to offer, and be sure to visit our resources section at the bottom of the story to find important information on tax deductions, veterans’ benefits and more.
A mass-produced wheelchair trike for paraplegics
MobilityWorks is the maker of the Mobility Conquest, the only
production-model trike designed solely for paraplegics. The Conquest is
designed so that riders can remain in their wheelchair while riding.
A foldout ramp on the back end allows the rider to board, ride and exit the trike without assistance, providing what many paraplegic riders crave the most—complete independence.
The Conquest can accommodate any rider in a wheelchair so long as he has enough upper-body strength to pull himself up into the back of
the trike and enough hand dexterity to steer and operate the trike’s
hand controls safely. If necessary, MobilityWorks can install a cable
device that works like a winch.
The Mobility Conquest starts out as a new 1170cc BMW 1200 R. The company then makes multiple modifications, leaving only the engine and front half of the bike untouched. The wheelchair driver enters the Mobility Conquest via a push-button automated ramp on the back end. The driver is secured in the wheelchair by a locking mechanism on the floor with a push-button release. A small fold-out seat on the inside of the wheelchair ramp accommodates an additional passenger.
In summer 2011, MobilityWorks held an essay contest for paraplegic trike
and motorcycle riders, awarding one winner with a custom Mobility Conquest
trike. Click here
to read more about the contest and its winner, a Marine Staff Sergeant injured while serving in Afghanistan.
Mobility Conquest trikes are manufactured in Ohio and can be test-driven at various dealers across the country. For more information, visit MobilityConquest.com
or call 888.693.3841.
Freebird Custom Motorcycles
Ground-up custom conversions from an industry veteran
Freebird Custom Motorcycles is a South Dakota-based business owned and operated by Rick Strand. Rick has been building trikes for disabled riders for 31 years and operating under the Freebird name for 18, making his one of the longest running outfits in the business.
With 31 years under his belt, Rick Strand of Freebird Custom Motorcycles is a force to be reckoned with.
Freebird Custom Motorcycles works with individuals all over the world, custom-building its trikes from the ground up based on customers’ specifications. A quick visit to the company Web site shows a vast array of options to fit a person’s varying needs, including Velcro floorboards, electronic shifters and much more. And with so many years of experience behind him, Rick can advise any customer on what modifications will work best for his disability. Rick says he strives to help every rider who contacts him and will work to accommodate any disability so long as the technology and parts allow.
With dozens of disabled riders back on the road as a result of his work, Rick says he’s not in it for the money, but rather to help people realize their dream of getting back in the saddle. Getting out in the wind after developing a disability takes a lot of courage, he said, but to do so is “a badge of honor you can be proud of.”
For more information, visit FreebirdCustomMotorcycles.com
or call 573-552-0090.
“Throttle Therapy for an Attitude Adjustment”
“All anyone’s asking for is the ability to do what we want to do, just like anybody else,” said Gail DeWitt, owner of DMR Trikes (stands for “Disabled Motorcycle Riders”) and one of the top go-to people when it comes to finding information and resources for disabled riders.
Gail, who also runs the American National Association for Bikers with a Disability (ANABD), became interested in trike conversions after developing multiple mobility issues that made it impossible for her to ride a traditional motorcycle. In the process of seeking out ways to fulfill her dream of riding, she has become an advocate for disabled riders, dedicating her time to getting them the information and resources they need to get back on the road.
|The Kliktronic Electric Shifter is a popular addition to trikes for disabled riders. |
|The K-2 Lever allows independent, one-handed operation of the front and rear brakes.
DMR Trikes, located in southwestern Florida, uses mostly Trigg Trike Kits for its conversions (see additional information on Trigg Trike Kits below), but Gail is also the distributor for the Kliktronic Electric Shifter, a push-button shifter popular with paraplegic riders and riders with a variety of leg or hand issues. She also distributes several other products used often on these types of trike conversions, including the K-2 Lever, which enables independent operation of both front and rear brakes using just one hand.
Gail believes that riders, especially those afflicted with age-related disabilities, should advocate for themselves by taking the first steps toward getting back out on the road. “You have a choice: You can go out and do something, or you can sit home and atrophy,” Gail said. “You don’t become old because you’re incapable of doing things—you become old because you’re not out trying to do something.”
For more information, call 941.723.9817 or go to DMRTrikes.com
. Visit the “Resources” section at the bottom of this article for more information on the ANABD.
Trigg Trike Kits
Trike kits customized for disabled riders
The custom kits from Trigg Trike Kits can accommodate a variety of disabled riders, including quadriplegics, paraplegics, amputees, and riders with mechanical hearts. “We believe where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said LaNell Bell, who owns Trigg Trike Kits with her husband, David.
Richard, a quadriplegic from Missouri, is shown enjoying the ride on his Trigg Trike Sportster Low conversion. The design allows him to simply slide his wheelchair on the kit before driving off. Trigg Trikes modified this trike for Jeremy, a paraplegic from Pennsylvania, by adding a reverse, a kit, and a trailer for his wheelchair.
The company has designed kits that can hold oxygen tanks and folded and unfolded wheelchairs. Perhaps the most notable feature of these kits is that they can be attached to almost any stock motorcycle without altering it, thus ensuring the bike’s value without restricting resale options.
David and LaNell founded Trigg Trike Kits in 2002, and the two are dedicated to making their products American designed, American built, and affordable for the average rider. LaNell notes that she comes from a long line of veterans, and the company works with many US service members who developed disabilities as a result of their time in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Whatever is necessary to get a biker on the road or back on the road is what we try to do,” said LaNell. For more information, visit TriggTrikeKits.com
or call 877.554.1226.
ChrisTrikes Custom Motorcycles
Designed and built for independence
As a paraplegic, Christ (pronounced "Krist") Tavantzis knows firsthand the physical and psychological importance of riding a vehicle without assistance. To give other wheelchair-bound individuals back their independence, he founded ChrisTrikes, a company that creates and distributes disability-specific trike kits that can be bolted to Harley-Davidson Softail models. ChrisTrikes offers two separate kits for disabled riders: the Outrider, made for those who have the ability to transfer from the wheelchair onto the motorcycle’s seat, and the Stagecoach, which allows the rider to drive the motorcycle directly from the wheelchair.
Christ Tavantzis, founder of ChrisTrikes, uses an electric wheelchair as a result of contracting polio as a child. He used his own experiences to create a design that meets the needs of other disabled riders.
|Christ hits the streets in one of his ChrisTrikes creations. |
|ChrisTrikes kits can be bolted to any Harley-Davidson Softail from 1990 to present.
Perhaps the most unique feature of these trike kits is the free-floating floor that moves up and down. With the flip of a switch, the floor moves three inches from the ground, allowing the rider to roll up in a wheelchair, flip the switch again, and be moved up until he is sitting just above and in back of the motorcycle’s seat. Another unique feature: the trike’s ability to handle 30-mile-per-hour turns, thanks to a center of gravity that's located below the axle of the rear wheels rather than above them.
Christ strives to keep his conversions affordable, and with the purchase of a used Softail and a ChrisTrikes kit, the total cost can be as low as $25,000. “There is a sociological impact to giving someone the freedom to ride at an affordable price,” Christ said.
For more information, visit ChrisTrikes.com
or call 305.662.0112. Click here
to check out a video from NBC Miami that shows these trikes in action.
So Cal Trike Center
Custom trikes for any disability
Rix Eden from So Cal Trike Center has been building trikes since 1994. Just a few years after that, long before the need for these types of conversions became well-known, he started creating trike modifications for disabled riders. Today, these conversions are one of Rix’s specialties, and So Cal Trike Center is considered one of the leaders in the industry.
|Rix and his team at So Cal Trike Center can accommodate many disabilities. Shown here is a conversion for a rider with a prosthetic leg. |
|A happy customer aboard one of So Cal Trike Center's conversions.
So Cal Trike Center, located in San Diego, works with individuals and other shops to accommodate almost any type of disability. “There is no niche for us,” said Rix. “We modify what is needed for the individual.” Options to modify or add include handlebar controls, Kliktronic pushbutton shifters, left foot brakes, reverse gears, EZ Clutches, tank shifters, wheelchair racks and more.
"The biggest handicap is not physical, it's attitude," Rix said. "The important thing is to get those who want to back riding safely in the wind.” For more information, visit SoCalTrikeCenter.com
or call 800.649.4749.
Modified controls with the same bold design
Wisconsin-based SS Trike has been designing and manufacturing motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles from scratch since 2009. Because the company builds its vehicles from the ground up rather than modifying existing motorcycles, disabled riders can work directly with the company to customize the trike’s modifications to fit their needs.
The SS Trike base model in black. Unless a wheelchair carrier is added, the company's conversions for disabled riders will look nearly identical to the stock versions to most casual observers.
SS Trike Founder and CEO Jason Nieman said that he and his staff are happy to seek out solutions to any customer’s riding limitations. For example, SS Trike recently built a trike for a rider who has no use of his left arm. To accommodate this, all the trike’s controls were placed on the right side, and an automatic shifting option was added. Similarly, hand brakes and an automatic shifter would be implemented for a rider without use of his legs. SS Trike can also add a wheelchair carrier to the rear of the trike.
Maybe best of all, with the exception of models with wheelchair carriers, a modified SS Trike will retain the sleek design and bold styling that is a token of the company’s aesthetic. For more information, visit SSTrikes.com
or call 715.435.3132.
M&J Motor Company
Lehman conversions for the East Coast and beyond
M&J Motor Company, located in West Virginia, fabricates and modifies controls to accommodate all different types of disabilities. Because its staff works with many disabled veterans, the company takes its commitment to military members (as well as first responders) seriously, offering a $500 discount to active and retired members of the military, firefighters, police officers, and EMTs.
|An electric shifter for a Sportster, one of many add-ons M&J offers.
|The rider of this trike has no use of his left arm, so the staff at M&J moved all controls to the right handgrip. |
|Another custom option: a reverse gear, shown here on a Softail.
M&J is unique in that all its conversions are Lehman Trikes conversions, but this doesn’t hold the shop back in terms of finding parts for disabled customers. In the first few years after opening in 1998, the staff at M&J had to make nearly everything it needed to customize a trike for a disabled customer. Owner Jim White notes that while there’s now a larger market for the parts needed, they still custom-make a lot of them.
M&J is proud to be one of the only companies in the mid-Atlantic specializing in these types of conversions, working with customers and dealers all over the East Coast. For more information, visit MJTrikes.com
or call 304.262.6200.
Orange County Choppers
A special conversion for the Reeves Foundation
You might recognize Orange County Choppers as the New York motorcycle-customizing shop featured in the TLC show “American Choppers.” And while the company doesn’t do many conversions for the disabled, its staff designed and built one very special trike to benefit the Reeves Foundation, an undertaking that was featured on the show.
Designed to be completely handicap-accessible, the trike features a drop-ramp that allows a wheelchair-bound rider to roll right up into the seat and find the controls on hand in front of him. Watch the video clip below to see all the hard work that goes into creating a completely customized trike that can accommodate a rider in a wheelchair.
Modifying it on your own
Japheth Baker, who lost his legs in a motorcycle accident, modified his own trike to accommodate his disability.
TRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt writes about two riders with disabilities who have modified their own trikes using their technical know-how. Read that story in her Editor's Blog
Resources for Disabled Riders
Tax Deduction Information (will open a PDF):
A recent ruling from the IRS allows some disabled riders to write off the cost of their trike conversion. Please consult with a tax professional for more details and to see if you qualify.
American National Association for Bikers with a Disability (ANABD)
: Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and information to disabled riders
: Provides information, encouragement and inspiration for amputee, injured and physically challenged motorcyclists
American Motorcycle Association
: Resources for disabled motorcyclists
Enabled Spyder Lovers Forum
: Message board for disabled riders of the Can-Am Spyder
MobilityWorks Announces Winner of Wheelchair-Accessible Trike