Biker with LGMD Creates His Own Accessible Motorcycle

Sidelined by bone cancer, limb-girdle MD and depression, Steve Williams found a way to get back out on the open road

Article Highlights:
  • Muscular dystrophy and bone cancer presented unique challenges to Steve Williams, a former 18-wheeler driver.
  • Williams went from despair to exhilaration as his accessible motorcycle/sidecar project came to life.
  • His custom bike now gets him out onto the open road again.
by Bill Norman on July 20, 2010 - 3:55pm

The “passenger” in Steve Williams’ motorcycle sidecar doesn’t say much, but if it could talk, it probably would have plenty of stories to tell.

 Steve Williams explains how he and his brother outfitted this Honda Nighthawk with a special wheelchair-carrying sidecar.

The passenger is Williams’ manual wheelchair.

He wasn’t always a wheelchair user, and his motorcycles for many years didn’t have sidecars strapped to them.

Then, in 2005, Williams, now 60, learned he had limb girdle muscular dystrophy. Two months later, doctors found he had bone cancer in his left leg. They amputated the leg above the knee in October 2005.

Depression sets in

It was a difficult time. Williams, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., had to give up his job as owner/operator of an 18-wheeler transporting hazardous cargo over the road. He didn’t have the strength to walk, even with a prosthesis. “I spent most of every day in my recliner in deep depression,” he recalls.

Top: Williams' wheelchair sidecar with the ramp down. Above: Williams and his wheelchair ready for the road.

Nine months later he finally decided he’d spent enough time down in the dumps, and after reading in one of his motorcycle magazines about sidecar projects, came up with a plan that would get him out of the house and out into the wind and freedom of the open road once again.

The plan involved obtaining a motorcycle and sidecar, getting them to his mechanically handy brother Mark in Salt Lake City and — over a period of months and dozens of phone and e-mail exchanges — talking Markthrough fabricating a very special kind of transport rig.

First bike is a disaster

It didn’t happen the first time around. Williams bought a bike sight-unseen on the Internet, and it turned out to be a dud. He was all set to ride in MDA’s Sierra Hope fundraiser ride, and the machine started falling apart.

“I finally scored a 1993 Honda 750cc Nighthawk on Craigslist, and it turned out to be a beauty,” he says. “Kept in a senior citizen’s garage for 13 years; nearly new, except for the dust.” Williams and his brother went back to work, and this time they built a marvel.

They cut an entryway into the back of the sidecar so Williams could roll his manual wheelchair inside. That involved quite a bit of structural alteration, including building a hinged ramp and installing chocks on the floor of the sidecar to grip the chair’s wheels. On the front of the car they installed a diamond-plate storage box.

 Williams fabricated a special extension  to allow him to shift gears.

Williams approaches the sidecar in his chair and starts up the ramp. Part-way up, he grips a railing on the sides of the car with both hands and, using primarily his back muscles, hauls himself inside. He reaches back and tugs on a rope to close the hinged ramp, then secures it in place with bungee cords that hook onto eye-bolts in the floor.

Scooting over to the motorcycle

To get out of his wheelchair and over to the motorcycle seat, Williams designed a special swing-away transfer board. Once up on the board he can scoot right on over.

Most motorcycle riders control the bike’s gear shift lever with their left toe, but that wasn’t an option for a guy minus most of his left leg.

Williams welded an extension onto the shift lever and attached a small metal paddle to the top of it.  “With my stump I can shift the paddle up or down to whatever gear I want,” he explains. “The whole setup cost me about 20 bucks.”

A sturdy storage box fronts the sidecar.

These days, Williams can take to the highway whenever he feels like it. In August he plans to ride down to visit his mom near Las Vegas. On the way back to Sacramento he’ll loop over to Salt Lake City to spend time with brother Mark and other kin.

His home is no longer a place to hide out. Williams bought an elevator-type lift that’s attached to the side of his single-wide mobile home. After widening the home’s doors to accommodate his wheelchair, he can now roll out onto the lift and make his descent to where his fun machine sits, ready for another adventure.

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