Over a quarter million miles in just over 10 years
Having lost my legs at the age of 6 as a result of being run over by a train in 1966, I had no idea that riding a bicycle would be possible and grew up with the understanding that a motorcycle would be way out of the question. It was not until a very good friend of mine, who also was a double leg amputee, showed me that it was possible. I was training for the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics as a U.S. Sailing Team member and we were sailing out of St. Petersburg, Florida. My friend Bob lived in the area and while visiting him, I saw that he was riding a trike. I just had to do that! After a great deal of coaxing, he finally allowed me to try. Having no experience with a clutch, he told me to “start it up.” Thankfully, I was able to stop the bike before it went out the back wall of the garage. After a few laps around the parking lot, I was hooked.
The ’04 is my second trike, and together with the first, I have logged over a quarter million miles in just over 10 years, having traveled all over the U.S. and Canada. The team at Hannigan did an amazing job in 2013 transferring my one-of-a-kind chair mount to the fender of the Hannigan kit, along with working with me to modify the braking system on the ’04 GL1800, so that I could control all three brakes from the handlebar master cylinder. Transferring my custom chair mount required a few changes to its original design, but nothing that the Hannigan team could not resolve. They paid attention to every detail to ensure a flawless build. In addition to the chair mount and changes/mods to the braking system, the only other “accessory” is a Pingel Electric Shifter that has worked very well for me.
It’s not every day that you see such a high level amputee riding a motorcycle. I have enjoyed many encounters with folks screaming out of their car windows at 75 mph asking if they can take my picture, to gas stops that take hours while I talk with individuals who have lots of questions or are seeking advice that might help someone that they know either return to riding, or do so for the first time. Over the 10 years that I have been riding, I have become recognized on many Internet sites as “Wheels,” a road name that I am still trying to figure out how I got. “Wheels” has become someone that many seek out for help and direction on how and where to go for riding questions, equipment and sometimes just to have someone to talk to and share issues pertaining to dealing with a disability. I have enjoyed meeting and “putting a handshake” on thousands of fellow riders. But I really enjoy when I help someone who has returned from combat with a disability who wants to ride, often doing like my friend Bob, who lost his legs while serving in Vietnam, by throwing them the keys and telling them to “hop on and take her for a spin.”
Over the years, I have been extensively involved in many disability programs, working with adults and children in such programs as Wounded Warrior, Eastern Paralyzed Veterans, Baltimore Wheelchair Athletic Club and many others. I have traveled the world representing the USA while a member of many sports teams, including basketball, snow skiing, ice hockey, sailing, and track and field, to name a few. While each of those experiences were great, nothing has compared to the thrill I get when I jump on the trike and take off on another adventure seeking the thrills that only riding a motorcycle can give. It’s never too far, too cold, too wet, too hot or too long to ride a Gold Wing, especially if it involves a good barbecue.
Jim “Wheels” Leatherman rides a 2004 Flair Red GL1800 Honda Gold Wing with a Hannigan trike kit. He and his wife live in Glen Arm, Maryland. Leatherman states, “While I am familiar with GWRRA and have participated in many activities, we are not members at this time.”
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