Photos: Sean Micklethwaite and John Milbank Video: John Milbank
It’s easy to take riding for granted, but many disabled motorcyclists can end up believing that biking is a thing of the past. It doesn’t have to be.
In April 2011, The Bike Experience (www.tbex.co.uk) was formed by inspirational paralympian Talan Skeels-Piggins, along with his friend Russ O’Neil to teach disabled riders how to ride again in a safe environment. The idea was born after Talan was paralysed from the chest down, thinking he’d be unable to ride again. Eight years later, Talan was racing bikes, and wanted to teach others to rediscover the joy of riding on two-wheels too.
Since starting the project, it’s become a registered charity and has helped nearly 100 disabled motorcyclists get back on, with many now taking part on track days or riding on the road.
There are currently four bikes on the fleet – each specially modified – including a Suzuki SV650, a GSXR 600 and two Aprilia Manas. Having this range means that there’s always a suitable machine that a participant can use, no matter of their disability.
“The modifications are done by trial and error to find what works and what doesn’t. We minimise what we do to the bike so that we can make people as independent as possible.” said Talan.
The GSX-R600 was the bike of choice for Mark Ormrod, former Royal Marines Commando, who, incredibly, has learnt to ride using just his left arm with the help of TBEX.
Mark lost both his legs above the knee, and his right arm after stepping on an Improvised Explosive Devise on Christmas Eve 2007 during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. In a coma for three days, and after months of intensive rehabilitation he was given prosthetic limbs. The horrific injuries Mark sustained changed his life, but he was determined they wouldn’t define it…
Within a day, Mark was riding the GSX-R incredibly fast at Silverstone: he changed gear via two buttons on the left handlebar, which shared space with the throttle, clutch and front brake. The pegs were modified using bicycle toe clips and Velcro to stop Mark’s feet from slipping out.
For riders who are unable to put their feet down when they stop, a two-person launch crew supports the bike and prevents it from toppling over.
Simon Thompson, 25, from Southampton is currently training to be an instructor with The Bike Experience: “I’ve been riding for three years, although only two months of that was on the road. I’m paralysed from the belly button down, but Talan happened to be visiting the centre where I was undergoing rehabilitation… 10 months later I was back on a bike. I doubt I still would have done it without Talan and The Bike Experience. By being an instructor, I can give people the same freedom. It’s a fantastic thing to be involved in… it’s great to see people’s faces when they ride again.”
Paul Williams, from Doncaster lost his right leg nine years ago, but that wasn’t going to stop him from getting back onto two-wheels, “I didn’t think I’d be riding round like I have been today. I’m hooked – I’ve already got another session booked next month. When bikes are in your system, they never leave.”
Everyone is a volunteer and the charity is run purely on donations. If you want to get help, make a donation, or simply want more information then check out www.tbex.co.ukGet MoreBikes delivered through your letterbox every month. 12 issues for £15. Click here for more information.