September, 1964, naked, covered in white gloss paint, with a huge sense of excitement, I set off towards the end of Clark Terrace. A three year old boy revelling in a new found freedom, aiming for the sea front to watch the big shiny motorbikes ride past Frank’s café. Everyone there will be sure to admire my new red pedal trike.
‘David!’ Oh, no. My Mum’s voice and her gentle hand stopped me in my tracks.
And that kind of set the pattern for my life. Nature gave me spontaneity, a lust for life and adventurous spirit. Nurture and guidance from my parents gave me confidence, my work hard ethos and ‘anything is possible’ mind-set – thank you Mam and Dad.
1983 – I am on two wheels now and feeling full of self-admiration on my shiny black Honda CX500; when BANG! Everything changes. I lose control and my trusty metal steed collides with a road sign. All the panels are blown out of my leathers and there’s a deep gouge down the side of my helmet. Neither my bike nor my body are marked; not even a scratch! However, the x-rays tell a different story; five vertebrae shattered like crazy paving and a complete spinal cord sever at L1/T12.
Gutted that I will never ride again, I sell my beloved bike a year later but agonisingly, every April, the spring breeze brings the whine of highly tuned bikes engines to my ears as they wind up and gear down on the country lanes close to my house. The longing never leaves me.
I think “when I win the lottery I will buy a massive BMW tourer, have electronic callipers fitted to it, install a hoist in my garage, drop onto the saddle and head off into the sunset on Route 66“.
Then in 2008, a life changing telephone call tips me off to the Conquest; the ‘world’s first high performance motor trike for wheelchair users’ made in Manchester, UK. OMG! Two weeks later I was there for a test drive.
You can’t imagine what was going through my head as I wheeled into this beautiful piece of engineering for the first time. The Conquest is a BMW R1150R motorbike front end with an aluminium sub frame bolted to it, wrapped in fibre-glass with rear spoilers and front-end scoops. A floor is inserted above the prop shaft and differential, then an automated rear ramp to gain access and an electronic locking system to secure the wheelchair safely into riding position. The left hand thumb operates a Click-tronic gear change and importantly there is a reverse gear for the 500kg machine.
Styling is second-to-none with racing suspension, low-profile tyres on sexy alloy racing wheels. You also have a radio/CD player and speakers, and, get this, a fold away pillion passenger seat built into the rear ramp!
And… statistics: 0 - 60 mph in 10 seconds. Top speed of 110mph!
Anyway, as I was saying, I wheel into place and the electronic locking mechanism clamps down my chair. I fire her up, the emotions swamp me and the tears fall into my lap. Greg from the workshop tells me ‘most guys do exactly the same’. He gives me 10 minutes tuition and points me out onto the road…. riding solo! I am in my chair but feel like I’m riding a bike; I am aware of the tank, the clocksin front of me, the drone of the engine in my helmet and….. everybody but everybody is looking at me. No one can take their eyes off the beast. I feel king of road. Instantly. I am born again!
Now the downside - the price, £20,000 a pop; damn. I try for sponsorship but to no avail. I do some promotional work for Conquest Motorcycles so I get to ride every six months or so. I am hooked; a petrol head junkie, living for my next fix. I am desperate to own one of these wonderful machines and get back out there amongst other bikers.
In 2011 Martin Conquest Motorcycles sell out to America; the price rockets to £50,000. Conquests are now pretty much collectors’ items with only eight on the road in the UK. It’s looking grim, but remarkably in 2013, I find a second hand dream machine in Stockton. It’s silver/grey and black and it’s mine!
Fast forward one year to 2014, no helmet, sun warming my skin through my leathers, fresh air filling my lungs; I’m back on the road, setting off on my big adventure, a 2,200 mile, 10-day John O’Groats to Land’s End road trip. To max publicity, my trike is carrying the Government’s Disability Confident campaign branding and I am raising funds for the Percy Hedley Foundation, a North East England Charitable Trust providing services to disabled people and their families. An old friend, fellow Conquest rider, Carl Brunning joins me for the ride.
The adventure runs 2nd to 12th September in a massive loop from Newcastle Quayside to John O’Groats in Scotland, then down to England’s Land’s End via Inverness, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Hull, London and back up to Newcastle.
Scotland’s scenery is breath-taking and the people friendly. Riding through the Highlands and historic Edinburgh’s iconic architecture is a real privilege and I fulfil another dream of mine – calling in to Dalwhinnie for my first ever malt whisky distillery tour. This kills me by the way because, you guessed it, I can’t drink and drive! Glorious sunshine follows us the entire trip along winding country lanes, historic city centres and the major profiling A-roads and motorways. Toots, waves and videos are in constant demand; everyone wants to climb in the trike for a photo from small boys to big hairy bikers (Simon King, no less!).
In London, I get such a rush riding down the Mall, Parliament Square and Whitehall in my patriotic Union Jack bandanna on the way to no 10. Downing Street to meet Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People for a press call. Mark reinforces the skills, motivation, dependability and capability of disabled people and the benefits of assistive technology and team support. Social media networks are buzzing, there’s even a photo tweet from the Prime Minister!
A film crew follows the trip and scenic backdrops are taken from the highlands, historic Edinburgh, Dalwhinnie Distillery, Humber Bridge and Downing Street.
However, the icing on the cake for me turns out to be ‘high octane holy ground’, the Santapod Raceway and a ‘standing quarter mile’ head to head race with Carl at the September BMW open day. The atmosphere in front of the crowds is dynamite – all heads are turning. Spectators don’t see the wheelchairs until we drive past. There are lots of questions from petrol heads afterwards but all about the trikes, not about my condition which means I’ve made it, I’m not disabled, I am everyday normal; just a guy doing what I love – riding my trike”.
As I head northwards towards Northumberland, the A1 stretches out before me, the low evening sun casts a long shadow ahead of me, guiding me home.
I am content. I have my freedom, my independence, and my spirit of adventure!
The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution.