Motorcycling is like sugar – with the first taste fresh in your memory you know it needs to be part of your everyday life. But what happens when something catastrophic happens in your life to prevent you from getting that sweet rush of joy and excitement from riding a motorcycle? In the case of Bert Pot, the lure of riding a motorcycle again was so strong that, despite the losing his left hand, he set about making the impossible very possible…
In November of 2006, Bert Pot of Holland severely injured his left hand in a workplace accident. The damage was so extensive that hospital consultants made the decision to remove his hand during surgery. It might take some believing to read this but that decision was a stroke of luck for Bert – it could so easily have been the removal of his lower left arm.
Losing any limb is a traumatic experience but, for Bert, a motorcyclist and motorcycling fanatic since his childhood, losing the ability to ride a motorcycle impacted upon frustration at having to learn new methods to live a ‘normal life’ with a prosthetic hand. Bert explains:
“The first time the prosthesis was put on my hand was very frightening because I realized that for the rest of my life I would be without my left hand. I don’t know if it makes a difference whether or not one of your limbs is amputated because of an accident or an illness, or if you are born with a malformation. But in my case I lost a hand at the age of 43 and knew only too well what it was like living with two hands – and now I had only one.”
If the chance arises to talk to Bert Pot you will quickly realize he isn’t one to sit and worry but rather get on with life and make the most of it. For these reasons and his love of bikes, Bert set about getting back in the saddle.
One area for assistance came from the Holland-based Motor Mobiliteit voor Gehandicapten (MMvG) or Motorcycle Mobility for Disabled. Although a Dutch-based project-group there are similar organizations throughout Europe e.g. the UK’s National Association for Bikers with a Disability. These specialists work in unison with riding/driving schools, orthopedic instrument manufacturers and motorcycle specialists. Because of the group’s peerless work, it wasn’t long before Bert was back on a motorcycle seat.
The first step was to ensure Bert had a prosthesis that could grip the motorcycle’s left handlebar. “I have two prostheses of differing shape and size, both designed by Wilfred Mijnheer of Stel Orthopedie,” says Bert. “With this type I have a lot of movement on the motorcycle and on a mountain bike, my other hobby, because they work on a FreeLock system, which is tilted to allow movement to move and steer. They connect to a silicone liner that goes onto my arm like a sock – the connection is a QD system – and I simply place the hook of the prosthesis around the handlebar where it clamps into place.”
The prosthesis is also designed to detach with an upward movement of the arm and the force required to do this is adjustable. Therefore it is easily disconnected in an accident situation. One of the biggest drawbacks of motorcycling is cold weather and this is doubly worse for an amputee. Bert’s solution to this was to make a heated insert for the silicone liner and it works just like heated grips or heated clothing via a remote 12v battery that is easily carried in a jacket pocket.
The next step was to re-take his motorcycle test to regain his category-A licence, which was done with the assistance of training and riding staff of MMvG. You have to understand that to undertake such an event that will make a huge difference to your quality of life is a big issue mentally as well as physically. Needless to say, with Bert’s determination and the hard work of MMvG, a pass certificate was soon achieved and the shackles to freedom were well and truly broken.
Even though Bert knew in his heart his choice of the BMW R1200RT was the right one, there were several stumbling blocks before a purchase could be made. Where any person without a disability could book a demonstrator ride at most BMW dealerships, many insurers ruled this as an impossibility to anyone with what can be described as a ‘serious’ disability. Instead, Bert made contact with many of the European BMW Motorrad and RT owner forums for advice and also read as many tests of the R1200RT as he could to underline his believe this was the motorcycle best suited to his riding needs, and whether it could be easily adapted to match those needs.
A decision was made and a new R1200RT was bought, ordered and delivered. Then came the time to modify the bike to suit. This was not such a big problem as you might think mainly because of the dedicated work of Rob Jansen.
Rob Jansen is the man behind specialist Dutch motorcycle development company All-round Technical Assistance – and he is a motorcycle engineer of some repute. As a former drag racer and Grand Prix technician, Rob has skills in areas that are ideally suited to helping disabled motorcyclists, such as air-assisted systems, alternative brake operating units and much more. With his skill and level of perfection, Rob adapted the R1200RT for Bert’s needs – but it takes more than one glance to spot the changes, such is the quality of Rob’s work.
The clutch lever has had to be moved to the right handlebar for activation by Bert’s right thumb. In order to do this a purpose-made bar clamp was needed to match an inconspicuous clutch master-cylinder and lever pivot mechanism so not to interfere with the BMW front braking method on the right bar. Fortunately, the standard hose carrying the clutch actuation fluid was easily rerouted to the right side. The original clutch master-cylinder was blanked off and left in place to retain a near standard look.
There was also the need to facilitate the fitment of the left-hand handlebar switch gear onto the same right bar, also for thumb operation. Initial worries of affecting the BMW can-bus electrical system proved unfounded because the internals of the switchgear are micro-switches that eventually route to the can-bus controllers. The plastic tube under the left handlebar grip was replaced with a metal version to make a secure clamping point for Bert’s prosthesis.
But is it not just a case of making changes to suit. Every modified component has been designed, created and finished with factory-like detail. From machining work to position and being painted is done with the detail care of a genius. As Bert Pot says, Rob Jansen knows all about engineering and the needs of disabled riders and puts them together in a quality package.
So, how is Bert getting on with his BMW R1200RT? “Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. The R1200RT is how motorcycling is meant to be. It is easy to ride in any situation and the comfort and carrying ability is superb. A big plus point for me is BMW’s Integral ABS system. I can brake in complete safety when the situation demands my right thumb to be used elsewhere. In all, the BMW has helped regain and retain my love of motorcycling.”
Another reason why Bert chose the R1200RT was the fact the BMW warranty is still valid on all components that are not modified or not affected by the modifications. This is a good point when you consider Bert is already racking up the miles with his love for motorcycling. The bike is also used for visiting schools and universities to give lectures on prosthetics.
Ber Pot has a website with more information about getting back on a motorcycle with a disability – although, as seen in his story, a disability does not necessarily mean it has to be a disability.