Peter, Maree and Phil have all had life throw some serious health issues their way, but their unassailable passion and sheer determination mean the thrill of riding is theirs to savour.
Let us introduce you ...
At the age of eight, Peter contracted polio, which initially paralysed him from the neck down. Over a couple of years, he recovered his upper body strength but, he said, “My talent for walking seemed to be missing.”
Way back in the mid-60s, Peter discovered riding when he was out shooting rabbits in southern NSW, and did it “mainly because my parents forbade me to do it and most of my friends thought I'd kill myself.”
Peter’s world of motorcycles opened up dramatically when he discovered that a handbrake kit was available for the range of Can-Am Spyders.
“I'm currently on my fourth Spyder, an RT Standard without the normal arse like a Spanish galleon. This is identical to my third Spyder which, like Don Quixote on Rozinante, I destroyed by tackling, not a windmill but a bigger, harder obstacle than my bike was designed to handle. On the upside, I did get a free ride in a Medevac chopper.”
He casually adds, “If you're considering a similar stunt, carry a small, unbreakable mirror so that you can check out the view rather than the roof lining of the chopper.”
For Peter, the most difficult thing about riding is getting on and off his bike. Also, finding accommodation that is really wheelchair accessible is a challenge. He says he’s often met with comments like, "It's only three small steps," and "What, your wheelchair won't get through the bathroom door? Can you get in without it?"
He says the best thing about riding is the indescribable feeling of freedom of the open road and the ‘dance’ through mountain twisties.
Peter then admits, “Among my friends, I'm probably best known as ‘that idiot who rode off the cliff at Queen Mary Falls’.”
“In my defence, the road was in terrible condition, lumpy and split tarmac everywhere. It was a 40 km zone, which I was sticking to, on a strange road in an area I'd never visited. A wallaby jumped out on my right, I did a hard stop, the wallaby and I eyeballed each other from about 2 metres, then the piece of road my bike was sitting on broke away and went over the cliff.”
“I know, the suspense is killing you! How do you think I felt?! Bottom line, I didn't die. Yes, I was surprised, too. I was found after 22 hours of hanging on in rain, sleet and snow in gale winds and sub-zero temperatures. One jovial local commented how lucky I was, given they hadn’t had snow there since 1984!"
We asked Peter what he’d like people to know about riding with a disability. “While I'm sure my friends would disagree, there's nothing wrong with my brain. When people see me for the first time, they usually look around for my carer. One motel manager commented that they’d “never seen one of you people travelling alone before.””
And as for his dream destination to ride, Peter says, “Europe, all of it - but I know I never will. I love living in south east Queensland, exploring the amazing roads, here and in north east NSW.”
Maree’s clutch (left) hand is affected by a birth defect. “My left hand and the palm is about half the size of my right hand and, ironically, my longest finger is my little finger which is maybe 1.5cm,” she said. “I have no ability to pinch with my left hand and can only use my little finger. My left arm to my fingertips is probably 15cm shorter than my right arm. I have no ability to grip with my left hand, at least not in the way you do with your hands. I tend to bend from the wrist and make a kind of hook to hold things.“
Maree also has a chronic pain condition. “The severity varies and is very unpredictable, and with this comes fatigue. I need to plan things depending on how I feel on any given day.”
Maree’s garage currently houses a Ducati Diavel, a Ducati Monster 696 and a Kawasaki Z750. Previously she had a Honda Spada VT250, Honda CBR250R, Triumph Daytona 600, Triumph Street Triple R, Suzuki GSXR600 track bike, KTM 990 Super Duke and a Honda CB250.
Maree’s interest in riding began early. “My very first riding experience was when I was around 10 and I rode my friend’s PeeWee 50 around a sheep station a few times. I've always had a love of motorcycles, which probably stemmed from my father and older brother both riding.”
However, her fascination with riding motorbikes wasn’t encouraged. “My parents would never let me even try because they thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I spent 30 years being told I would never get a motorcycle licence, that it wouldn't be safe, that I couldn't do it.”
“Then my husband told me he was going to buy a motorbike. Out of the blue, my response was, “I want one!” I was 43. He was surprised as I’d never mentioned any interest before, but when I explained why, he was supportive. He said I was the only one who knew what I was capable of and that if the licencing people passed me for a licence, then I was good to go. I passed all my riding tests first go and was never questioned by the testers on my ability or safety. That sparked the beginning of many great friendships and wonderful adventures! I've never looked back.”
For Maree, the most difficult thing about riding is clutch fatigue. “Feathering the clutch is damn near impossible. Because I use my wrist and palm instead of fingers I get terrible clutch fatigue. I usually put my bike in neutral at lights, and I know many people don't like that but it's what I need to do. I have no modifications to my bikes, but I do adjust the position of the clutch lever to make it easier for myself.
“With chronic pain it's hard to do the really long days or the very twisty rides, as I get really fatigued. I need to stop frequently to get my body moving and ensure I have pain relief at hand.
“And roundabouts! They’re hard because I'm almost fighting myself in a sense, by turning right but almost pulling on the left bar at the same time. I combat this by going slow and using the rear brake.”
Despite these challenges, Maree declared, “Honestly, just the fact that I can ride is awesome.“
Though running into a sandstone wall wasn’t so awesome. “I was on my first bike, in Sydney and on my 'L's, and I decided to take a sneaky route home from work. I had stopped at a T-intersection in a quiet street, trying to decide which way to turn - made my choice, then dropped the clutch and panicked. I ran straight into a sandstone retaining wall, missing the resident by a minute. I broke my gear shift and clutch lever, and corked my thigh badly. It hurt but I was more embarrassed than anything. While waiting on parts for my beautiful little Honda Spada VT250, I got impatient and bought another bike so I could keep riding. I've had other drops, as we all do, but that was my first (and worst) and I kept riding. It wasn't going to get the better of me!"
We asked Maree what she’d like people to know about riding with a disability. “Not to judge someone's ability on appearance - and have some compassion if we can't keep up for a whole day or can't master a particular manoeuvre the way they do." She added, "I've had many people ask how I change gears. My response is, “The same way you do!””
Maree’s dream riding destination is one we can all relate to. “Wow, so many beautiful places around the world to choose from. Any overseas destination on a motorcycle would be great.”
We met Phil and his wife, Mary, in 2019 in the Netherlands while waiting to catch a ferry to England. Their bike's Queensland number plate stood out like a flashing beacon. Only after we got chatting did we realise that Phil had a disability. Phil has an above the knee (ATK) amputation. “l had my left leg ripped off by a car that T-boned me. I was very lucky to survive. The arteries were crushed and not cleanly cut, so it stemmed the flow of blood, and a guy who lived across the road was a retired paramedic. He saved my life by applying his belt as a tourniquet. l was nearly running on empty.”
“It was a totally life-changing experience. It affects my mobility because I can’t walk long distances, I can’t swim as well as I used to, and the list goes on.”
But it didn’t stop Phil - and Mary - from riding. “Mary has been riding pillion for nineteen years which is a credit to her because she didn't want me to ride again. This was because of the accident and we had three young children that we had to consider. Mary was concerned that if l rode again l wouldn't be lucky enough to survive another accident," he explained. "Sure, I’ve had a few ‘offs’ since then, but that's what happens when you try to defy gravity.”
Phil’s garage currently houses two bikes - a Honda VFR1200F DCT, which has a clutchless, semi-automatic transmission system, and a Honda NC750X, which is also automatic.
Riding is Phil’s passion. He began riding at thirteen, starting trail bike riding, then transitioning to moto cross. He now loves road riding. "I never want to give it up. But I do understand that one day I will have to.”
”With my disability, the most difficult thing is getting on and off the bike - and this is made worse by my right hip, which is wearing out.” However, like most of us, the bonus of riding is the incredible people he has met, ie. other motorcyclists.
Phil’s scariest riding moment was falling off the bike while riding over Flüela Pass in Switzerland in a torrential downpour, which was particularly upsetting because he had been so determined not to drop the bike – an experience most of us can relate to.
His advice to able-bodied riders is simple: “Just do it. You can so quickly lose the things you love doing.”
Phil is looking forward to riding with Mary in Europe again, proclaiming, “I have unfinished business to attend to there.”
Phil, Maree and Peter have all had to confront some serious roadblocks to riding (no pun intended). What's holding you back? Is it time to take a deep breath and 'get your adventure on'?
Life is short. Let's live it.
Cheers, Bridget and Alan
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