Dudley Hansen loves driving motorcycle.
“It’s nice to feel the wind whistle past ya,” he said.
But for over 25 years, after a farm accident took the use of his legs, it was an experience he could only live in memory. Since he could no longer depend on his legs to provide balance, Hansen relinquished his two-wheeled freedom for the confinement of a car. But he couldn’t ignore his desire to get back on a motorcycle.
“You’re right out there in the open, you’re looking right at the ground. It’s a big sense of mobility and freedom,” he said.
That quarter century of desire eventually gave birth to a plan. With the rough idea of a three-wheeled trike in mind, Hansen contacted his friend and owner of K & K Motor Sports, Mark Kallhoff, to help him pound out the kinks.
“[Mark is] a pretty good mechanic and all, so if we put our heads together we can pretty much do anything we need to do,” he said.
Kallhoff agreed, and as he worked through the design and fabrication of the unique vehicle, he began to see its potential.
“It offered to the public a motorcycle trike that had options that did not exist on other styles,” he said.
He saw the trike’s value for riders of all abilities. Indeed, before Hansen’s trike was even complete, Kallhoff was pursuing the idea of marketing them to the public. That idea is slowly becoming reality. He recently launched www.liber atortrikes.com, a Web site through which he hopes to begin answering questions and, eventually, taking orders.
“Currently, we are set up to manufacture five trikes at a time,” Kallhoff said.
As with any new endeavor, the trike, aptly named the Liberator, comes from humble beginnings.
“Basically, to be quite honest with you, we backed Dudley up on a chair . . . in front of the engine and chalked it out on the floor,” Kallhoff said.
That’s where the real challenges started. The engine was in the back.
“We’re certainly not the first one to come up with the idea of a rear-engine trike,” Kallhoff said. “Volkswagon had this concept, but they often had problems with front end balance—they were too light in the front end.”
While both men saw this as a significant issue, moving the engine to the front was not an option.
“It was important to both Dudley and I that the bike gave you the feel that you were riding a conventional motorcycle,” said Kallhoff. “With this design you’re right up there just like you would be with the conventional handle bars.”
With a little bit of creative engineering on the front end, they found the stability they were looking for, but not at the expense of maneuverability.
“If you really wanted to pull a wheelie with it you could,” Kallhoff said.
Stability and integrity would be useless, however, if they couldn’t get the bike started. They had taken the engine for the prototype from a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix and encountered a problem they weren’t prepared for.
“The computer [in the engine] thought you were trying to steal the car because you didn’t have a key. So, the computer had to be reprogrammed.”
With experience building specialized vehicles and fabricating racecars, Kallhoff has seen a lot, but trial and error took on a whole new meaning as they tried to find the way around the computer’s configuration.
“There was a certain learning curve on that,” he admitted.
Once they conquered the engine, there were many details the men had to consider if they were going to make the trike accessible.
“It had to work for Dudley in terms of heights and where he wanted to place his chair, and the ability to fuel up, get on and off of it with the amount of ease you could expect,” said Kallhoff.
Hansen knew he couldn’t travel without his wheelchair, so having a way to transport it was essential. And he found that the design of the bike didn’t limit his options.
“There were different ideas about where to put the wheelchair. There are different options a guy can go with on that,” he said.
Eventually, the decision was made to extend the frame slightly so his collapsible wheelchair fits neatly behind the driver’s seat. When someone wants to ride with him, the wheelchair space is replaced by a platform seat.
Another crucial element to consider in the design was seating.
“That’s a big thing on a bike you straddle; you can’t really sit on a Roho [wheelchair cushion] or anything,” Hansen said.
That dilemma was solved when Kallhoff employed his knowledge of racecars. A racecar seat provides full upper body support, and frame rails on the floor ensure that the driver’s feet will stay in place. The design is ideal, as far as Hansen is concerned.
“It’s basically like you’re sitting in your wheelchair.”
Kallhoff learned a lot while working to customize Han-sen’s trike, and has carried accessibility options even further as he continues to tweak the design. The most recent versions have available options to make transfers and wheelchair storage easier, with a few new features that come standard.
“The seat moves forward and back, but also locks at 45 degrees and 90 degrees from the forward angle,” he said.
Since he is a practical man, as well as one who understands the importance of details and appearance, Kallhoff said, “The entire profile has been lowered for component accessibility and chrome polishing.”
Kallhoff is driven by the knowledge that he is filling a need.
“To date, to the best of my knowledge, we are the only ones making a trike that specifically addresses the needs of a [mobility impaired] rider.”
That makes it a worthwhile pursuit in Kallhoff’s mind. “Being able to help bring a quality of life to someone makes you forget the challenges.”
When all is said and done, both men are satisfied to have been involved in creating the first Liberator.
As Hansen enjoys his bike and looks toward the impact his idea could have on others, he only has one regret, “I should’ve done it 20 years ago.”