Joy of riding spurs handicapped bikerIn December 1988, Yoon Kwang-suk mounted his motorcycle after drinking alcohol and gunned the two-wheeler. Soon, he was on the road as always ― until the bike hit a partition, that is. The accident caused a serious spinal injury that left him without any sensation below the waist.
He could no longer carry out even simple everyday tasks, like going to the bathroom, without help.
“I would stare at the toilet for an hour just to figure out how to manage it,” he said. “I had to calculate every move involving my arms and hands ahead of time.”
Today, Mr. Yoon, 47, has returned to the world of motorcycling, although nowadays it is on a three-wheeler and his wife almost always rides alongside him.
Shortly after the accident, he began regular physical therapy that would help him to recover from his injuries. Life returned to normal in many ways, although he needed more time to complete certain tasks.
He continued working as an advertising copywriter, and acknowledged his limitations. But he also started to mull over returning to his favorite mode of transport again.
In his spare time, Mr. Yoon headed to Toegyero, a part of Seoul packed with motorcycle shops, and began to sketch out a plan for modifying a regular bike for someone like himself who could not use the lower part of his body, which is essential for riding a two-wheeler.
In 1993, he joined a motorcycling club but drove to the meetings in a car. Watching other people on their bikes only intensified his desire to feel the wind blowing in his hair again.
Three years later, he succeeded in transforming a 1983 Harley-Davidson into a tricycle. The setup offered him the stability he needed to drive it without using his lower body.
He then met his wife-to-be, Kim Myeong-ja, who was divorced like himself. At their first encounter, Ms. Kim wore a skirt and high heels.
Little did she know that her attire would soon take a radical shift. As the two began dating, he invited her aboard his three-wheeler and she began decking out in the typical biker clothes of high leather boots and jeans.
At first, she thought her suitor was nuts to be riding a motorcycle after suffering such trauma on the same vehicle. “I mean, he was handicapped because of a motorcycle and he still chose to ride one,” Ms. Kim, 46, says.
“When I asked him about it, he just told me that he loves to ride.”
That explanation seemed to be enough for her. The two married in September 2000 at a “hog rally,” a gathering of about 400 fellow motorcyclists.
In time, Mr. Yoon’s newfangled bike tended to break down as his initial improvements were quite simple.
One day, in the middle of the road, the bike stopped, forcing Mrs. Kim to push it home. To recover from the strenuous effort, she lay in bed for a week.
A couple of months ago Harley-Davidson provided them with a permanent solution, offering them a free kit to transform a regular bike into a tri-wheeler if Mr. Yoon would donate his original motorcycle to a company museum in the United States. Such a kit can be as expensive as a new bike.
The deal was made, with Mr. Yoon only paying the cost of the bike. He bought a secondhand 2001 Lowrider for 18 million won ($15,250).
Nowadays, Mr. Yoon is rarely seen motoring around alone; fellow bikers always inquire about his wife if they see him riding solo.
What once was a solo dream for Mr. Yoon has now become a dream he shares with the special woman in his life.
They have already begun planning to travel around the world ― on their bike.
TIPS FOR STARTING OUT
You must wear a helmet. Drop a watermelon on asphalt and you’ll see that it will crack open. Because of a motorcycle accident, I can’t use the bottom half of my body, but I am alive and it’s all thanks to my helmet. Avoid short sleeves and shorts. Bikers don’t wear a leather jacket to look cool. If you fall off your bike, your precious leather will be torn but you will be protected.
The best motorcyclists ride for many, many years without getting injured. They are the ones who have overcome the thrill of speed through self-control. Ride safely!
KEY POINTS ON RIDING THE BACK SEAT OF A MOTORCYCLE
The safest way to ride a motorcycle is to go solo. If another person must be in the backseat, then there’s even greater reason to be careful. The backseat rider must also wear a helmet. There’s a higher probability of the backseat rider getting hurt than the one up front. The driver can assess the situation but the backseat rider can’t see much. Reckless bike riders aren’t the ones getting injured or killed; it’s usually their girlfriends riding in the back. Unless the driver specifically tells them to get off, the backseat rider must never get on or off the bike.
FOR DISABLED BEGINNERS
Being handicapped is uncomfortable. When going to the bathroom, ordinary guys just need to pull down their zipper but I need to sterilize a tube and stick it in my urethra. Taking off my clothes is quite a bother as well. But I try not to think it’s too difficult. I tell myself, ‘I live a different lifestyle compared to the ordinary Joe.’
The only way you can overcome your disability is to accept the fact that you are disabled. That’s the only way you can recover your health and embrace the future. Those around you will find it less tiresome to cope with you.
by Lee Kyong-hee