Nick Gilmer joined MotoSport six months ago as a Gearhead. If you've called in looking for parts you may have talked to him. He rides both dirt bikes and sportbikes and has a degree in Motorcycle Mechanics.
Recently he spent a day at the Portland International Raceway to open the throttle on his 2006 Kawasaki ZX6R. It wasn't so much the thrill of high speeds and racing around a MotoGP style track that brought him out, OK maybe a little, but rather to test a contraption he made to help him stay upright.
Gilmer is a paraplegic. He's equipped his bike with special foot pegs, an electronic shifter and a device he created through his own ingenuity he fondly calls "Wheelz." It's the result of a fund-raising campaign he started last year on GoFundMe and his personal website. It didn't work quite exactly as planned the first time out, but as he says, it's still in the R&D phase.
Read more about Gilmer as he opens up about riding, his accident and his plans for tricking out motorcycles and dirt bikes so those who think they can't ride because of a disability can suit up and mount up once again.
Age you started riding: 7 or 8
What motorcycle/dirt bike did you start on: Z50 then a CR80
Where you work: MotoSport.com
What's your job: Gearhead
Education: Degree in Motorcycle Mechanics from WyoTech (Wyoming Technical Institute) with specialty certificates in BMW, Triumph and Ducati.
1. How did you get started on a dirt bike?
My dad had an old XR200, the first monoshock version. He was the first one in Oregon to get one. My dad took me for rides as a 3 or 4 year-old in his lap and I'd wear a bicycle helmet. Off Highway 212 (near Clackamas, Oregon) back then it was all dirt trails and we'd ride down the dirt trails with me in his lap. That's what got me sucked in. The Z50 I had was owned by a guy my mom was dating at the time. The CR80 was from a friend of mine I grew up with.
2. You then crossed over to sportbikes, how'd that happen and was it an easy transition?
That happened in my early 20s. I had ridden sportbikes before but I had never really owned one. I got hooked on it with my step-dad as we always watched MotoGP. One day I decided to go out and buy one of my own and bought a GSXR600. It was an easy transition for me, I could just hop on and ride.
3. You had a bad accident just a few years ago, what happened?
It was July 15, 2012. I was trail riding with a bunch of co-workers on a company retreat and we took our bikes and quads up to Estacada (30 miles southeast of Portland). As everyone was packing up to leave I wasn't done riding so I rode on my own and did a few trails on my Honda CRF 450R. I decided to bust a wheelie in front of everybody which worked out fine then I looped around and did it again but this time the bike shot out from under me and I landed directly on my tail bone. The trails were not smooth instead full of boulders sticking out of the ground and I landed on one. I compressed my spinal cord so bad I burst my T12 vertebrae. It was instant like a light switch. From the naval down I was numb.
4. When reality set in on your paralysis, was riding even an option for you?
At first. I thought I'd never ride again. But I was in the hospital for four months and your focus is on walking again. As I talked to people about walking I find out and realize it's not going to happen anytime soon.
When I got hurt I was in rehab until October. I came out and it's raining and cold. I was stuck inside and everyone has to help you with everything. I was dating a younger girl at the time and she was helping me but I think she got sick of it and sick of me being down all the time and depressed. She decided to end the relationship and go her own way. That was February 2013 right after my birthday so after that I went through a hard core funk but it forced me to do things on my own.
5. How soon did you get back on a bike and what was that like?
I branched out on social media and I was never a Facebook guy. I added friends who were in chairs from motorcycle wrecks and other riders. The more I talked to people the more I found out about new things and I got excited about it. Finally someone on Facebook messaged me and asked if I knew Talan Skeels-Piggens (a British rider paralyzed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident). He had the same injury as me and runs a program in the United Kingdom and they have sportbikes that they retrofitted with electronic shifters. They had a bunch of videos of paraplegics riding and that sounded like something I'd like to do.
The first time I got a bike adapted I got up on the bike and I wasn't scared at all. It just felt like I was in my natural habitat. I was back on a bike a year to the date of my accident. I did have to relearn using different muscles to balance. I got a little discouraged at first because I didn't know what muscles to use. But I'd have two guys hold and release me and two guys catch me. It took me about two nights worth of testing before it all came back to me.
6. You've designed and developed what you call "Wheelz" how do they work?
It's just a landing gear. Some people call it an outrigger. I had seen others with a similar setup and I decided to do my own version. I used a linear actuator. It's a 12-volt DC electronic motor with a gear driven ram. Mine has inward motion. I then made my own mount on the rear of the bike to house it. The arms have wheels on the end and are connected to two stainless steel tubing arms that retract downwards. It's all manually controlled from the right throttle. Once I get a good speed going I push a button and they retract up like an airplane landing gear. I bring them back down when I'm done riding and it keeps my bike upright on two wheels.
7. Is this a personal endeavor or do you think this could get others in similar situations back on their bikes?
I mostly created it to hold myself on a grid for road racing. But it's definitely so others can use on any type of motorcycle. It's targeted towards people who are disabled and not just from paralysis - people with missing limbs or who can't use their legs because of disease. I would like to get into helping people adapt their bikes but it would be more for off-road use. The plan I originally had was to buy multiple sportbikes and adapt them and put on events and get people who used to ride come out and ride again. Maybe then start a local race for people who are handicapped. I'm trying to create my own competition.
8. Are you naturally inventive or did it mean something for you on an emotional level to create something to make riding something you could enjoy again?
There's obviously the emotions of getting back on my bike but I'm definitely a hands-on learner and mechanically inclined. I think it all started with Legos to tell you the truth.
9. Wheelz are for sportbikes do you have plans for a similar contraption for dirt bikes?
I have plans for adapting all bikes.
10. Tell us what you do at MotoSport and what you like about your job.
I'm a motorcycle parts and customer representative. At MotoSport we're called Gearheads. It's great because I get to share my experiences with motorcycle riding and knowledge on parts or gear and maybe make better suggestions.
Written By: AndrewT