Joe Hottmann began riding motorcycles when he was 13 years old. He enjoyed the solitude and carefree feeling of riding in the open air.
In 2001, Joe was in a motocross accident, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was unable to continue riding until one day a stranger gave him a Honda 450.
I met Joe several years ago while visiting a friend’s auto repair shop. He asked me about making a bracket to attach the sidecar to the Honda. I told him I could but we never went beyond that.
In 2013, Joe approached me again about fixing up a 1100 Suzuki and I agreed. I didn’t build the bike from scratch but there were few parts that weren’t replaced or modified.
First, the steering was at an improper angle and gave disproportionate steering. Then he was going from an automatic transmission to a manual, but his budget didn’t allow for the purchase of readily available pneumatic, or electric shifters. So I had to design a way for him to operate the throttle, brake, shifter, and maintain control at the same time – for little or no funds.
It was hours and hours of experimentation before coming to a solution. My mentors taught me one of the most important things about projects like this is to use the KISS method: Keep it simple, stupid!
I tried several ways to try to shift the gears with electric solenoids to vacuum pumps and diaphragms. But putting a mechanical shift lever by his right hand worked the best.
My fears of him having to let go of the handlebars was unfounded because I built stability into the bike that he didn’t have with the Honda. He says the Suzuki will go down the highway at 70+ mph as smooth as silk. He feared driving the Honda over 45 mph.
I machined a new hub for the wheel and took one of the disc brakes. He had an extra disc brake from another motorcycle and we mounted it on there. I used the existing caliper that was on the front brake and incorporated it into that – now the stopping is wonderful, straight as a string!
I’ve done some adjustment on the thrust angle of the rear wheel and it still needs a little more but I think we’re going to get that narrowed down.
Then came time to ride it. It was very unstable and when brakes were applied the motorcycle would veer to the left quite hard. A larger wheel on the sidecar and brakes were necessary. But how to control them was another challenge. Joe and I worked together to solve problems that would pop up.
It took about four months of after-hours work and several weeks of work during regular hours to finish. The only thing I didn’t do was the seat.
I found the project to be very rewarding and we continue to modify the bike as needed.
We became very good friends over this. We were just acquaintances when I first started this project but I’ve got a very good friend now.
When Joe was at the shop for me to take measurements and do fittings we got to know each other on a personal basis. Joe is a very positive person and inspired me to go further and further with the project. I’m currently designing a reverse gear for the bike and I also do the maintenance he is unable to do.
The thing I like to do more than anything is to help people finish their projects. It’s nice to go to someone that’s stuck on a project that’s had this dream for years and help them work it toward completion.