KAWASAKI ZX-7

KAWASAKI ZX-7

by Bauer Xcel |

FOR THE SHEER TENACITY TO GET BACK ON A BIKE AND OVERCOME WHATEVER OBSTACLES LIFE PUTS IN YOUR WAY, STEVE BUCARO IS A LESSON IN INSPIRATION

KAWASAKI ZX-7

At first, as Steve ‘Wheels’ Bucaro nails his Kawasaki ZX-7 (ZXR750J to us – JM) around the sweeping right-hander, you can’t tell that he’s paralysed from the chest down. It’s only when he pulls into the pits at the Willow Springs circuit in California, 80 miles north of LA, that you see a bike with some different mods to most Special Brews.

As Steve stops the ZX, a six-inch linear actuator extends arms with rollerblade wheels at either side to keep the bike stood up; controlled by a button on the handlebar, they are then lifted off the ground when Steve wants to get on two wheels again. “I call it my landing gear,” he laughs, flipping up his visor.

It’s taken Steve a while to get to this point. Back in 1998, at the age of just 20, his life was changed forever after a 95-year-old in a Cadillac ran a red light and turned in front of him. The resulting accident put Steve in a coma for two weeks, and the broken spine, collar bone and femur left him hospitalised for nine months. Only now able to move his arms, neck, shoulders and parts of his back, you would’ve forgiven him for knocking any thoughts of motorbikes on the head. But Steve is no quitter. Even as he lay in hospital he was hatching his ingenious plan to get back on two wheels – even his house burning down two weeks after his release couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm. “I got the idea for this bike shortly after my accident, but it took 10 years to finally get the project done,” he explains.

“My buddy Lee Beaver actually came and demo’d a bike to me at the hospital which had similar technology, so I knew that the stuff I’d need to enable me to ride again was out there. I just decided to wait a few years until it got that much more advanced, so I could buy it for my bike and adapt it rather than have to reinvent it altogether.” It helps that Steve’s hardly inexperienced when it comes to custom machinery, and he duly spent the first few years after he came out of hospital building modified trucks for people. But soon, it was Kawasaki time again. “I found the bike four years ago – the same year and model that I had my accident on – so I bought it to reminisce,” he says. “The ’92 ZX-7 is the bike that helped Kawasaki win the Superbike series that year. It’s the one that has the two air intake tubes that no other bike has, and it’s still one of the original superbikes. Maybe I should’ve gone for a newer machine, but there was something about getting the bike I was on at the time of the accident that I couldn’t shake.” This isn’t one of those specials where someone’s taken a Suzuki front-end, Yamaha swingarm, Honda engine and Ducati bodywork and somehow merged them to make something brilliantly one-off. In fact many aspects of the bike are standard – with the exception of the technology that allows someone without the use of his legs to ride it. The four-button Grip Ace control panel, situated on the left handlebar, is linked to the clever Pingel electronic shifter which allows Steve to change up or down at the flick of a button.

LEFT HANDLEBAR

Look closer at the left handlebar and you’ll see four subtle buttons, which are the key to Steve’s whole bike. “It’s a product invented by my good friend Tim at a company called GripAce, and along with the landing gear it’s what makes it possible for me to ride,” explains Steve. “It allows me to start the bike, change gear and control the landing gear. It took a while to learn how to use it... the first time I tried it I poked a button before letting the clutch out and fell over in the driveway. That journey only lasted about two feet, but hey – it happens.”

ACTUATOR

The six-inch linear actuator is mounted to the subframe, then connected to the bar with rollerblade wheels. “It was pretty awkward using it the first time and things like how fast the landing gear comes up and down and where its stopping point was all had to be adjusted. But after I’d sorted my balancing issues and dialled it all in, it was fantastic.”

KAWASAKI ZX-7

LANDING GEAR

The ingenious support arms either side of the bike, complete with rollerblade wheels, were invented by an American bloke called Lee Beaver – himself a paralysed stunt rider. “It’s basically a kit that he sends you that fits on to pretty much any Japanese bike, although I found it didn’t work on Ducatis,” explains Steve. “To fit it I just had to cut a little bit off the rear fairing for the actuator as well as the bar, but the modifications are quite subtle and only took me a couple of days.”

KAWASAKI ZX-7

PUTTING A SHIFT IN

The Pingel electronic shifter, linked to the four-button GripAce on the left handlebar, allows Steve to change up or down via a button, and controls the starter motor.

KAWASAKI ZX-7

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LEG ISSUE SORTED

One of the problems Steve had on the bike initially was that his legs were sliding everywhere. The answer was industrial strength velcro to keep them in place.

KAWASAKI ZX-7

A BIT UP AND DOWN

“This is the switch I had to make to be able to change up and down,” says Steve. “Basically, once I’m on the bike I never have to take my hands off the ’bars.”

The bike’s front brakes are controlled by the standard lever, while the rear is never used. Vitally, it all means that Steve can ride the ZX-7 without ever removing his hands from the handlebars. Even with the adapted bike it wasn’t an easy process getting back to trackday levels of confidence (“for the first few times it was quite awkward to get my balance”), but Steve took to it well enough to quickly build up his speed. Yet with increased speed came new fettling challenges. Involuntary leg spasms were causing him to slide off the seat while riding, meaning he spent most of his time shuffling back into the right position. His legs and feet are now attached with velcro, which stops any movement but isn’t without its risks.

KAWASAKI ZX-7

“The problem with it is that for some reason when bikes crash on track, they tend to cartwheel – and that wouldn’t be a good situation for me because I’d be cartwheeling with the bike,” he says. “But I can’t have my legs moving, that’s the bottom line. The Velcro works fine and I don’t move, and my times are getting much better each time I ride.”

Steve’s determination to be the best rider he can be is mixed with an infectious sense of humour that allows him to see the funny side in pretty much everything. Recently, while Steve was out riding the ZX, he accidentally stalled as he pulled out at an intersection; unable to get the landing gear down, he coasted to a stop before the bike toppled over with him on it, petrol gushing from the tank just to compound things.

“It was so funny – all these people were so serious,” he grins. “I’m laying on the ground and these guys run up, yelling at me not to move. I was like, ‘Dude, I’m already paralysed, just drag my ass.’ So they pull me to the kerb and there’s a crowd of people wondering why I’m not getting up. It was hilarious…”

Though he’s got no plans to officially race the bike, regular trackdays are helping Steve to get that need for speed out of his system – although he admits that the learning curve is steep and constant. “Being able to flop bikes from side to side when you’re paralysed from the chest down is not the easiest,” he smiles, “but the main thing for me is to be out there on two wheels. I thought the ultimate freedom for me was driving a car, until I got back on the bike. You can skydive, take drugs or do whatever you want, but the ultimate rush for me, in my situation, is riding my bike again.

SPECIFICATION

1992 KAWASAKI ZX-7

KAWASAKI ZX-7

ENGINE 749cc, liquid-cooled, dohc, 16v, inline-four, Pingel electronic shifter, GripAce electronic handlebar controls CHASSIS Lea Beaver custom ‘landing gear’ kit consisting of 6in linear actuator mounted to the subframe and connected to a bar with rollerblade wheels, powdercoated frame, carbon fibre-effect paintwork, custom made crash cage, Velcro leg pads “I put on the helmet and reality stops.”

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