Quail Motorcycle Gathering 2019 – Mert’s Hands

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Mert Lawwill is a motorcycling legend who’s been inducted to both the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. You may know him from his success in the glory days of flat track (he was the 1969 AMA Grand National Champion), his prominent role in On Any Sunday, or maybe even his run of 19 bikes inspired by his XR750 racer, the Mert Lawwill Concepts Street Tracker based on a 1200 Sportster – I’ve featured one of those in the past, it sold for $25,210. But did you know that Mert also has a company dedicated to creating prosthetics to give more people the opportunity to ride?

One of Mert’s Street Trackers.

I do have to give a shoutout to Greg Shamieh (the fine gentleman behind Rolling Physics Problem). When I featured Mert’s Street Tracker, Greg left an excellent comment that doubles as a mini-introduction:

In addition to being one heck of a rider, Mert Lawwill is a natural engineer and an artist in metal…

…One of my favorite Mert stories is that he has a sideline business — designing and fabricating ‘special purpose prosthetics’ for folks that want participate in motorsports and other activities. Someone introduced him to a young man with one arm that wanted to race motorcycles, and Mert built him a special arm that was designed specifically to work safely with a set of handlebars. After that other people sought him out. The work on those prosthetics is every bit as beautiful as this motorcycle.

Mert is Champ in every sense of the word.

I had forgotten Greg’s comment by the time I went to the Quail this year. I didn’t even notice Mert’s booth until the show had just about ended, but I’m glad I decided to do one last lap around the Quail at the end of the day.

The genesis of the prosthetic hand was a 1967 crash by Chris Draayer, Mert’s teammate on the factory Harley-Davidson flat track team. Chris lost his arm in the crash, and Mert built him a prototype that allowed to Chris to keep riding (though not professionally).

That eventually led to a product called Mert’s Hands. The “hand” connects to a device attached to the motorcycle, and Mert says that there are approximately 300 of the hands currently in circulation.

These hands are used by motorcyclists and bicyclists.

It’s a ball-and-socket design: the “hand” is a ball that is secured in the socket with six ball bearings that can be adjusted individually. The bearings allow the hand to rotate in the joint, while the design allows for the ball to come out when sufficient lateral force is applied. This is obviously required when the rider is finished and wants to call it a day, but is also helpful in the event of a crash so that the rider is not dragged along with the motorcycle.

Rolling resistance for each bearing can be adjusted with a flathead screwdriver on the side.

Presumably, you’d like to see one in action. Here’s an example of a customer that uses Mert’s Hands on the right side, so the throttle has been swapped to the left:

Most components are made from CNC-machined aluminum, while the ball is hollow stainless steel. The hand has been available for some time, but the Quail was Mert’s first public showing of a full arm.

This is the second arm that Mert has created – the first is a prototype that’s currently being tested by a desert racer. Mert had Fox build a custom shock for the application. It has three levels of adjustment: soft, medium, and full lock.

Adjustment is done by the blue lever.

Full lock is specifically used when you’re going down a steep downhill – it ensures rigidity so that the arm doesn’t buckle under the weight of your upper body. Fox is already working on a second generation shock that will incorporate an accelerometer. This will detect sharp descents and automatically lock the shock for the rider. Estimated cost for the current full arm is $6,000.

I could have spent hours looking at this thing – it really appealed to my undergrad training in biomedical engineering!

To support Mert in his quest to help more people ride with a donation or to learn more about Mert’s Hands, check out the website here!

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