A Gisborne man paralysed in a motocross accident eight years ago is back on the motorbike – kind of. Robert Stubbs and his mates have created one that he drives from a sidecar.
It's one-of-a-kind, custom-built for him. He's paralysed from the chest down.
"All it ever does when I'm on the road is turn heads. People seeing it coming down the road, and all they think is, 'Here comes a motorbike. There is no rider on it.'"
The wind in his hair, the thrill of the ride – he loves it. But he thought he'd lost it.
"It was one of those things after the accident I never ever thought I would ride a motorbike again. It was gone, it was out the door. How do you ride a motorbike again?"
The accident happened eight years ago at the Gisborne Motorcross. Going into the last race of the day, Mr Stubbs was feeling good. He'd been in-form. But at the third corner of the first lap, another bike clipped him.
"It was that fast that I went straight over the handlebars, and the last thing I remember was knowing it was going to be a big accident and it was going to hurt, and that was the end of it – face-planted to ground, legs came up over my back."
He came to, felt nothing. He was paralysed from the nipple-line down.
"Didn't want to believe it, thought it was a bad dream. I kept wanting to go back to sleep so I could wake up feeling my legs and that again."
Mr Stubbs said this wasn't meant to be his life; he was a busy man. He ran a forestry and logging business. He was a rookie jet boat champion, a top motocross competitor. He had his pilot's licence. He was a loving partner. He had, in his words, things to do, which didn't involve being in a wheelchair.
Determined to walk again, he went to China as part of a controversial stem cell trial. It was high-risk and expensive.
"It was a dead-end but it was all about giving it a go, and in your mind you have given it a go. I didn't want to be sitting at home thinking 'what if'."
So he turned his focus back to what he loved – fast boats, fast bikes.
He and a mate from Perth initially worked on getting him back on a motorbike, entering from a sidecar.
"As it progressed along, we talked about the transferring thing being difficult and still a bit of nuisance. We thought, 'Let's build it so we can ride it from my sidecar in the wheelchair.'"
The handlebars were shifted, brakes were installed, gears were changed. It worked. The sidecar was shipped back to Gisborne, where Mr Stubbs's friends – tradies – made it certifiable. All up it took about two years to build.
"It was one of the best feelings ever being able to wheel into the ramp the back and head of down the road, best feeling ever."
He hopes one day to compete in it. But for now, it's his trusty, and still thrilling, transport.