Angie Sandow doesn’t have a right hand. She was born that way, 57 years ago. Maybe that’s why it took her a little longer than most to get her licence and start riding a motorcycle, but it was never going to stop her.
Actually, the kick came in 2014 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it and beat it and decided life was too short to not achieve her goals and that was that. “It was always ‘tomorrow,’ but the diagnosis really told me I might not have a tomorrow,” she says.
Angie’s husband Lloyd had started riding a Yamaha V-Star, but she wanted to ride for herself, so she went to the Toronto Motorcycle Show four years ago to look at suitable bikes. Mostly, she wanted to think about how to ride a motorcycle without having a hand for the throttle or the front brake.
She says the only manufacturer who took the time at the show to speak with her was Honda, so she struck up a conversation at the booth with Sid Butler of Barrie Honda, who ended up selling her a Honda Rebel 300. It’s a small bike and she’s 5-feet-1, so it fit her well.
First though, the Rebel had to be modified and she was introduced to Todd Topper of Mission Cycle in Angus, near Barrie. He figured out a way to move the throttle cable to the left and work it through a finger control, and to install the brake lever on the left bar, too. He also commissioned a fully-automatic centrifugal clutch unit from the Rebel’s existing parts, so there was no need to use the clutch lever to get moving. All told, the modifications cost about $1,500.
That was the easy part. Now Angie had to learn how to operate the controls with only one hand on the bars before she could even take a training course for her intermediate motorcycle licence. Insurance cost about $3,200 for her to ride on the road with an Ontario Class M1 licence, but she stuck it through and practiced on quiet roads near her Mississauga home, then enrolled at a Learning Curves course and passed the course and her M2 licence test comfortably.
“People said, ‘How are you going to ride slow?’” she says. “I can ride slow. What I have trouble doing is tight turns to the left. That’s where I dumped the bike when I was doing my training. I talked to some of my instructors and they said, you’ve just got to get it out of your head. Last year I rode better than the year before, and this year I’m sure I’ll ride better than I did last year.”
Angie’s right arm ends just beyond her elbow. She doesn’t wear a prosthetic hand, so she doesn’t rest her right arm on the handlebar for support. Even so, the bars are adjusted a little higher for greater comfort and control.
She moved on from the little Rebel that same summer, buying a Honda Shadow 750. Todd at Mission Cycle transferred the modifications to the larger bike. Then, with some more experience under her boots, she moved on to a naked 2014 Honda CTX 700, which was no longer sold in Canada but still available in the U.S. The CTX was optioned with a DCT transmission – Honda’s push-button automatic that has no clutch lever or gear-shifter pedal. Then in the fall of 2019, she rewarded herself with a 2018 Honda CTX 700 bagger, again from the U.S. with the DCT transmission.
She took the CTXs to Motorcycle Enhancements in Oakville, where John Consentini fitted them with a thumb throttle on the left, like on a snowmobile or ATV, which is less tiring to use than a finger throttle. He moved the front brake to the left, and that’s all that was needed.
Angie likes cruisers and most of her friends ride cruisers. Honda Canada has a DCT available with its Gold Wing, NC750X, and Africa Twin, but the Gold Wing is a heavy bike to ride slowly with one hand, and the two adventure bikes are both too tall. In any case, she loves her CTX.
“I’ve had more fresh air since I’ve started riding the bike, and I’ve been outside more than I’ve been in years,” she says. “For me, it’s a great workout – my legs get tighter and my abs get stronger. From the minute I get on that thing, it’s just this feeling that I’m in control. You see things that you never see in a car. You go places that you probably never would go.”
Angie’s motto is “Why discourage when you can encourage,” and she’s living proof that few things are impossible if you put your mind to them. She plays lead guitar in a rock band, using a prosthetic clip on her right arm to hold the pick. She works as a manager in the finance department of a national company but wants to inspire others through public speaking. Last year, film-maker Christopher Darton completed a half-hour documentary about her story that she hopes will be part of this year’s Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival.
Want to know more, or contact Angie directly? Take a look at her website at justridin.com.