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Also a guitarist, Ms. Sandow will be speaking at this weekend’s Women’s Motorcycle Conference Online, inspiring others with her example that almost anything’s possible

Motorcyclist Angie Sandow doesn't try to hide her arm that ends just past the elbow.Handout

Angie Sandow was born without a right hand, 57 years ago. Her arm ends just past the elbow, and she’s never let it slow her down much.

She doesn’t try to hide it and doesn’t wear a prosthetic hand, but when she plays in her rock-and-roll band, Lefty and the Goons, she fixes a clamp to her arm to hold the guitar pick.

She also rides a motorcycle – difficult to do with only one hand – and she’ll be speaking at this weekend’s Women’s Motorcycle Conference Online, inspiring others with her example that almost anything’s possible if you set your mind to it. She also hopes a new half-hour documentary about her challenges in learning to do this will be part of this year’s Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival.

“My motto is: Why discourage when you can encourage? That’s what I live by,” she says. “I want to share my story with riding. I’ve met so many people who’ve said, ‘Wow, look at how you can ride, and what you can do.’ I realize the impact I can make on people – the positive impact.”

She blogs and posts videos at her website to help show people that, whatever their challenges, a positive attitude is key to achieving their goals. “By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others that, despite the obstacles, anything is possible and that limitations are okay,” she writes. “We all have them. You are not alone.”

Angie Sandow says her motto is 'Why discourage when you can encourage?'Handout

She knew that learning to ride a motorcycle was going to be a huge challenge for her, so she kept putting it off. Then when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, which she fought and beat with chemotherapy and a mastectomy, it showed her life’s too short to put off your goals.

“It was always ‘tomorrow,’ but the diagnosis really told me I might not have a tomorrow,” she says.

Her friend Diane Jankovics has a similar outlook on life. She met Sandow after reading her blog.

“I wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle, but I was afraid,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Well if Angie can do it, why can’t I do it?’ And then I read she had been diagnosed with breast cancer one year before I was. And I thought, ‘Okay.’ As Angie said, it was the breast cancer that really kicked her in the butt and made her say, ‘Hey, I can do this!’”

“You climb on a motorcycle because you want a new leisure activity in your life. You want to feel that open road,” adds Sandow’s friend David DeRocco. “Angie, of course, has to take it to the next step — to inspire a whole bunch of people who may not have ever thought they could climb on a motorcycle.”

A motorcycle is designed to be ridden with both hands on the handlebars for balance and support. As well, the throttle and front brake are controlled with the right hand, and the clutch with the left hand. Almost all motorcycles have manual transmissions and need a clutch lever.

Sandow went to the 2017 Motorcycle Show in Toronto and got talking with a salesperson at the Honda booth. She bought a Honda 300 Rebel, which is a small motorcycle, but she’s only 5 foot 1, so it fitted her well. Then she had it modified to be ridden with no controls on the right handlebar. The throttle cable was transferred to the left side, where it was worked with a finger lever, and the front brake lever was moved to the left where it replaced the clutch lever. An automatic centrifugal clutch was created from the existing clutch so there was no need for a manual lever. The total cost for the modifications was about $1,500.

Now that she had a working motorcycle, and after she passed the classroom test for a basic motorcycle licence, she had to learn how to ride it. She enrolled in a training course, but first she had to get familiar with the controls, so she practised for a few weeks on quiet roads near her Mississauga home.

She did fall off the bike during the course, when it tipped over at low speed during a tight left turn and broke the throttle switch. Normally, a rider would make such a turn by pushing the right handlebar around and just tucking in the left handlebar, but without a right arm to do the pushing, it became a much more challenging manoeuvre.

“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. I talked to some of my instructors and they said, ‘You’ve just got to get it out of your head.’ With practice came confidence, and she found the right technique of balance and control.

On the Sunday of the course, she didn’t think she’d be able to pass the test at the end, “but I never wanted to give up. Never. I always knew it was going to work out.”.

At the end of the Learning Curves course, she passed her riding test easily and earned her Ontario Class M2 license, allowing her to ride her motorcycle with few restrictions. Two years later, she earned her full M license.

“Last year I rode better than the year before,” she says, “and this year I’m sure I’ll ride better than I did last year.”

She’s traded up motorcycles along the way. She now rides a Honda 700 CTX cruiser that is factory-equipped with an automatic transmission, only available in the United States. She had to import it from a dealership in New York. The CTX is modified on the left handlebar with a thumb throttle, like the throttle on an ATV, and the front brake is moved to the left side, and the handlebars are adjusted for comfort. Other than that, the bike’s operation is no different from any other motorcycle.

“The fact that she got a customized bike to address her particular challenges on a motorcycle is definitely an inspiration to other people,” says DeRocco. “[They] see her and go, ‘Well, if she can do that, then I can do the same.’ That’s where you know that it’s more than just about the ride.”

Sandow doesn’t lean forward to rest her right arm on the handlebar as most riders do for balance and she likes it that way. She says she’s quite comfortable and, as long as she’s wary on tight switchback roads, she’s as capable as anyone else. In fact, probably more than most.

“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.”

This year, she expects to be back on the road on her Honda and, when COVID-19 restrictions ease, she hopes to ride to Cape Breton. If you see her on the highway, give her a wave. Just don’t be surprised when she waves back.

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