The Blind Speedway Rider and Bike Builder
Nigel Limb from Lincolnshire shares an inspirational story about a life-changing racing incident that robbed him of his eyesight and how building an electric speedway bike has given him a purpose.
Here's his story in his own words:
When I was a 5 five year old in 1970, my Mum and Dad took me to watch Doncaster Dragons speedway. Doncaster lasted for two years and I have a scrapbook that I did as a kid. I was hooked on speedway and then my Dad built me a speedway bike with a moped engine in. I would ride on the field at the back of our house.
From that I've always been a biker on the road and have always been interested in anything with an engine - bikes, car, boats, planes.
I'm from Derbyshire originally, but my childhood holidays every year were in Skegness. We used to come on the Saturday and go home the following Saturday and I think Boston used to run on a Sunday, so we'd go there to watch them race. We'd go to Skegness Stockcars on the Thursday and Boston Speedway on the Sunday.
Becoming a Rider
When I turned 48 I bought a Godden upright speedway bike and learnt to ride. I went up to Scunthorpe's mini-track and had two weekends on a 125 then went onto the main track with my Godden 500 and rode in the amateur class.
We live on the coast in Lincolnshire and have the Mablethorpe beach racing near us. They make an oval track in the sand every two weeks and they have different classes of racing, one of which is 500cc grasstrack bikes. I've always wanted to build a speedway bike and I initially built one to have as a trophy in the workshop then decided to have a go at racing at Mablethorpe.
I was fifty years old and racing in that series and that's where I had my accident on my Jawa Nu-track bike.
The accident was eight years ago, it happened on 27th December 2015, just two days after Christmas.
Nobody knows what happened and it could be several things. It was ice cold, a beautiful day with blue skies. I was going down the straight flat out and I never made the turn. At the pits end there's a concrete outreach that comes out from the promenade and I hit that. The throttle may have stuck open, I could have froze or something else could have happened. It looks like I went past it, between the sea and the outreach, where some water gathers around the edge, like a pool. We think my front wheel caught it and it sucked me straight into the concrete outreach with Armco round it.
The random thing is there's only two scratches on my helmet, on the chin guard, so it looks like the Armco came through the opening of the helmet where you have your googles. That then split my skull, smashing it from the right eye-socket to my right ear, as soon as you split your skull, brain swelling occurs and because of the sudden stop, your head stops but your brain still rotates in your skull. You get what they call a DAI - Diffuse axonal injury.
Your brain is suspended from your skull, but as that rotates round it sheers the nerves off. I suffered major brain stem damage. That comes from brain swelling and the sudden stop.
I got airlifted from the track to Hull Infirmary and I was on a life support machine. After 9 days they came to the conclusion that I'd suffered major brain stem damage, the prognosis was that I would either die of my injuries of be a total vegetable, so that was me rendered dead either way.
My partner Julie got asked what I would want and she said that I would want the life support to be switched off, rather than live that life. The plan was that the machine would be switched off over the weekend, everybody came to see me to say their goodbyes. Julie was at my bedside as she had been for days and she asked if they could keep me alive until Monday or Tuesday because she thought I was still in there. They agreed and on Monday morning I opened my eyes, though that's all I did.
Sadly that caused Julie to have a mental breakdown and she was sectioned and put into a mental institution.
On Christmas Day we'd been two ordinary people celebrating Christmas with the children and grand-children, then two days later Armageddon sets in, then 11 days later I'm awake, but not talking and nobody knows what's happening to me and Julie is in a mental institution.
Within a nanosecond life has been totally obliterated. I'd lost my eyesight, I'd lost my business of 27 years and lost everything about me, so I wanted to commit suicide.
I'd had a great childhood, a great adult life, great parents and had never for one millisecond thought about ending my own life, but there I was thinking about doing it.
I woke up on Sunday morning, put my bike in the back of the van and the next time I woke up, which I thought was the next morning but was actually 11 days later, I was in hospital with my head smashed in.
Apart from my skull I didn't break any bones, but I was bruised all the way from my right toe to my right shoulder. I don't remember being in pain particularly, but when you've been in a coma they keep you drugged up for a number of weeks.
Rebuilding Our Lives and Building a Bike
Then we had to start rebuilding our lives. I didn't get any insurance money as I wasn't like I'd been knocked over.
I was an auto-electrician and MOT tester. I'm a driven man and I've set a couple of records on drag strips for partially blind riders.
I'd got an upright rolling chassis in my workshop and thought I've not got an engine for it and I needed to find something to do and I decided to make it into an electric speedway bike. I totally designed and built it all my own in the workshop, using basic hand tools and ended up riding it.
There's a good chance that I'm the first person to make and ride electric speedway bike in Britain, but I'm definitely the first partially blind man to do that!
Michael Riis and Paul Bowen decided to come to Scunthorpe and have races between their electric bikes and the petrol 125 bikes. I took my bike up there to display it. I'd like to do something with Paul and the electric bikes and we're talking about that.
I phone Michael and asked how he had started and he started exactly the same as me, same motor a ME1304, same controller Sevcon Gen 4, but in a laydown frame as opposed to my upright frame. So two men on the other sides of Europe started the same, with the same motor and controller.
Michael has gone further and produced a race bike and is trying to do it as a business. All I wanted to do was prove to manufacturers that if a blind bloke can make one in his workshop, there's no reason why they couldn't do it.
I'm pleased that Michael has done it as I think there's a place for electric on many levels.
I chose to do it as an upright as I wanted the juxtaposition of a classic speedway bike from 1980, turned into an electric speedway bike in 2022.
Thanks the battery mounting, at a glance it looks like an upright speedway engine. It's a good-looking Frankenstein, I didn't want to hide the cables and the wiring, I wanted people to see it so that's it more of a talking point.
Michael's is all encased and is absolutely brilliant, it's a carry case and you can mount it in your speedway bike, but you could put it into a go-kart or anything, what he's done is absolutely spot on but you can't see any workings on it as it obviously needs to be covered when your racing.
It's all new technology and an electric engine has full torque immediately and should be better off the start, too much torque leads to wheel spin.
Seth Norman who rode the electric bike whipped everybody's ass. I think if Paul Bowen was to ride an electric bike in the Amateur series then he'd just have just enough power to win.
My bike was next door to Paul and Michael's and got a lot of interest. When I went to ride it, Dougie Wyer came over specially to see me, the bike and how it went. He's a big advocate of mine and he thinks it's ace. If he thinks it's good and is willing to travel to see an electric bike that a blind bloke has made.....
I had no help, apart from one thing, I had to have a sprocket machined and welded onto a collar by my friend Jim King. If my Dad was still alive, I'd have posted it to him and he'd have machined them on the lathe in his workshop and posted them back and I would have drilled and pegged it. Apart from that I did everything and the only time I asked Julie for help was to lift if off the bench.
With modern electric bikes, that batteries are LIPOs, they are very expensive and there are a load of computer technology to go with it, so I went old school and used old school batteries.
It went quite well on the mini-track, though didn't perform as well I'd hoped, I had to guess the gearing as nobody has ever built on of these before.
A friend of mine Steve Cook has been a good amateur speedway rider and he managed to get a skid on.
I was able to ride it round myself, because there's a white fence, that contrasts with the brown of the track and I knew that I needed to keep away from the white thing!
If I wanted to build an electric bike for mini-blasting at weekends, then I think the bike I've built I could get ready in a few months. The engine was chosen to be robust and the controller was set to default parameters, but with a bit of work it could be ideal for a weekend away racing. You wouldn't need to take a can of Castrol R and a load of methanol, I'd just need my battery charger and an extension cable to plug it into.
It's my baby and I don't want anyone else to touch it, but if I could get over myself and let someone else ride it, it would be ideal for mini-blasting like Gary O'Hare does at Scunthorpe.
I started with a rolling chassis I already had and it's cost me about £1,200 to complete the rest of the bike, which compares to around £1,500 that it would have cost me to get an upright engine and cam shaft. If I'd had the LIPO batteries and management system it would have been a grand more.
I would never sell it, I built it to give me something to do and to help with my mental health. It keeps my brain active, if I can go to bed at night and have something to think about it keeps me sane, so building the bike was very multi-faceted.
After I had my accident I never thought I would even drill a hole in a wall again and here I am eight years later and I've set two UK records, ranked third in the country for partially sighted ten-pin bowling and I've built an electric speedway bike.
I'm 58 years old and I lost my business, but I still need work, both physically and financially. I now do public speaking and have carved a career out for myself. I do talks all over the country.
I use it as a promotional tool, we have Lincolnshire Day around here and our local library are having me bring my bike round for display purposes. I'm also doing a couple of talks at the local college with the bike.
You can watch a video of Nigel building his bike on this youtube link https://youtu.be/dKFUWeoG1AY?si=wGiQoZCCEZt2yL3Q
This article was first published on 1st October 2023
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