December 2, 2021

‘We need to do this’

Shop creates motorcycle for disabled vets

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Groton Cycle Center mechanic Dick Linn makes customizations to a 1985 military-themed FXR Harley Davidson last week in Groton.

GROTON — Veterans with disabilities will soon be able to get a free ride on a motorcycle via a motorcycle side car or taken to their burial by a motorcycle with an attached casket carrier.

“It’s about 75 percent of the way done,” said Don Titus, the owner of Groton Cycle Center.

Titus said he is hoping to have the bike ready for use by late May or early June, the beginning of the motorcycle season. However, that’s all contingent on funds to finish the bike. Titus estimated all of the work for the bike to cost around $15,000. The figure also includes testing it on the road and insuring it.

So far, Titus has put $9,000 into the project, with about $1,500 of it coming from donations and the rest coming from Titus and his shop. Titus is hoping more people will look at donating.

Titus got the idea for the sidecar after attending various charity events over the years.

“Whenever I go it always seems to me that there’s somebody there that is unable to ride a motorcycle,” Titus said. “They’re in a wheelchair, they’re on crutches, you know they don’t have the ability and probably 90-plus percent of the time they’re a veteran.”

However, Titus wasn’t sure there was need for the idea he had in mind — a side car that can accommodate people with disabilities. So he talked to his friend Norm Stitzel, a vet and the founder of Veteran Search and Rescue, which connects veterans with community resources.

Stitzel told Titus there was definitely a need for the project Titus had in mind.

“Norm went, ‘Oh my god, that’s an amazing idea — we need to do this,’” Titus said.

Stitzel said it’s therapy for the vets, especially ones with physical disabilities who may not be able to get out much.

That was about five months ago.

Then, as the sidecar project was getting underway, Titus and Stitzel got to talking again — this time about doing a casket carrier after someone asked Stitzel if it was possible.

Titus decided he’d give that project a go, too, and on Friday he put the pieces together to show the progress so far at a motorcycle swap meet at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

“There’s no blueprint for this stuff,” Titus said.

The solid steel bike, which Titus has owned for 22 years, had to get two brakes instead of the standard one and larger tires so it would hold up better during rides. It also had to be outfitted to carry 600 extra pounds. The sidecar he bought was refurbished and made to have a clamshell opening to get people in and out more easily. They fabricated the casket carrier from scratch.

Owner Don Titus, left, of Groton Cycle Center, and Bud Marshall, right, of Marshall’s Bike & Body mock up a military themed-themed sidecar Thursday to be fitted to a FXR Harley Davidson.

It’s painted in olive drab, otherwise known as Army green. It will feature the different military service seals and a star and band.

“It’s really exciting to see it go from an idea to a realty,” Stitzel said.

For Norm Smith, a volunteer, the project has become a way to honor his dad, who served in the Navy during World War II and his brother, who served in the Navy during Vietnam.

“They’re gone now,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing this — for them.”

Smith also said he’d love to ride in the sidecar after working on the project since November when he first began volunteering at the shop.

“He’s been very dedicated to this project,” Titus said.

For Titus the project is also a way to honor his father, who served in the Navy during the Korean War.

Once the bike is running it will be free of cost to those who want to ride and those who want to learn to be the drivers, Titus said.

“We would be training people to be able to do it to make sure we’re accommodating the need,” Titus said.”And everything would be free to the participants. We never want to charge anybody for anything. They’ve already paid their dues, they shouldn’t have to pay to ride and they won’t.”