Larry Ritchey lost his left leg, but not his sense of humor.
When I told him I was coming to interview him for an article for the Beautiful Broo, he chuckled.
“I’ll see ya when ya get here. But hey—drive safe. There are a lot of crazy drivers out there.”
Major understatement, I thought.
Larry Ritchey lost his leg in a serious accident that left him with just minutes to live and completely totaled his Harley. So, the fact that he’ll be 70 years old this summer is a major miracle, and to think that he even rides his bike as an amputee is even more amazing!
Ritchey’s philosophy about life is basic. “Not riding is not an option” and “Enjoy life now—it has an expiration date” are two of his favorite sayings.
A lifetime rider’s day changed in a big way on May 22, 2005, when Ritchey was just seconds away from pulling his 2001 Dyna Wide Glide into the parking lot of his San Lorenzo, Calif. job when his life took a dramatic turn for the worse. As Ritchey drove to work on this Sunday morning, a carjacker in a stolen pickup who was fleeing an Alameda County sheriff's deputy plowed into the 63-year-old motorcyclist -- and kept going.
John Wayne Moore struck Ritchey with such force that the motorcyclist's left leg was severed just below the hip and had to be amputated. Moore -- who had four previous auto theft convictions and had just been released from San Quentin Prison four days prior, had hijacked a vehicle just minutes before striking Ritchey and was in the process of being chased by the police.
The accident happened so quickly that Ritchey couldn’t even respond, he said. “I came down under the freeway overpass and the next thing I saw was a white flash in my peripheral vision. I didn’t even feel it, but I sure heard it, and it sounded like nothing I had ever experienced. I flew 10-20 feet in the air and woke up on the pavement before anyone got to me. My first question was how’s my bike?”
That’s when Lady Luck stepped in to save Ritchey’s life. “One of the first responders was an EMT, a guy named Mark. He told me I can help you. My femoral artery was severed, which feeds the whole leg with blood. I had about 3-5 minutes left to live. Mark reached over and pinched it off, to stop the flow and he saved my life.”
Unfortunately, the leg couldn’t be saved. “The femur was shattered and the bottom of it was sticking out of my shin. It broke at the hip and again at the thigh. I knew the leg was wasted and I wasn’t surprised when they told me I had lost it.”
After five days in the hospital, Larry emerged, obviously beat up and still in shock, but one thing kept going through his mind—I will ride again, I know I will. Sure, his left leg was gone, but his spirit and his love for riding never wavered for even one second.
Getting his Harley back on the road and making the necessary modifications to ride it again was the first step, Ritchey said. “Einstein said that what’s more important than intelligence is imagination and it took some imagination and common sense to get this bike so that I could ride it again.”
“First, they told me that I should use an electric shifter, but that costs $1,000 and I figured—hey I can figure this out myself. So, I linked the shifter to the right side with a metal shaft and added a sidecar so that I can take out my dog Missy and my wife Sharleene. People stepped up to help with the bike and its modifications. The paint was done by Scott at Riff Raff in Livermore, and the forks were built by Andy May at Arlen Ness. Keith Lang of Ras-Co Manufacturing helped Ritchey with the design, welding and fabrication of his retractable outrigger. Without Keith, I wouldn’t be riding on two wheels today, that’s for sure.”
Essentially, Larry moved the shifter from the left side to the right side and installed a new retractable outrigger/ stabilizer. He also made his rear brake a heel brake. He had a friend ride his bike and he said it felt a little strange but that it would be easy to get used to. The total cost was around $500, he said.
Larry, Missy and Sharleene are embarking on a long trip on his bike this summer. “We’ll be doing 8,000 miles in three months, cross country with my puppy and my wife by my side. We’ll take our time and visit the East Coast, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone—it’s going to be the ride of our lives and we can’t wait.”
If you want to know what happened to the car jacker--he got 19 years and is currently sitting in a cell back at San Quentin. But, Larry rides his motorcycle every week and is still loving his life—every single minute of it! Some call it Karma, but Larry just calls it life.
“People said I couldn’t ride without a leg, but I told them that’s hooey,” Larry said. “I can’t do anything about being handicapped, but I ain’t no cripple. I’ve met people who are paralyzed who can ride, guys with hands and legs and feet missing—but they’re still out there. Some people have to ride and I’m one of those people and it’s as simple as that!”