There are amazing people throughout the world that you often never hear about. And I recently found a story on Riding Vintage about Alfred Leroy, a man who wouldn’t let a childhood tragedy become a barrier to his dreams.
When Leroy was 15 years old, he was struck by a freight train. In the accident, he lost both of his legs and half of one arm. Although he was now without the full use of three limbs, he decided that he wanted to ride motorcycles.
Alfred Leroy buys motorcycles
After 8 years of saving, Leroy was able to purchase his first motorcycle. Over the years, he customized his bikes to suit his capabilities, including models from Minneapolis and Thor. But his most well-known motorcycle is perhaps his 1916 Harley-Davidson J-series machine. And that’s because this motorcycle is the one that he completed a 50,000-mile solo tour of the U.S. during the late 1910s.
Several changes were made to his pride and joy twin-cylinder Harley. A left hand mounted sidecar was added because it allowed Alfred to use his “good arm” next to the bike. A straight rod was attached to the end of the bike’s left handlebar to help him steer. Alfred then used his “stump” to steer the machine. He operated the spark advance, throttle, clutch, shift lever, and brakes with his uninjured right arm. And, he used this arm to hand start the Harley.
The bike’s sidecar also had many improvements. Ultimately, Alfred was able to make it into an RV of sorts. Inside the nose of the sidecar, he kept an inflatable mattress, pillow, and bedding. With the seat removed, the “bedding” could be laid out in the sidecar to make a “comfortable” sleeping compartment. He used a rubberized canopy for bad weather that could be pulled over the top of the rig to keep the rain out when necessary.
Also mounted to the sidecar was a 2-gallon canteen in a metal container. When the canteen was removed, Alfred could use the container as a washbasin. When he finished bathing, the water could then be let out of the basin by removing a cork at its bottom. Alfred carried cooking utensils and other supplies in a trunk attached to the rear of the bike.
Not to be left behind, a “mini-sidecar” was mounted to the side of the Harley’s sidecar. And that’s where Alfred’s adopted stray dog rode during rides.
Alfred Leroy accomplishments
By 1916, Alfred had crossed the U.S. three times. His specially prepared ride kept him riding an estimated 50,000 miles in the process. He was able to attain a degree of fame and received sponsorships from some manufacturers like Duckworth Chains. They used Alfred’s accomplishment as a testimony of the durability of their chains.
The August 1916 issue of Motorcycle Illustrated ran a story on Alfred’s accomplishments. They detailed his trip from Los Angeles to New York City. In the story, Alfred recounted how he supported himself by selling postcards of himself and his “unusual outfit.”
It was also during this year that Alfred chose to stop and rest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He decided to visit the Harley-Davidson museum. According to Alfred, he was “given the finest treatment you could imagine.”
Whether it was for advertising or because he was proud of his rig, Leroy gave detailed descriptions of his equipment. He talked about 8,200 miles of trouble-free service from a Duckworth chain, Pennsylvania Vacuum Cup tires, and Bethlehem five-point spark plugs. Alfred also recounted that he carried three Weed tire chains, which he was happy to have on the sandy roads of the southwestern part of the U.S. He also carried two spare tires and was happy to say that the “was not called upon to change the tires with which he started.”
People can do amazing things
Alfred Leroy’s accomplishments stand as a bold reminder that people can and do amazing things. Even with the loss of three limbs, Alfred’s will to ride and enjoy his passion for motorcycles proves that humans can accomplish great things and overcome significant obstacles.
While riding gave him a modicum of success, it is clear that Alfred loved motorcycles and motorcycling. And, although he enjoyed riding, he endured significant hardships. But that didn’t stop him, he just kept going.
I wish I knew more about Alfred. I also wish that I had the opportunity to meet this man who didn’t let his disabilities get in the way of his dreams. Rest well, Alfred; I’m sorry that the world may have forgotten your accomplishments. At least now, it knows a little more about a man who couldn’t be stopped by disabilities and followed his dream.
All photo credit: Riding Vintage