HOW A ROADBLOCK FOR MANY IS A SPEED BUMP FOR ONE
The trials and tribulations of Doug Henry
By Nick Claire
Are heroes defined by the achievements in their life? Does a hero have to be a champion? Will that hero have overcome unimaginable obstacles and come out on the other side stronger? I say, “Maybe not.” But, in the case of motocross legend Doug Henry, I’d answer with a definitive, “Yes!” Maybe the most impressive thing about Doug is his infectious attitude and positivity that continue to be his trademark persona.
Doug Henry was a national champion motocross racer out of Connecticut who won over a legion of fans by combining an infectious personality with a never-say-die winning attitude.
Doug was the kind of racer who would be caught standing trackside of a big race with a chomping-at-the-bit stare watching his rivals competing all the while nursing two broken arms! And, after decades spent lining up at start lines, that hunger to compete and have fun on two wheels hasn’t faded at all.
Before we get to the e-portion of the story, it’s important to explain a little bit of what brought an electric downhill mountain bike into Henry’s life.
Doug Henry was a teenage kid from Connecticut who grew up riding motorcycles on his family farm. Eventually, the fun of recreational riding took a more focused turn when he decided to start racing. And no sooner had the 22-year-old turned pro in 1988 that he would go on to shock the MX world by riding a privateer bike to win a 125cc National in 1991. Doug had arrived! Two years later he would sign a contract to race for the factory Honda squad, whom he would reward with back-to-back national motocross championship titles. Following his stint aboard the fire-engine-red Hondas, Doug made the jump to the blue bikes of Team Yamaha in 1995.
Unfortunately, in addition to the multiple motocross races and championships won during his 18-year racing career, Doug has also endured some incredible injuries throughout his career. Most notable was the broken back he suffered in 1995 after flying nearly 200 feet through the air over an infamous jump at the Budd’s Creek MX National (ironically, the same jump where he would crash again and break both wrists two years later). The broken back would sideline him but not stop his pursuit of even greater racing accomplishments.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Doug returned to full form to win a 450cc national motocross championship riding the then-revolutionary and -pioneering Yamaha YZ400 four-stroke. Making any comeback after an injury like the one he suffered was incredible enough, but as the future would hold, it wouldn’t be the last time he made a triumphant return.
Despite his injuries, Doug never really made a full retirement, continuing to race in a variety of diverse events such as Snocross, Supermoto and off-road races. Sadly, it was after he had retired from full-time racing almost a decade later when he crashed at a Supermoto race that left him with a broken back. Unlike his first time, this crash would result in Doug being partially paralyzed from the waist down.
It should go without saying that it didn’t stop him from pursuing his madman motorsports lifestyle. What might have surprised some people, though, was when he was once again back on a motocross course and custom downhill e-mountain bike.
In typical Doug Henry style, it wouldn’t take long before he was back up on two wheels. Within two years he was back twisting the throttle, but this time on a specially built Yamaha YZ450 that had a custom roll cage built around him.
Having already seen images of him sending it on a specially outfitted snowmobile to win X Games gold in the Adaptive class, I wasn’t completely surprised when I first saw him back on a dirt bike. Not because it isn’t difficult, but because others had already done it, and because few motocross racers can’t ever get the love for the sport out of their systems. So, seeing Doug back twisting a throttle—even in the wild, caged setup he used—really just made sense. But an e-bike?!
On a dirt bike you have more than enough power to lift the front end up or correct your bike’s position off of jumps and drop-offs. Now, imagine you’re riding down the trail on your mountain bike and you don’t have a way to lean back as far as you need to for a drop-off. Or, have you ever thought of how much you use your legs to weight
and unweight the bike to hop over tree roots and rocks? That said, there were things he and his design team had to consider when putting the downhill e-bike together.
IT STARTS WITH AN IDEA
The first edition of the “bucket bike,” as Doug calls it, came about after he attended a downhill event with a friend in Massachusetts. Henry kept saying, “We have to build bucket bikes!” So, his friend went ahead and made a bucket bike for himself. Doug saw it and immediately set down the path of making his own.
Owing to his renown in the racing world and knowing just about everyone in the industry, Doug was able to get hooked up with GT Bicycles to help him put together a bike. He started out with a stock, full-suspension GT Fury with a special bucket seat that he could secure himself in. The bucket seat makes it so he can’t get shifted off either side of the bike. Also, the pedals are solidly mounted to mimic the footpegs on a dirt bike. They have cages on them to keep his feet in one position and strapped in.
When it came to source a powerplant, Doug knew there were a range of electric motors on the market that were really powerful, but he wanted to keep it closer to feeling like a mountain bike than a motorcycle. That’s when Paradox Kinetics jumped in with one of their 1500-watt (130 N/m) Hermes e-MTB bolt-on assist units that was just powerful enough to get him around tight corners and be able to climb back up the hill if there were no lifts to bring him up.
As far as durability goes, Doug said the motor has been really impressive, and even when riding through icy, cold, wet and muddy conditions, it hasn’t skipped a beat.
When GT was helping put together the first bucket bike, Paradox Kinetics came down to GT and made sure the motor was installed properly. They used hand-laid carbon fiber composites to produce one of the lightest motors of anything over 750 watts. Additionally, the motor uses a combination of high-strength steel and aerospace-grade aluminum treated with a custom anodization process. From the visual standpoint alone, the motor looks very clean and neatly put together.
Besides the motor, Paradox also set Doug up with a twist-throttle assembly, something he was already more than familiar with! Although 130 N/m of torque may seem like a lot to anyone who is riding a Class 1 e-mountain bike, Doug explained that it does take some planning ahead to get the power to help you when you need it. He explained that being in the right gear helps, but it is not always easy to plan ahead when an obstacle comes up really fast on the trail.
FRANK THE WELDER ARRIVES
For the average person, Doug’s first effort would be a pretty solid machine. However, the more he rode the bike, he came to realize that he could benefit from some design changes to get more out of it. He got in contact with legendary Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee Frank Wadelton (aka “Frank the Welder”) to help make a Frankenstein downhill e-bike that pretty much scrapped the whole front triangle to start anew.
Frank built a completely custom front triangle that was more heavy duty and, most important, made room for a separate shock for the bucket seat to have its own travel. That gave Doug a substantial amount of seat-of-the-pants travel compared to his first-generation build. They kept the original rear triangle and put a 26-inch wheel in the rear with a 27.5-inch front wheel. Doug got excited as he explained his mixed (“mullet”) wheel setup, saying that once he put the 26-inch wheel in the rear, the bike’s cornering performance improved greatly.
Doug said he has received a new fork from Fox that will fit a 29-inch wheel and will up the rear wheel to 27.5 inches. The bucket seat uses a Fox X2 shock, and the rear suspension is set up with an X2 as well. Doug runs ProTaper handlebars with Acerbis Bark Buster handguards and Shimano Saint brakes. If he tips over in a corner, he makes sure to keep his hands on the bars and takes the impact with his shoulders and elbows. Talk about tough!
He mentioned that eventually he would like to build another version with a different swingarm design. The current version’s rear suspension forces the rear wheel to come closer to the bucket seat than desired. Frank told Doug it would be possible to design the suspension arc so that the rear wheel goes more upward than forward towards the seat. He said the project will be expensive, so getting funding will be the next challenge.
Where most able-bodied people would never attempt half the things Doug does on two wheels as a paraplegic, it’s just another day at the office for him. He told me he does not like slow-speed technical trails because, as you can imagine, there is no foot dabbing.
So, instead, he prefers fast-paced trails and doesn’t mind if they are really rough or rocky as long as he has momentum on his side. “As long as you’re not in the slow tech stuff, you really don’t have much to worry about other than crashing at high speed,” Doug said with a laugh. Of course, if you’re addicted to extreme sports like Doug Henry, high-speed crashes are just something you just chalk up as another day at the office.
Doug Henry’s story is just another of many that illustrate how much electric-assist bikes have opened up a seemingly endless world of possibilities for the disabled. Doug is proof positive of how a positive and determined attitude can help overcome physical hardships and challenge.
Beyond his racing exploits, the most important takeaway in Doug’s story is the inspiration he provides to others to prove that where there is a will, there’s a way. From jumping his motorcycle around a motocross track to piloting his e-bike down a treacherous downhill course, Doug Henry continues to prove that passion, along with some solid homespun engineering, is a main ingredient to enjoying an enhanced life full of challenges and adventures.
AT A GLANCE: DOUG HENRY’S CAREER
Raced professionally from 1988-2006 with 25 wins
Three-time national champion
2005 X Games Supermoto gold medal
2006 X Games Supermoto bronze
2010 X Games Snocross Adaptive bronze
2014 X Games Snocross Adaptive bronze
2013 X Games Snocross Adaptive silver
2015 X Games Snocross Adaptive silver
2019 X Games Adaptive snow bike gold
2020 X Games Adaptive snow bike gold