Mountain Biking Without Hands? Shane Cahill Overcomes Tragedy
Riders Who Inspire
“Look, Ma, no hands” is the phrase that Shane shares on social media when he posts photos of himself racing downhill. Photo: Phil Beckman/PB Creative
Shane Cahill was working on the roof of a three-story condominium in 2008 when the accident happened. Shane, now 45, was a professional window cleaner back then, working in Mission Bay, California. He was using an 8-foot-tall aluminum pole to clean the windows at the top of the building when he accidentally touched a power line with his metal pole. “It was about 2 feet away from the building and about 10 feet up,” Cahill recalls. “I felt the current and knew right away I was in trouble.” Twelve thousand volts of electricity shot through his body. Shane tried to let go, but his muscles locked up. Then he blacked out.
When Cahill regained consciousness, he was lying on the roof about 8 feet back from where he had been standing. As Shane came to his senses, he found that he couldn’t see or move. Slowly his vision started coming back to him. “It was like reverse tunnel vision,” Shane told MBA. He tried to yell for help but couldn’t. “My vocal chords wouldn’t work for a while,” Shane recalls.
The owner of the building went up on the roof to see what had happened. He found Shane lying on his back and called 911. Shane was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. “They had to cool my body back down,” Shane recalls. The doctors put Shane into a medically induced coma for 42 days to save his life. When Shane came to again six weeks later, his hands and lower arms were gone from about 4 or 5 inches below the elbow. His mom had given the doctors permission to amputate them to save his life.
After Shane came out of the coma, he stayed in the hospital for an additional six weeks until he could go home. After that, Shane began rebuilding his life. “A month after getting out of the hospital, I got the Hanger prosthetics,” Shane recalled, referring to his mechanical arms. “Workmen’s compensation paid for all my prosthetic stuff.”
“I was on my dirt bike a year and a half after the accident,” Shane told MBA. “Eddie Fiola set me up with clipless pedals welded to the handlebars.” A world-famous BMX freestyle rider in the 1980s and a stuntman and rigger in the movie industry today, Fiola designed a setup that would let Shane clip his mechanical hands in and out of the bars when needed. “I made it for his beach cruiser originally,” Eddie told MBA. “It was a little bit after his accident. He was still depressed about not being able to do too much. I was friends with his brother Shiloh. His brother told me we had to do something for Shane because he was just lying around on the couch feeling depressed.”
Once Cahill started riding his dirt bike, Shane was able to get an even better pair of mechanical hands to use with it. They had been designed by Mert Lawwill, a pioneer of both mountain bike and motorcycle innovations. “They were even more high-tech with more articulation,” Fiola told us.
Lawwill had come up with his invention, called “Mert’s hands,” for a friend and fellow motorcyclist who had lost a hand. As word spread about the invention, Mert had to start a business to make the mechanical hands available to other riders who wanted them. “It’s called a Mert Lawwill prosthetic riding hand,” Shane told MBA.
Shane Cahill lost both hands and most of his lower arms more than 10 years ago, but it didn’t stop him from taking up mountain bike racing. Photo: Erick Gonzalez/Wildglass Photos
“I found out I had diabetes two and half years ago,” Shane told us. “I had to get off the beach and get on the pedals and keep the blood sugar in check.”
Shane tried riding a stationary bike at first, but found it too boring looking at the walls, so he went looking for a mountain bike. He tried out about 10 different ones while trying to find the one that worked best for him, finally choosing an Intense Tracer. “I love it,” Shane told us. “It gobbles up the bumps.”
Even though Shane hadn’t owned a mountain bike before, he caught on quickly. “I used to race BMX growing up,” Shane told us, “and street bikes in Colorado.” He finished fourth in the state of Illinois as a 17-year-old BMX racer and placed seventh in the ABA Grand Nationals. When he switched to street bikes, he raced them for seven years and even won the Colorado state title for 2004 in the Motorcycle Roadracing Association on his Yamaha R6.
GETTING HIS MOUNTAIN BIKE DIALED IN
Shane removed the Mert’s hands from his dirt bike and mounted them on his mountain bike. Jason Guthrie and the staff at Chainline Bikes in El Cajon set Shane’s bike up with Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting, along with some other custom innovations that they developed for him.
Shane came up with some ideas on his own, too. “I devised a brake system by myself in the garage,” he told us. “It was trial and error. It works so slick. I kinda lean backwards, which engages the brake. It puts tension on the brake cables.”
Once he got his bike dialed in, Shane got so good at riding his Intense Tracer that he caught the attention of another rider. “I was riding at Greer Ranch in Temecula, and I ran into a guy named Nick Walker. He’s a big guy, about 6 feet tall, and he’s fast! He said, ‘You should race that thing! You’re riding that thing pretty good!’ I said, ‘Oh, man, I’ll get smoked.’ And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter—even you being out there will be an inspiration to everybody.’”
Shane remembered how much he loved racing and decided to take Nick’s advice and sign up for an enduro race. “My first race at Vail Lake I placed 10th out of 28 dudes in the Beginner class. My next race I placed sixth. My third race I won. There were 32 riders that day. In my fourth race I placed 10th with two crashes. That was in February 2019,” Shane told us. “Unexpectedly, one of Mert’s hands popped out. That was a yard sale. I lost a shoe and had to put the shoe back on, which is hard with no hands. Usually, I have to have my everyday hands on to put my shoes on. I had to jam my foot into my shoe to get it back on. I was amped because I was racing,” Shane says. “After that, I took a step back. It’s a dangerous sport if you’re going all out. It’s a thrill, and that’s why I do it, but I could break my neck out there!”
Shane told MBA, “I stand behind the Mert Lawwill prosthetic riding hands 100 percent. You can’t find a better prosthetic hand for riding mountain bikes.” Photo: Phil Beckman/PB Creative
Shane has had a few injuries from crashes. “I was riding at Noble Canyon one time and one of my Mert’s hands came off the bars in a rock garden. I was trying to ride through it with only one hand, and I crashed into the rocks. I got a cut over my eye, and blood was running down my face when I got back to the car.”
That wasn’t his only crash, Shane told us. “I tore up my hip one time. I cut a turn wide and caught a handlebar on a tree and landed on a tree root. Another time, I was practicing for a race and I lost the front end and crashed and tore up my shoulder.”
Despite the injuries, Shane still loves riding. On the days when he’s not training for races, Shane goes out riding for fun. Jeff Steber, the CEO at Intense Bicycles, gave Cahill a VIP discount on an Intense Tazer electric bike so Shane can ride with his buddies who have e-bikes, going on longer rides and doing more runs. Having the Tazer also allows Shane’s girlfriend to go on rides with him. Shane says he prefers riding under his own power, but he likes that Jessica can join him now and keep up with him when she rides the electric bike.
Despite all the challenges Cahill has faced, it might be hard to find somebody else who is more excited about riding a mountain bike. Shane has posted numerous photos of himself racing his mountain bike on social media. His favorite tagline is “Look, Ma, no hands.” It’s both amazing and inspiring to find someone like Shane Cahill who has faced so many challenges over the last 11 years and jokes about it today.
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