Ever notice how when they put a wheelchair ramp in, seems more delivery drivers with their 2 wheelers use it than wheelers? Same with the “quad handle” levers that have replaced plain old doorknobs, allowing folks with their arms full of other things to open doors with elbows or whatever else is available. That’s called “universal design”, ’cause it benefits a whole universe of users. And because it benefits so many users, it makes a whole lotta sense, economic and otherwise.

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Yup, that’s my BMW R65LS again, hoggin’ the spotlight. Bought it new in ’84, never even dreamed that I’d hack it with a sidecar and still be riding it 29 years and over 100,000 miles later. Sidecar’s on a different bike at the moment, but after a less than comfortable ride on this bike…DSC_1532

As you can see, BMW’s already dictated where you’re sitting on this bike, and thus if you need to schooch around a bit to find a comfy positioning, you can’t… And this bike becomes a torture rack. T’was a lovely day for riding yesterday, I had some parts to pick up at Judson Cycle a hundred two lane miles away, and I’ll be damned if MS was gonna keep me inside! ‘Bout the only hassle was puttin’ my feet and the sidestand down, so I put my folding cane in a handy spot in the tank bag to use to deploy the sidestand whilst keeping both feet on the ground if needed. Made only 4 stops the whole trip and had to put feet down for only a couple stop signs, so no big deal. And comfort… Thanks to that long wide seat, after a few miles I found the “sweet spot” and was comfy the whole trip!

One finds that sort of “universal design” all through the legendary “airheads”, a quality that allowed the airhead to stay in production for a quarter century and excel as a commuter, racing, dual sport, touring, and just plain enjoyable motorcycle. The same sort of universal design is seen in the better minivans and hatchbacks- My late mom’s Mopar Minivan could handle as much weight as my Ranger pickup with less drama, put the seats back in and it becomes a 7 passenger minibus, and all the while getting MPGs in the 20s. Even hauled the previously mentioned “airhead” and a bunch o’other stuff to Florida and back, wanting for only a bit more passing power on the 2 lanes. Same with the diesel Golf hatchbacks- flip the seats down and it’s got as much space as a crew cab Ranger’s box, add a trailer and haul a half ton and still get 40 MPG. BTW, this sorta 4 wheeled universal design is catching on- Fiat’s Ducato’s vans are just appearing on dealers lot’s, Ford’s Transit Connect is about to get upgraded, big brother Transit is coming soon, and Nissan has a competitor for the Transit Connect for $2k less and GM will be selling it too. All these versatile boxes will get 25 MPG or better with proper optioning, they’re square like a van should be with 4 foot square side and back doors, and with 2 foot or lower floor heights they’ll accommodate wheelchair users or motorcycles with ease.

Universal design works in big rigs, tractors, even locomotives too. Used to be an automatic was a special order option on a big truck, figure $10+k and several months extra wait. Now days with nearly half of big trucks coming with automatics, the upcharge is down to around $3k on a $100+k truck and you can buy one right off the lot. In most classes of tractors and construction equipment, manual transmissions aren’t even an option anymore. And locomotives have had hand controls for brakes and throttle for over a century, and the industry has standardized on a general purpose cab that works for both long haul freight and switching for decades. Barely two decades ago I fought a long legal battle with Hostess Brands for cruise control to accommodate my gimpy legs…  Once the big diesel trucks went to electronic engine controls, all it took was a bit of software and a couple switches to give us cruise control for free.

wpid-IMG_20121210_103511.jpgBack to buildings… That’s my earth sheltered home. No steps and all one level for easy accessibility, There’s a couple bedrooms hidden behind the trees, and a 700 square foot shop. Nestled in the earth, no air conditioning is needed and the corn/pellet fueled heater loafs along in the winter. Universal design= Ready for whatever!

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