Giving Riders in Need a ‘Leg Up’: Interview with Pete Giarrusso from LegUp LandinGear

Jun 07, 2017 View Comments by

LegUp LandinGearA touring motorcycle, especially when packed with gear and pillion, can be a beastly thing to keep upright. Now throw in bad knees, bad hips, or weak legs.

Pete Giarrusso is the founder of LegUp LandinGear, a unique retractable stabilization system designed for aging riders and those with disabilities. Run out of Chopper Design, his custom-build shop in Longwood, FL, LegUp has been on the market for nine years.

The design sounds simple enough: as you slow to around six miles per hour, an onboard computer deploys a pair of pneumatically controlled wheels to help balance your bike, and retracts them if you accelerate over that. The actual design process? Not quite as simple, as Pete explains. Now in its second generation, the LegUp system continues to help experienced riders stay on their bikes rather than give up the sport they love.

RR: Tell us about your history. How did you get into designing custom bikes?
Pete Giarrusso: In 1998, I sold my internet company, Magicnet, and wanted to build a 1960s-style chopper for myself. I found that if I had a shop, the parts at wholesale would be cheaper. So I opened one up in 1999. At that time, the economy was great, and it took off.

What was your first bike? What do you ride now?
I started on a Honda CB360T and rode metric bikes (KZs and Hondas) from 1975 until 1994 when I got my first Harley, a FatBoy. I ride an orange 1998 Electra Glide Ultra Classic now.

LegUp LandinGearYou started designing the LegUp system while at Chopper Designs. What prompted it?
A customer approached me; he was dropping his bike at stoplights. I told him I would search for something like LegUp on the net, with no success. The customer said to me, “Pete … you can build anything.” So I did.

Development took two years. What went into that process?
Our first generation system used an electric actuator and a wheel system that mounted below the bike and pivoted on an axle. Some of the challenges included figuring out how to mount to a bike without cutting and welding, and geometry. We had to come up with a computer to manage everything, and then create switches, a speed sensor, and wiring. This process began in 2007 and business was terrible so it was basically full-time development. But we were just a bike shop, not a manufacturing shop. We had to find partners and learn engineering software and techniques. It was crazy!

Who was involved?
I got moral support from my wife, and my right-hand guy was Ben Hayden. We also relied on a few key vendors who laser-cut metal for us and manufactured our computers.

LegUp LandinGearWhat’s the difference between the Gen I system you started with and the Gen II system sold today?
Gen I was designed to be a basic assistant for a rider. It was never meant to hold up a bike completely, just reduce the amount of effort it took to keep a bike upright.

The new system is pneumatic and uses compressed air to work. Based on popular demand, folks wanted a system that would hold the bike up firmly. It took a massive effort to get technology onboard that could accomplish this but was still small enough to fit in stock bags. The new system, when installed properly, will allow a rider to stand on a floorboard to get on their ride. While it is very strong, it is still just a tool for a rider to use to help them keep riding as they get older or as health concerns make it more difficult to ride.

LegUp is available for select Harley, Yamaha, Honda, Indian, and Kawasaki models. What other models will be added to the lineup?
At this moment we have no particular models planned. We just designed a system for a Victory Vision for a man in Tennessee but will not be adding this to our lineup based on the difficulty and expense. If we find that a custom installation is viable for production, the customer saves money and we put the design into production. It takes quite a bit of time to add a model and can cost upwards of $15,000. We must design prototype, test, prototype, document, and then manufacture. A long road.

Are custom installs possible for models not listed?
Yes, like for the owner in Tennessee. It is a bit more expensive, but worth it for some people, and usually takes six to eight weeks with the bike at our shop in Florida.

Does LegUp affect a bike’s lean angle or any other aspect of handling?
On some models some lean angle is forfeited. This has proven not to be a big problem for our clientele as they are mostly not knee-draggers any longer.

If a rider buys a system directly from you, how long does it take to arrive?
We test a configured system for 24-28 hours before shipping and typically ship within a week of the order.

LegUp LandinGear compressorHow long does installation take? What’s involved?
A DIYer should set aside a weekend. A mechanic installing a system for the first time will usually take five hours. We can install it in three and a half. At the shop, we work diligently to avoid any changes to the host bike, using wire harnesses that are all plugs—no soldering. Typically rear floorboards are removed, our system is bolted in place, and the floorboards are mounted to the system. The harness is strung throughout the bike, a speed sensor is mounted near a wheel, and the airlines are run from the legs to the compressor in the saddlebag. The compressor takes up approximately one-third of the saddlebag’s space.

LegUp is designed for hefty tourers, but has it ever been added to a lighter/sportier model?
The Gen II model does not lend itself to smaller bikes, as most donâ’t have saddlebags large enough to hold the compressor. We would love to make systems for GSXRs. Even if we could, how many of those riders would want or need one?

Are most customers riding solo or two up?
Most buy the system to keep their passengers safe. In many cases our customers only need LegUp when they are riding two up.

Have you ever had to turn away a potential customer because you thought they shouldn’t be riding?
Many times. Some people say they are new at riding and want our system to help them develop skills. NO, NO, NO! We expect our customers to be experienced riders. We are adding another control to their riding, and it takes time to learn how to use that capability. Other times people with certain disabilities are discouraged for safety reasons. The last thing we want is an unhappy or unsuccessful customer.

Age is the primary reason riders purchase LegUp, but it also benefits those with disabilities. Can you tell us more about that?
Many riders with bad legs using our system have had great success, though we try to discourage those with no use of their legs. While the system can hold up the bike very well, like any mechanical system, if it fails, a rider should be able to balance the bike on his or her own.

You market the system as a trike alternative. Do you think there’s reluctance among riders to move from two to three wheels?
A big reluctance. One thing many people don’t realize is that while a trike will likely not fall over, it takes much more upper body strength to maneuver it as opposed to a bike. Older riders are not able to ride as long as they used to due to this fact. That being said, some folks should ride a trike and want to. We just offer an alternative.

What do you think is the main reason holding more riders back from getting a LegUp system installed?
Many riders who need the LegUp system simply can’t afford it. We have never increased the price, even though the Gen II system costs us significantly more to make than its little brother. While the majority of our customers buy a system immediately after finding out about it, most don’t know it exists!

LegUp was first introduced in 2008. Has any part of this project surprised you?
I really got a feeling for how passionate seniors are about their bikes. As a bike shop, we did not see this portion of the riding public often, as they likely service their bikes at the dealer or themselves. They are our customers now and they refuse to let go of the bars, which I think is great! Since we offer a veterans discount, I was shocked by what percentage of our customers are vets, too.

Who are some of your most memorable clients?
Two come to mind. Earlier this year, a 94-year-old World War II vet came to see us. He checked out the system, went straight to a Harley dealer, and had a bike delivered to us the next day. We installed a system, and they delivered it to him in North Carolina.

One of my first clients was an obvious stroke victim approaching 90. Two years after buying a system he called in a panic because it broke, and we fixed it for free. Two years later we had to take it off because his doctor insisted. But in those four years he added some 30,000 miles!

Pete GiarrussoPete Giarrusso
Born in New York, Pete Giarrusso moved to Florida in 1978 where he worked in banking and computers until 1998 when he sold his company, Magicnet, one of Central Florida’s first locally owned internet service providers. After taking a year off, he decided to build himself a chopper … and started a custom-build shop in the process. Chopper Design opened its doors in 1999 and Pete watched as the company morphed into a busy full-service bike shop with award-winning builds. In 2007, at the encouragement of a customer who needed help balancing his motorcycle, he started designing the first LegUp LandinGear system, and in 2008 began selling LegUp products. Today, he and his team still maintain Chopper Design’s bike shop functions, but the majority of their business comes from long-time riders in need of a “leg up.”

Photography: Pete Giarrusso

 

 

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