When Daniel R. Ward was in his 20s, one of his favorite pastimes was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
"I had three Harleys before I turned 30. I was an avid rider," he said.
But a 1982 accident in which he fell off a sea cliff at Lumahai Bay on Kauai left him a quadriplegic and no longer able to ride his bikes.
In the years since then, Ward, now 59, has spent countless hours trying to find ways to improve the quality of his life and increase his mobility. A couple of years after the accident, he used a scooter made from a mo-ped that could be driven with hand controls.
"I’m a motorhead, so I put in a new engine. It was so much fun. … It changed my life greatly," Ward recalls.
He also adapted a Go-Kart and personal watercraft, and acquired a 20-foot motor home with a lift. "It was all intended to make my life easier," he said.
All of his efforts — and his passion for the road — are now being channeled into his new business, Hawaiian Chariot Wheelchair Motorbikes LLC, which builds and sells customized three-wheeled vehicles. Ward will unveil his first models from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Rehabilitation Center of the Pacific.
Ward said he went to Shanghai to work with engineers to design the vehicles "from the ground up." The parts from China are assembled in his Wahiawa shop.
The gas-powered vehicles have 250-cubic-centimeter, four-stroke engines and a steering wheel with hand controls; top speed is 50 mph. The basic model costs $16,000. Add-ons include air conditioning, MP3 capability, engine upgrades and convertible tops.
"My next model will have more of a hard top, not a convertible. I’m going to create a fully enclosed cockpit," he said.
Ward says most people don’t realize the difficulties of getting in and out of vehicles for wheelchair-bound folks.
One of his creations was inspired by the 1934 Ford deuce coupe roadster. Another was made with a pickup truck in mind, and includes a bin in the back.
"I also created a rickshaw, envisioning that the enterprising wheelchair user may want to take tourists around Waikiki or the North Shore like the old pedicabs," he said. That model features a backward-facing bench.
The wheelchair chariots live up to their name by offering a built-in ramp that allows wheelchairs to roll right onto the vehicle and into the cockpit.
"There is no need to transfer out of your wheelchair," he said. "A steering wheel with quadriplegic-friendly hand controls is soon to be standard equipment. It’s as easy to drive as a golf cart."
Ward is marketing his vehicles in Hawaii and beyond. "I’ve only come across one competitor from the (United Kingdom). He is selling his model for $56,000 because he uses a BMW motor," he said.
He also hopes to interest car rental companies in his vehicles and is pushing to get third-party payers such as the Veterans Administration to assist buyers with costs, noting that his motorbikes are an affordable alternative to adapted vans, at about one-fourth of the cost.