At the wheel
The PGO Bug Racer was launched in SA in 2010 - initially as an off-road vehicle, but the great news is that in 2011 it passed the homologation test which means that it can now be legally licenced and driven on the roads. This now opens up a whole new vehicle opportunity for drivers with disabilities.
It does not replace a car, and it does not replace a motorbike, but it fits in between! For a person who wants to commute on a motorbike but is no longer able to ride a bike due to a disability, the Bug Racer offers a solution that provides the same kind of fuel consumption as a motorbike. It also gives that freedom and feeling of being out in the open with the wind in your hair - although it is possible to fit a wind screen for those who prefer less wind.
You can't squeeze through and round the traffic like a bike can - but I guess you could hop off road and it will take you even where the taxi's can't go!
The first model was the BR 500i but this has been discontinued and it is now only available in a BR 600i which has a 558cc, fuel injected water cooled engine, with a top speed of approx. 130km/h. Its maximum power is 28kw/6000rpm and maximum torque of 46.2Nm/5500rpm. This might sound a bit underpowered when compared with other vehicles on the roads, but when you consider that the body of the vehicle only weighs 492 kgs, that converts to a reasonable acceleration on the roads, and gives you enough power to overtake comfortably.
It does not have the safety features that we are all familiar with in our modern day cars (ABS brakes and airbags), but that touch of adventure is what adds to the appeal of driving this vehicle. When taken off-road, the roll cage (along with the adjustable bucket seats) with the 4-point harnesses provides a lot of security and protection. The body of the vehicle is made up of modular units so if one section gets damaged, it is easy and relatively low cost to replace. It has independent suspension on all four wheels, with front and rear disk brakes.
It is only available in a petrol model with an automatic gear box. The gear shift and diff-lock levers are simple levers with no additional buttons, making it easy to use for people with limited hand function. It has a 30 litre fuel tank and considering that it does between 16 -20 km per litre, that means you can get between 480 -600 km per tank!
It has a small steering wheel with a ratio of 2.5 turns from full left lock to full right lock. This shortened lock "compared with a car which is normally 3.5 turns" makes it easier when driving with one hand and it makes the steering very responsive. Usually, this makes the steering heavier, but that is certainly not the case with the Bug Racer as it has remarkably light steering.
Rolling Inspiration asked Steve Grobbler's opinion about the Bug Racer after he test drove it at the Rolling Rough day in 2011 and again in 2013. Steve is an ex-rally driver and navigator. He became a paraplegic after an accident during a race. When he got into the Bug Racer in 2011 to test drive it, it was the first time that he got back into an off-road vehicle since his accident.
Initially he was quite hesitant but it only took him a few minutes to get used to driving off-road with the hand controls and without any balance. A few laps of the test drive route at Rhino Park was all Steve needed to find his connection with the vehicle and start feeling that old adrenalin rush. Thanks to the responsive little buggy he was soon doing power-slides round the corners and really putting it through its paces. He found it remarkably easy to drive with a really light steering. It is a 2x4 with a diff-lock "which means that there is a lot less effort to steer it" compared with the side-by-side quad bikes, which often needs a boosted power steering if they are going to be driven by a person with a disability.
He also found the low centre of gravity made it feel really stable through the corners, and the comfortable bucket seats stopped him from falling round in the corners, which is important for people without balance.
Vic Hugo, who suffered a head injury many years ago and has not been able to drive since then, also took the Bug Racer for a spin. He was surprised how easy it was to drive, especially as he could only use one hand on the steering wheel, and he needed to cross over his legs as he could only use his left leg. For Vic the freedom of being out of his wheelchair and driving with such ease was "awesome" and he "fully enjoyed and appreciated every minute of it".
After testing all the different off-road vehicles at the Rolling Rough events in both 2011 and 2013, the PGO Bug Racer was the one that Steve kept going back to. In his opinion, "If you have got the money - it is a good one to buy!" At R119 000 (Vat inclusive), it is an expensive toy - but if it can double up as a mode of transport with a fuel consumption of somewhere between 16-20km/l then the sums start making sense. And the value of getting out of a wheelchair and into the bush, for some good solid fun - who can put a price on that?
Unfortunately, the Bug Racer is still classified as a recreation vehicle and therefore it does not qualify for the import rebate. However, it is listed as a light passenger vehicle which means that it can be driven with a standard Code B licence. When adapted with hand controls, it is the same licence for driving an adapted car.
There are plenty optional extras which can come with the Bug Racer, including a variety of bags, as well as a windscreen and a cover to keep the sun, rain and wind off the driver and passenger.
Access into the vehicle can be a challenge for a person with a weak transfer, however, it is possible to get the frame adjusted so that the bar next to the driver's seat can be hinged to allow easier access. The seat height is similar to a wheelchair seat height, and the roll cage provides a useful handle to hold onto to while transferring across.
It can easily be fitted with a hand control, contact Louis Nortjie from Easy Rider ( 0827780735) he has specifically designed for this vehicle. This retails for R 3500 and are quick and easy to fit.
The Bug Racer is currently available through Sportsride who are based in Centurion. They are in the process of opening branches in Durban and Cape Town. It needs to be serviced every 3000 kms. If used on the open roads this will clock up quickly. However, it is a simple service which can be done by anyone who has some mechanical sense. Spare parts get couriered to wherever they are needed.